Chargers Potential Defensive Free Agent Targets

Much of the talk in the league this offseason will undoubtedly have to do with the labor agreement and just how that issue is resolved, but let’s be positive. Assuming that a deal gets done and the league will continue on as it has over the past two decades in the free agency era, just what kind of players should the Bolts have their sights on for 2011?

Clearly the team has some personnel work to do considering their own General Manager A.J. Smith has publicly admitted that the squad has lost a step. According to Smith: "We're not an elite team; we've lost that. We were second in our division last year and out of it. We have to earn back that status we had. Because it's gone; it really is. I deal in facts, man."

What the ‘facts’ said in terms of numbers last season was that the Chargers should have been unbeatable ranking number one in both total offense and defense. The main focus this offseason will undoubtedly be on depth with 28 unrestricted free agents currently on the Bolts’ roster. The potential turnover could be tremendous on both sides of the ball, but the defensive side in particular has two areas ranking near the top of the needs list.

Beginning at defensive end, the Chargers rotation up front performed admirably in 2010, but the difference between admirable and excellent could end up being one or two victories when all’s said and done. San Diego is clearly undergoing a changing of the guard with aging veterans like Jacques Cesaire, Travis Johnson, and even Luis Castillo appearing to slow down a bit over the past year.

This year’s free agent class could offer some real help for a 3-4 team like the Bolts with players experienced in the scheme hitting the market. One player just happened to help his side win the Lombardi Trophy this past season in Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins. His disruptive presence up front helped to aid the development of their young nose tackle B.J. Raji and gave the team a reliable run stuffer as well. The only drawback in landing Jenkins is that with the Baltimore Ravens slapping the franchise tag on their beast up front Haloti Ngata, Jenkins will likely be the most sought after free agent at his position.

There are however some mid-range models available for 3-4 depth as Alan Branch and Gabe Watson are set to become free agents. Both are former Michigan Wolverines and Arizona Cardinals ironically enough, but these two are still young at 26 and 27 respectively with plenty of upside growth left untapped. Each of them possesses the versatility to slide along the defensive front and play nearly any position in the 3-4 alignment.

In the defensive backfield, obviously re-signing Eric Weddle is priority number one for the team, but assuming they are able to do that without any issues, the Bolts still need at least one more solid contributor at the other safety spot. Many (myself included) thought that Steve Gregory would be able to hold down that position this past season, but a mid-year suspension derailed his rhythm and really kept him from developing into a full-time starter. Paul Oliver is also an expiring contract for the Chargers and it would be a big stretch to anoint him as the starter opposite Weddle in 2011.

There are some very real possibilities floating around on the market now thanks to some prudent personnel moves by NFL teams with their eyes on the bottom line in this uncertain environment. A one-time defensive player of the year award winner in safety Bob Sanders was reluctantly let go by the Indianapolis Colts last week and the St. Louis Rams did the same to their own difference maker on defense Oshiomogho (O.J.) Atogwe.

Injuries have plagued Sanders’ career as he has played in just 48 total games while missing 64 during his seven year career. When healthy however, there is no doubt that Sanders is a missile with legs and a definite impact player in any defensive backfield. Atogwe hasn’t had quite the laundry list of ailments as Sanders, but he too has suffered his fair share of physical issues during his NFL stint.

When it comes to preference between these two, Atogwe seems like more of a safe bet even though both are 29 years old and have had injury concerns along the way. Placing the former Stanford Cardinal safety in the secondary with Weddle would give the Bolts a difficult tandem to throw over the top on in 2011.

GM Smith doesn’t always like to dip his toes in the free agent market, but the price tag should be relatively reasonable for the services of any of these players and would definitely be an upgrade in an area of need. The draft is still a very real possibility for trying to find help on either the defensive line or secondary, but proven free agents are what this team needs to get over the hump. The Bolts should be reloading rather than rebuilding in the prime years of both Philip Rivers’ and Antonio Gates’ respective careers.

Now let’s hear your input. Do you agree with GM Smith that the Bolts have lost their stigma as one of the league’s most talented teams or is this just a blip on the radar? Would a player like Cullen Jenkins fit well into the Chargers defense or would you prefer a less expensive player like Alan Branch or Gabe Watson? Do you feel that either Bob Sanders or O.J. Atogwe is capable of staying healthy and helping the Bolts secondary or are they just too risky to sign? Is proven veteran leadership via free agency the best way to get this team moving toward its ultimate goal or should building in the draft be the main emphasis? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

February 22, 2011

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OC Bolts Fan said... Feb 22, 2011, 3:23:00 PM

@ Mark: I hadn't seen that DeAngelo was available. but what signing Shockey to back up Gates. I am sure that Norv can come up with a two TE scheme that involves Shockey and Gates.

cczer08 said... Feb 22, 2011, 4:18:00 PM

Both Williams and Shockey are going to be too expensive to bring here as backups or platoon players. Atogwe already has a visit scheduled with Washington, so you might as well cross him off the list. If Washington wants him they will be willing to outspend anyone, and he is not the type of guy the Chargers will (or should) get into a bidding war over.

I agree that Mathews has not yet proven he can have the impact the team had hoped - hard to justify two picks in the top 40 for an injury-prone running back in a passing-oriented league.

I think I heard Paul Posluszny was a free agent - he would be a nice pickup along with re-signing Burnett at the inside linebacker spots. That would free the Chargers to spend those 5 high draft picks on positions like DE, S, RT, OLB, etc.

Mark said... Feb 22, 2011, 7:51:00 PM

Oc Bolts fan- yeah, Shockey may be intriguing and it is like the solution I proposed in regards to our RB's because our guys (Mathews and Gates) seem to be injury-prone. But I think Randy McMichael served us well in Gates' abscence last year and Shockey seems like he may be past his prime but will want primo $'s.. But if we added a dynamic running back- just think of the possibilities. We could probably be one of the top offenses of all-time in my opinion!! Just think, we had the TOP offense and TOP defense last year. We don't need to reinvent the wheel just tweak a few things. Unfortunately, our biggest concern has nothing to do with the players but with one person we know too well who will take us NOWHERE! And we all know who that is........................(hint: his initials are N.T.)

Mark said... Feb 22, 2011, 8:01:00 PM

Yeah, both will be expensive and AJ and Spanos are not known for ante-ing up for the big free agents. But I think DeAngelo could help us out and we'd be scoring 50 points a game to complement Rivers passing.

Posluszny sounds good- I hope AJ surprises us fans because he owes us after some bungled situations last year (VJ). Unfortunately, like always, AJ will address the holes through the draft and maybe find a bargain scrap-heap FA to sign on the cheap. But like I said, we just need to slightly tweak our defense and offense. The big question is also if Sproles is coming-back. We may not need him with the emergence of Mike Tolbert, as long as he comes-back healthy.

Lighting 72 said... Feb 23, 2011, 5:02:00 PM

AJ Smith has no intention of paying VJ 10 million or signing him to LT contract. He's a vindictive bastard. He just wants to get two first round draft picks. Chargers players didn't loose a step AJ Smith and Spanos doing a bad job scouting new talent. Let's see if they can finally get some impact players during this next draft.

Football said... Feb 25, 2011, 3:50:00 PM

Like i said many times over fellas, as long as ya got aj, it will be a repeat of last 2 seasons.

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