With the right moves in free agency and the draft, the Los Angeles Chargers could be well-positioned to challenge in the AFC.
It seems that every summer, the Los Angeles Chargers are a trendy pick to make a run. Last year was no exception, until an 0-4 start put a wet blanket over the optimism. Then, Los Angeles rallied, finishing 9-7 and a tiebreaker away from an AFC playoff berth.
Going into this offseason, general manager Tom Telesco should be encouraged. The Chargers are set up well in relation to the cap, and this spring, don’t have to fret about relocation. Los Angeles is projected to have $23.7 million in cap space, but could create another $8.5 million by releasing the oft-injured Jason Verrett.
For Telesco, the only in-house free agents worth retaining are Antonio Gates, Matt Slauson and Tre Boston. Gates is a certainly to return on the cheap, while Slauson and Boston will have markets. Should Slauson leave, 2017 second-round pick Forrest Lamp could theoretically step in and start, fully recovered from a torn ACL.
However, the heavy lifting must be done iwth acquiring outside help. The Chargers have long struggled to beat the Kansas City Chiefs, having lost eight consecutive contests between them. Telesco needs to build with beating the Chiefs in mind, a quest that ought to begin with adding help in the front seven.
Los Angeles has stars in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram coming off the edge, but needs a solid inside linebacker in pass coverage. The Chargers also have a need for more push on the interior of the defensive line, with Sheldon Richardson being an ideal fit. If Boston is re-signed, the secondary is solid with Casey Hayward and Desmond King on the corners, although a mid-level safety would be welcome. Tyvon Branch would be a great get, as would Eric Reid.
Offensively, most of the pieces are in place. The Chargers would be wise to upgrade the offensive line, especially inside. Andrew Norwell is going to reset the market at guard, but cheaper, reliable options include bringing Slauson back or inking Justin Pugh. Additionally, Pugh would be valuable for his ability to kick out should Russell Okung or Joe Barksdale suffer injuries.
With the Chiefs if the midst of a full-scale transition behind Patrick Mahomes, the Chargers could have a small window to take advantage of. The Denver Broncos are nowhere near a playoff-caliber team, while the Oakland Raiders are embarking on a new track with Jon Gruden.
Los Angeles still has a premier quarterback in Philip Rivers, but who at 36 years old, only has so much time left. With Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Melvin Gordon and Hunter Henry around him, Rivers has plenty of talent at his disposal.
With a good free agency haul and a quality draft, the Chargers could very well be the team in best position to push the New England Patriots in the wide-open AFC.