The Los Angeles Chargers will bring about $25 million in cap space to free agency. They’ve got their own contributors who need new deals as well as extensions to workout for Philip Rivers and Melvin Gordon.
That means Los Angeles will need to be frugal in improving their roster. That’s especially the case if they need to sign players to replace their own free agents. With free agency in full swing, here are some under the radar free agents that are cheap and will fit the Chargers.
Linebacker K.J. Wright
Los Angeles could use some help at the linebacker position since Denzel Perryman battled injuries the past few seasons. Kyzir White battled injuries too and Kyle Emanuel is a free agent as well.
That means they should consider a veteran with experience playing inside and outside linebacker. K.J. Wright played both in his career during his time in Seattle. He knows Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley from his days with the Seahawks. They won a Super Bowl together.
For the Chargers, they could also benefit from Wright’s Super Bowl winning experience. Wright could upgrade the Chargers outside linebacker position, which is his natural position. However, Los Angeles invested draft picks in White and Uchenna Nwosu at outside linebacker and Jatavis Brown stepped up playing inside.
Either way, Wright gets in where he fits in and pushes for a starting role at any of the three positions. Why not go to Los Angeles and play for one of the AFC’s elite team? The Chargers speed at linebacker would compliment Wright very well.
Of course, Wright is 30 and battled injuries the past few seasons. He only played in five games and missed one the year before.
That still makes him a bargain though. The 2016 Pro Bowler registered over 100 tackles from 2014-17. Wright also has 10 forced fumbles and 11.5 sacks over his eight year career.
Nonetheless, the Chargers could consider other options at a deep free agent linebacker pool. They may take a look at more Super Bowl experience in Brandon Marshall.
Defensive line Ethan Westbrooks
The Chargers already cut Corey Liuget, Damion Square and Darius Philbon hit the open market via free agency too. That puts the Chargers defensive line in need of some depth.
Insert Ethan Westbrooks, who provided depth for the Rams over the past few seasons. He brings scheme versatility having starting experience in Rams’ 3-4 now and the 4-3 scheme. His playing time dropped off with the Rams this past year, but let’s remember Los Angeles featured a stacked defensive line. In 2017, Westbrooks registered four sacks in 9 starts and played in every game over the last three seasons.
The 28-year-old for sure can fill a rotation but perhaps he gambles on himself breaking into the Chargers starting lineup. Plus, Westbrooks wouldn’t need to move to join the Chargers. He’d also be on another contending team in a scheme that probably fits him better.
Otherwise, Los Angeles could look at a number of defensive tackles. Sheldon Richardson and Malik Jackson could also thrive in the Chargers defense. We’ll have to see what their market is though, and how much of a discount they give the Bolts. Regardless, Westbrooks is the more affordable option.
Corner E.J. Gaines
Jason Verrett will be a free agent. However, he’s only played in five games over the past three seasons. The Chargers could use some depth at the corner position behind Cameron Heyward, Trevor Williams, and Desmond King if Verrett gets a nice contract elsewhere. Either way, that position needs depth because injuries happen..
Gaines brings 43 career starts and 4 interceptions in four seasons. He played one season in L.A. with the Rams, so again there is familiarity in the market that might make him consider the Bolts.
The 26-year-old might push for starting time on the outside, but he’s most likely to play slot corner. King holds that spot down but he’s a candidate to play free safety if Adrian Phillips bounces via free agency. A healthy Gaines is more than serviceable in that scenario.
Other veterans like Sam Shields, Jason McCourty, Buster Skrine, or Kayvon Webster make sense as third or fourth corners and under the radar signings too. Phillip Gaines or Breshaud Breeland are a little younger than those guys and offer starting experience too, but there are also injury risks. However, Gaines’ concussion history probably makes him cheaper than most of the guys on that list. Moreover, Gaines looked good before his season ended early.
Wide receiver Chris Conley
Speaking of adding speed, Chris Conley makes sense as an underrated singer who could replace Tyrell Williams. Conley is another speedster who can stretch the defense and he knows the division. He’s started 34 games in four seasons and brings lightning speed in a six-foot-two frame.
Although the 26-year-old caught more than five hundred yards only once in four seasons, Conley scored five touchdowns last year for the Chiefs. Conley’s hands aren’t the best either, but the Chargers would only rely on him in deep passing and four receiver situations. They’ve got a deep receiving corp and they really just need Conley as depth and competition for the incumbents like Travis Benjamin and Mike Williams.
Of course, Michael Crabtree, Golden Tate, and Pierre Garcon are all veterans who could bring their established talents to Los Angeles’ offense for a bargain. The Chargers could even take fliers on guys like Rishard Matthews, Philip Dorsett, Tavon Austin, or anyone else who has flashed in the league but needs another opportunity. However, Conley brings the right blend of potential and familiarity to warrant an under-the-radar signing that makes sense.
Either way, the Bolts don’t have a ton of cap space given the long-term contracts they still need to get done with this year’s free agents and next year’s class. They must maximize the cap space available this year by targeting bargain who offer valuable experience and some potential.
Hitting on some under-the-radar free agents becomes even more important if the Chargers splurge on their offense line. Unfortunately, the free agency class of linemen isn’t too deep. It’s mostly aging and declining veterans or future journey-men. O-line along with backup running back were the Chargers’ Achilles heals last season.
Ultimately, the Chargers have several options for under-the-radar free agents. They battled some injuries and now they’ve got tough decisions to make about retaining free agents. It is crucial for Los Angeles to find value free agents given that they were an elite team last year but still needed more depth down the stretch.