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Free Agent Forecast: Andre Smith

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The Chargers will be aggressive in their pursuit of offensive line upgrades this offseason. That’s what happens when your team allows 40 sacks and averages just 3.5 yards per carry. The draft will be the primary means for improvement. With any luck, the Chargers can steal Ole Miss OT Laremy Tunsil with the No. 3 overall pick. More depth for the interior line can be found in the middle rounds. However, veteran help is needed, too.

One veteran who deserves serious consideration is Cincinnati’s Andre Smith. The road-grading right tackle will likely be allowed to leave as a free agent after the Bengals drafted Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher high in last year’s draft and signed Andrew Whitworth to a one-year, $9 million extension.

Smith has his flaws. His pass protection is sometimes spotty (12.5 sacks allowed in his last 38 games) and his conditioning is an on-and-off concern. However, he plays with a mean streak and moves the line of scrimmage.

Smith, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2009 draft, is a blue collar Alabama product just like the player he’d be slotted next to with the Chargers - RG D.J. Fluker. Put those two side by side and you have 700 pounds of beef just itching to jump start San Diego’s anemic running game.

With Smith anchoring the right side of the line, the Bengals have racked up at least 1,745 rushing yards in each of the last five seasons. The Chargers, meanwhile, have finished with less than 1,400 yards rushing two years in a row (although in 2013, under Ken Whisenhunt, they ran for nearly 2,000 yards).

Sign Smith, add him to Whisenhunt’s more balanced offense and suddenly life will get a lot easier for Melvin Gordon, Branden Oliver & Co.

Market Watch

How much will it take to land Smith? A comparable deal is the five-year, $32 million pact the Jaguars gave right tackle Jermey Parnell last offseason.

That would be a lot of money tied up on the offensive line, as the Chargers gave long-term deals last offseason to King Dunlap and Orlando Franklin (both deals average roughly $7 million annually). However, the Chargers must do whatever it takes to fix this mess of a line, or their costliest investment (Philip Rivers) will continue to go to waste.

Swing for the Fences

It will be interesting to see how Tom Telesco approaches fixing this offensive line. In addition to taking Cincinnati’s right tackle, he could take a page from the Bengals’ playbook and draft offensive linemen in Rounds 1 and 2. Telesco could also opt for the “more is more” strategy” and re-sign swing tackles Chris Hairston and Joe Barksdale, both of whom are slated to become free agents.

In a perfect world, the Chargers will come away with Tunsil and Smith as their starting tackles, allowing Dunlap to revert to the swing tackle role he was originally signed for back in 2013. Should that scenario come to pass, the Chargers would be one or two interior offensive linemen away from turning their biggest weakness into a strength.

Two names to watch on that front: Stanford’s Joshua Garnett and Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair, who could be the second coming of Jeromey Clary (take that how you will).

We’ll be at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., later this month scouting offensive line prospects and taking note of which ones draw the most interest from the Chargers. That should help us begin to narrow down the possible solutions to this seemingly never-ending quandary.

Which players should Tom Telesco target in free agency? Discuss inside our new message boards!

Michael Lombardo has covered the San Diego Chargers since 2003. He spent 12 years covering the team for Scout.com and has also been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports, Footballinsiders.com and MySpace Sports. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter @NFLinsider_Mike.

About Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo has covered the San Diego Chargers since 2003. He spent 12 years covering the team for Scout.com and has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports, Football Insiders and MySpace Sports.

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