With seven games left on the schedule, it is too early to turn all of our attention to next season. However, with each excruciating loss, it becomes more challenging to avoid the question, “How will Tom Telesco fix this mess?”
It would help if Telesco fared better in the draft, perhaps by drafting some defenders who can stay on the field for 16 games. But with so many holes to be filled, Telesco will also have to be aggressive seeking solutions in free agency. With that in mind, we are taking an early look at some pending free agents who could help the Chargers next season. Part I of this feature identifies five offensive players to watch; later this week, we’ll address the defense.
OT Andre Smith – The Bengals are almost certain to let their starting right tackle walk. Cincinnati recently re-signed starting left tackle Andrew Whitworth to a one-year, $9 million extension and spent its first two picks in the 2015 draft on tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher. That means Smith will likely hit the open market; and Telesco must consider reuniting him with fellow Alabama product D.J. Fluker.
There are some concerns with Smith, mostly centered around his conditioning and ability to handle speedy edge rushers. He allowed 9.5 sacks in 25 games between 2013 and 2014, but he has yet to allow a sack in seven starts this season. With Philip Rivers’ quick release, Smith is more than capable of holding up on the edge. More importantly, the combination of Smith and Fluker on the right side of the line would give the Chargers nearly 700 lbs. of road-grading beef to jumpstart a struggling running game.
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey – With Malcom Floyd planning to ride off into retirement, he Chargers need another deep threat who can take the top off opposing defenses. There may be no better fit than Heyward-Bey, who famously ran the 40-yard dash in 4.25 seconds before becoming the No. 7 overall pick of the Raiders in 2009. His production has yet to match his lofty draft status, but DHB has put together some nice seasons; over his final two years in Oakland, he caught 105 passes for 1,581 yards and nine scores.
Heyward-Bey will never be a No. 1 receiver, but he can fill in as the deep threat the Chargers so desperately need to open things up underneath for Danny Woodhead and Antonio Gates. He figures to be an affordable addition, as well, as he is currently on a one-year contract with the Steelers that pays him less than $1 million.
TE Michael Hoomanawanui – Change is coming at the tight end position. Gates, Ladarius Green, David Johnson and John Phillips will all be unrestricted free agents after the season. While Gates could return on a one-year deal and Green is a candidate for a long-term extension (a possibility we explore here), Telesco will have to seek outside reinforcements.
An intriguing possibility is Hoomanawanui, the long-time Patriot who was traded to the Saints earlier this season. Hoomanawanui (6’4 265 lbs.) is a strong blocker and underrated secondary receiver. If the Bolts are going to move forward with Green as their No. 1 tight end, the more physical Hoomanawanui would be an ideal complement. As an added bonus, he is a strong contributor on special teams.
FB Darrel Young – There are several reasons for Melvin Gordon’s disappointing rookie season, one of which is the lack of a true fullback. The Wisconsin product needs some opportunities to run out of an I-formation with a lead blocker in front of him. Young certainly qualifies, as the long-time Redskin is one of the league’s best lead blockers, according to Pro Football Focus.
So why would the Redskins let Young walk? Coach Jay Gruden is not a big believer in using traditional fullbacks. Neither is Mike McCoy, for that matter, but McCoy will have to adjust his way of thinking given how Gordon’ rookie campaign has played out. And just like with Hoomanawanui, Young will provide a big boost to San Diego’s special teams.
WR Andre Caldwell – Fans remember Andre’s older brother, Reche, who played with the Chargers from 2002-2005. Andre is similar to Reche, minus the questionable work ethic and surgically repaired knee. Also working in Andre’s favor is his familiarity with Coach McCoy from their time together in Denver; history says that plays a major role in who Telesco targets in free agency.
Caldwell would be a good fit in San Diego’s offense. He has become a precise route runner (working with Peyton Manning will do that) and can line up wide or in the slot. He is also a cheaper alternative to Stevie Johnson, who will count nearly $4 million against the cap next season and may be released. A receiving corps of Keenan Allen, Dontrelle Inman, Heyward-Bey, Caldwell and Tyrell Williams provides Philip Rivers with more than enough options.
Which players should the Chargers target in free agency? Discuss inside our 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.