The Chargers Reload in Free Agency

Three Key Players Signed

After the release of several veteran players this off-season, including quarterback Philip Rivers, it appeared that the Los Angeles Chargers were rebuilding for the future. Any thoughts along those lines ended last week with the signing of three key veteran free agents. The Chargers added cornerback Chris Harris, right tackle Bryan Bulaga and defensive tackle Linval Joseph. All three players will be 31 years old at the start of the regular season.

The addition of Harris, a nine-year veteran with the Denver Broncos, was the highlight signing of the trio of signings. The four-time pro bowl cornerback is considered the one of the premier slot corners in the NFL but is also very effective on the outside as well. Harris agreed to a two-year, $17 million dollar contract with the Chargers. The contract comes with a signing bonus of $7.5 million and a base salary of $2 million. Only the first-year salary of $9.5 million is guaranteed.

Harris will join a Charger secondary loaded with talent. Cornerback Desmond King was a first team All-Pro in 2018. Safety Derwin James was a 2018 All-Pro selection and a teammate with Harris in the 2019 pro bowl. Cornerback Casey Heyward was a 2017 teammate on the pro bowl team with Harris. The Chargers also return last year's second-round selection, Nasir Adderley. The Chargers secondary is arguably the best in the NFL.

Pro Football Focus rated the signing of Harris as an "Elite" free agent signing. They also rated the signing of Bulaga as an "Elite" free agent signing. Bulaga is considered one of the premier pass blocking right tackles in the NFL. Since 2014, per Pro Football Focus, 27 players have played at least 2,500 offensive snaps at right tackle. Among those players, Bulaga ranks second in pass-blocking grade at 83.4, trailing only Mitchell Schwartz of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Bulaga signed a three-year contract worth $30 million, with a $10 million dollar signing bonus and $19.2 million guaranteed. This signing solves the Chargers right tackle issues from last season. The Chargers addressed their run defense issues from the past couple of seasons with the signing of defensive tackle Joseph.

Joseph is considered one of the best run stuffing tackles in the NFL. At 6'4" 330 pounds, he is not easy to move. He once bench pressed 550 pounds. Joseph was a pro bowl selection in 2016 & 2017 with the Minnesota Vikings. A ten-year NFL veteran, Joseph signed a two-year, $17 million dollar contract with the Chargers. Only the first year is guaranteed, with a base salary of $1.5 million and a signing bonus of $8 million for a total guaranteed amount of $9.5 million.

The addition of Joseph will help everybody on the defensive side. Joseph's combination of power and athleticism requires constant double-teams. That should help Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, who are often double teamed by blockers. Joseph will also help keep blockers occupied and prevent them from getting to the second level to block linebackers. At 31 years of age, Joseph may not be the player he was two years ago. But even at last season's level of play, he is still one of the better nose tackles in the NFL.

The addition of these three free agents is an indication that the Chargers are not entering the 2020 NFL season in rebuilding mode. This is a team that is reloading for another playoff run. With seven teams from each conference now making the playoffs in 2020, the improved opportunity is there. The Chargers also still have about $24.7 million available under the salary cap available for a free agent signing or trade.

The obvious areas of concern for the Chargers are at quarterback and left tackle. Tyrod Taylor is a good backup option at quarterback and has started 46 NFL games, with 23 wins in those 46 games. He has a .500 winning percentage as a starter. But this would be the most talented team he has ever led in the NFL. The Chargers return their top four receivers from last season. The foursome of Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Austin Ekeler and Hunter Henry combined for 300 receptions in 2019.

The one veteran option available could be Cam Newton, NFL MVP in 2015 with the Carolina Panthers. Newton is due to make $21.1 million this season with the Panthers. He will never see that money, at least not with the Panthers. The Panthers signed New Orleans Saints quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a three-year contract last week.

Newton was given permission to seek a trade, but with his contract, there is no point in doing that. The Panthers do not want his salary on their books. Currently, the Panthers have about $10 million in salary cap space. Cutting Cam Newton, who is coming off shoulder and foot injuries, would free $19 million in salary cap space for the Panthers. So, eventually Newton will be on the open market. Any NFL team interested in Newton will just wait until he becomes a free agent.

If he can pass a physical, the Chargers could look to Newton as the answer at quarterback. Otherwise, the option is Taylor and developing a young quarterback for the future. At left tackle, the Chargers can also look at the NFL draft for answers, but the answer might just be on the roster. Last season's third round draft pick was offensive tackle Trey Pipkins out of the University of Sioux Falls in South Dakota, a Division II school.

Pipkins was drafted as a developmental tackle prospect who offered NFL-caliber size, length and athletic ability. He ended up starting the final three games of the season for the Chargers at left tackle. He has a lot of upside and he may become the starting left tackle in 2020. The Chargers have the No.6 pick in the first round of this year's draft, as well as the No.37 pick in the second round. One of those two picks could bring a quarterback of the future. The quarterback position is the lone question yet to be resolved by General Manager Tom Telesco.


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