Chargers move quickly in free agency to improve offensive line
March 18, 2021
At his season ending press conference, General Manager Tom Telesco of the Los Angeles Chargers stated the obvious about the play of the offensive line during the season: "There's a lot of improvement that needs to be made in that area." On the first day of free agency, Telesco made good on that statement by adding two free agent starters to the offensive line.
The Chargers added center Corey Linsley, a 2020 first team All-Pro with the Green Bay Packers and added Matt Feiler, the starting left guard for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020. Linsley was signed to a five-year, $62.5 million dollar contract. The deal has $17 million guaranteed at signing, in the form of a $13 million signing bonus and a $4 million 2021 salary.
Linsley becomes the highest paid center in the NFL. He was attracted to the Chargers after talking with former Packer teammate, Bryan Bulaga, the Chargers starting right tackle. Bulaga and Linsley played together in Green Bay for six seasons, from 2014 through 2019.
Linsley told SiriusXM NFL Radio in an interview that Bulaga helped sell him on the Chargers: "A lot of conversation with Bryan Bulaga today, just getting his feel for the new staff and everybody there. He only had positive things to say. His opinion matters a lot to me. For him to be able to vouch for everybody, not even working with them yet just getting the first impression, meant a lot to me."
Linsley was rated the top center in football by Pro Football Focus, so his addition to the Chargers is a huge improvement to the Chargers offensive line. PFF rated the Chargers offensive line as the worst in the NFL, so they would agree with Telesco that a lot of improvement needed to be made to the offensive line.
Feiler's contract was a three-year, $21 million dollar deal. Feiler, who is 28 years old, started 39 games the past three seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He started 10 games at right tackle in 2018, 16 games at right tackle in 2019 and 13 games at left guard in 2020. Feiler's versatility allows him to be used at either guard position as well as right tackle.
Feiler's will be reunited with a familiar face from the past when he joins the Chargers offensive line. The Chargers recently hired Feiler's former offensive line coach, Shaun Sarrett, as their assistant offensive line coach. Sarrett was the offensive line coach with the Steelers for the past nine years and he likely had influence over Feiler's decision to join the Chargers.
The Chargers now have three-fifths of their starting offensive line filled in, with Bulaga at right tackle, Linsley at center and Feiler at left guard. They still need to find a starting right guard and a starting left tackle. Last season's starting right guard, Trai Turner, was released a week ago by the Chargers after one season with the team.
Turner, who was acquired in a trade last year, was a five-time pro bowl guard with the Carolina Panthers, but was ineffective with the Chargers. Turner struggled to stay healthy with the Chargers and his release saved the team $11.5 million against the salary cap. The Chargers still have enough cap space to add help on the offensive line and in other areas.
The Chargers also released cornerback Casey Hayward last week, clearing $9.75 million in salary cap space. Hayward started at cornerback for the Chargers from 2016 through 2020 and led the NFL in interceptions in 2016 with seven. He was named to the pro bowl in 2016 and in 2017. Hayward will be 32 next season and his performance at cornerback had noticeably slipped in 2020. Given his age and his salary, this was a decision the Chargers probably needed to make.
The Chargers are bringing back cornerback Michael Davis, who agreed to a new contract with the team that will pay him a reported $15 million in guaranteed money. The question will be, is Davis ready to become a No.1 corner? It is likely the Chargers will look to the draft for help at cornerback to replace Hayward. Troy Hill of the Los Angeles Rams is available in free agency and he could provide immediate help at the cornerback position.
As expected, the Chargers lost a couple of starters from last season at the start of free agency. Tight end Hunter Henry signed with the New England Patriots and safety Rayshawn Jenkins signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The loss of Henry was not unexpected. The Chargers did not want to put the franchise tag on Henry, as they did last season, primarily because it would have cost the Chargers $12.7 million in 2021.
The Patriots signed Henry to a three-year, $37.5 million dollar contract with $25 million guaranteed. In the NFL, the guaranteed money is the money the team must pay the player and the money that counts against the salary cap. That was too much for the Chargers. Jenkins started at free safety and strong safety for the Chargers. His contract with the Jaguars is a four-year, $35 million dollar deal, with $16 million guaranteed. Jenkins was paid $2.1 million last season with the Chargers.
With the expected return of Derwin James, replacing Jenkins will not be difficult. Replacing Henry will be more difficult. The Chargers have one tight end under contract, Donald Parham Jr., and he is not ready to fill Henry's shoes. Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz could land with the Chargers, but the issue of compensation to the Eagles and if Ertz is willing to sign a long-term deal with the Chargers has held a possible deal up. Ertz, who has asked to be traded or released, is a three-time pro bowl tight end.
There are also options in free agency at tight end with Jared Cook, Dan Arnold, and Gerald Everett. Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi is familiar with Cook and Arnold from his time with the New Orleans Saints and head coach Brandon Staley is familiar with Everett from his time with the Rams. The 2021 NFL draft is not deep at tight end and has limited possibilities for immediate help at tight end.
The Chargers will likely be in the market for a backup quarterback. Last season's backup, Tyrod Taylor, signed with the Houston Texans for one year and an amount that could be worth up to $12.5 million. Easton Stick would be the backup to starting quarterback Justin Herbert if the Chargers do not make a move to acquire a quarterback in free agency. A possibility at quarterback is Chase Daniel, a 12-year veteran quarterback who was recently released by the Lions and played for Lombardi in New Orleans.
Overall, the first two days of free agency were a success with the addition of Linsley and Feiler on the offensive line and achieved Telesco's goal of improving the offensive line. Protecting Herbert and establishing a consistent running game will be critical to any success the Chargers have in 2021. With over $30 million in salary cap space available and nine draft picks in the upcoming NFL draft, the Chargers are far from finished in providing help for their prized young franchise quarterback.