After a severely disappointing 2012 campaign for the Chargers, they revitalized themselves with a surprising run in the 2013 playoffs. They showed their worth in the AFC West, beating the Chiefs on both occasions and toppling the Broncos while being 10+ point underdogs. Philip Rivers excellent season was vastly overshadowed by Peyton Manning’s brilliant season. Rivers deservedly won the 2013-14 Comeback Player of the Year award, and rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen was robbed of the 2013-14 Offensive Rookie of the Year award. In order to stay competitive in the ever-evolving AFC West (and AFC in general), the Chargers are going to have to do well in the draft, bring in some new players to sure up their defense, and re-sign a couple of players that would ensure the Chargers keep the veteran presence on their team. The Chargers have a total of 12 unrestricted free agents, and the front office will have to decide who to bring back, and who not to bring back (mind-blowing, isn’t it?). While the obvious guy the Chargers should push for is re-signing Donald Butler, there are 4 other guys that the Chargers must re-sign in order to keep the momentum from last season and build upon it.
Aforementioned above, Donald Butler should be the guy that Tom Telesco keys in on in the offseason. Although he has missed eight games in the past two season, Butler, if he can remain healthy, will be a big part of the Chargers defense for years to come. The real question is how much money will Telesco be willing to throw the 25 year old’s way? The Chargers would be making a huge mistake if they played it cheap and let Butler walk in the offseason. Butler’s versatility has shown in each and every game he’s played in, and it’s lead to big plays time and time again. The Chargers could possibly let him walk and try and develop Manti Te’o, but Telesco knows that letting Butler go would hurt more than it would help. Butler has recorded an interception and a forced-fumble in only two playoff games, proving to the franchise that they can rely on him to be a cornerstone of a defense that desperately needs an identity. Telesco should throw Butler a six-year deal that would ensure Butler remaining on this team so he can not only help this defense define it’s identity, but help develop this defense so that it’s championship-caliber.
If Telesco can’t ink Butler to a deal to keep him with the Chargers for years to come, Telesco needs to target Stuckey. Stuckey’s services on special teams are nearly irreplaceable, and he was voted Special Teams Player of the Year by his teammates and colleagues. Darrell Stuckey plays with the kind of intensity and passion that Mike McCoy wants all of his guys to play with. He plays with a sort-of run-and-gun style, something that you would see normally out of a guard in the NBA. He was a force on special teams, recording ten big special teams tackles on the season. His contributions weren’t just on special teams, however. When called upon, Stuckey did not disappoint McCoy during their late season playoff run. Stuckey thrived when the Chargers went to dime packages, and McCoy liked to draw up schemes for Stuckey that no QB could seemingly predict. Stuckey was a more-than serviceable replacement for various players when they went down with injuries.
The Chargers went through offensive lineman like crazy last season. At 6’5″, 321 lbs, Chad Rinehart can be a force on the offensive line if he remains healthy. Injuries have been a problem for Rinehart, who has seemingly had an injury at every level of football, from high school to the NFL. When healthy, Rinehart is very effective. Rinehart is a big body and hardly requires help protecting Rivers. The one way that an offensive line can get better is by developing chemistry. The Chargers used many different offensive line combinations this year, and it was hard to keep chemistry. Still, Rivers was only sacked 30 times, a whole 19 times less than the previous season. Rinehart did not give up any sacks on Rivers this season in the games he was able to play in, regular season and postseason. Changing topics, a lot of Ryan Matthews’ success this season was when he was running behind the big body of Rinehart. Rinehart is rather quick for a guy his size, and he used his deceiving speed to set up a hole for Matthews to get by in. Telesco has to bank on him being healthy and give him a two-year deal to take the next step in solidifying the offensive line.
Reggie Walker definitely needs to improve, but he has a lot of upside. At 27 years old, Walker has not fully reached his potential in the NFL, having just completed his 5th season. Walker is very versatile as he can defend the run as well as he can defend the pass. His stats should be much better than they are, however. If Walker gets resigned, which he should (the Chargers would be able to resign him for a minimal amount of money), Walker’s production will skyrocket next season. Walked played in all 18 games (including postseason) that the Chargers had this season, and he was a consistent “force” for the defense. His patrol of the middle of the field limited the amount of inside routes that the opposing offense was able to run against the Chargers. When he was in the game, opposing offenses tended to run the ball to the opposite side of Walker. If Walker can take the next step, he will make Telesco very proud for resigning him.
Due to the Chargers limited cap space, resigning Richard Marshall is highly recommended. With 71 tackles on the season, Marshall was one of the most consistent players on the Chargers defense. Late in the season, Marshall was key to the Chargers postseason run and 9-7 regular season finish. Marshall likes to press the opposing receivers and jam them up at the line of scrimmage, giving his defensive line more time to pressure the quarterback. The cornerback position is in need of desperate improvement, and the Chargers will probably look to the NFL Draft to improve that position. The Chargers will be facing a tough decision facing this defense in the offseason, as the limited cap space won’t allow them to re-sign players and bring in key free agents. The Chargers will want to keep the defense from last season in tact, and bank on the improved health of the defense to improve the overall play and statistics of the defense.