Chargers Offseason Needs 2021 – Protecting Justin Herbert
Offensive Rookie of the Year, Justin Herbert, was the highlight of the Chargers’ season. However, a 7-9 season led to the departure of head coach Anthony Lynn and the hiring of former Rams defensive coordinator, Brandon Staley. Staley will attempt to salvage a horrendous defense that lost LA many games in 2020. The offensive line will be a focus too this Chargers offseason, as protecting their franchise quarterback is a must.
Roster Needs: OL, CB, EDGE, TE
The offensive line was downright terrible. Justin Herbert was sacked 32 times, the 9th most across the NFL. Being pressured on 28.8% of dropbacks was the 6th highest rate. Thus, most of their $34 million in cap space will be used to fill the gaping holes across the line during the Chargers offseason. Former Pro Bowlers, Trai Turner and Bryan Bulaga took massive steps back since joining LA. Offensive line coach, James Campen has joined Houston, so a new coach brought in will ideally revitalize the talented lineman.
Stud center, Mike Pouncey played 5 games before a hip injury ended his 2020 campaign, and backup center Dan Feeney was one, if not the worst player at the position. Pouncey’s recent retirement leaves a gaping hole at the center position. The left side of the line is the main area of concern. Guard Forrest Lamp and tackle Sam Tevi were the main reasons for the consistent pressure Herbert dealt with.
Thankfully, Feeney, Lamp, and Tevi are all impending free agents and will not have to play another snap for the Chargers. A re-signed and healthy Pouncey will shore up the middle of the line, but LA must explore options at left guard and left tackle throughout the Chargers offseason.
The timing of needing a tackle could not have come at a better time, as premier left tackle, Orlando Brown, has expressed his desire to be traded. The 24-year-old Pro Bowler has found success on both the right and left sides of the line. Brown is a versatile mauler at the tackle position who can bolster this Chargers line for years to come. In terms of price, however, the Ravens reportedly want a haul.
The best-case scenario is that LA trades a second and third-round pick for Brown, keeping their 13th overall pick in the first round. As for the guard position, there are options in the draft such as Trey Smith out of Tennessee. His explosive pop and strength in his blocks are a gift that not many linemen have.
Going after Chiefs’ center Austin Reiter in free agency gives the Chargers the Pouncey replacement they need. Reiter has developed into one of the better blockers in the league since coming into the league in 2015. A player like Reiter who excels in pass-blocking is an ideal fit for Justin Herbert.
The Chargers may look for a more experienced guard who can provide an immediate impact in protecting their franchise quarterback. Joe Thuney from New England will be on the Chargers’ radar, as he has been one of the best pass-blocking guards since coming into the league in 2016. Thuney would be a much-needed expensive addition, likely demanding $15 million per year. These additions along with resurgent play by Trai Turner and Bryan Bulaga will give Herbert a clean pocket to operate in.
Tight end was also included on this list because of Hunter Henry’s expiring contract. The oft-injured 26-year-old has been great when healthy. Henry excels in finding the holes in zone coverage a trait especially useful in the red-zone. While LA likely re-signs him, they may prefer what they see in Kyle Pitts. The Florida phenom is a true mismatch at 6-foot-6 who runs routes like a receiver. Pitts may available when the Chargers are on the clock and if they acquire offensive line talent through free agency, Pitts will make this exciting offense even more explosive.
The defense was the weak spot for the team. The secondary and defensive line were both suspect, with no true consistency as the Chargers gave up the 10th most points in 2020. Star edge rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram struggled to stay on the field, as Bosa played in 10 games and Ingram played in 7. Ingram may potentially leave in free agency if LA cannot come to terms on a long-term deal with him. Ingram should be brought back. If he is not, Bosa will need a new running mate.
Shaq Barrett will be a coveted free agent this offseason, and LA should be a potential suitor. Working opposite of Bosa makes them an attractive destination and his skillset will be relied upon heavily. His wide array of pass-rushing moves keeps him among the best when it comes to edge rushers. Bosa and Barrett would form the most fearsome duo in terms of getting to the quarterback.
After the edge position, cornerback is a heavy need. Casey Hayward struggled in coverage, but the 31-year-old will be a solid starter for at least two more years. 2020 free agent signing, Chris Harris played well in the slot and will also be key to their secondary going forward. Outside of them, there is no quality starter. Michael Davis and Tevaughn Campbell got constantly beat and simply refused to stick to their man in coverage. Giving up the 12th most air yards, LA must target a corner who can be more of a nuisance along the boundary.
Former Charger, Jason Verrett was outstanding during his time in LA, but could never stay healthy. A rebound season in San Francisco gives promise to his outlook. Verrett played 803 snaps in 2020 which was a career-high and gave up a single touchdown. Bridges did not seem to be burned after he left, and obviously enjoys staying in California. Verrett may be the key to the Chargers porous secondary after all.
If they decide to look elsewhere, Ronald Darby was a lockdown corner for Washington this past season. He has the speed to be put on an island against any receiver and the shiftiness to stay with them. Expect the Chargers to be busy in free agency and aggressive in the draft to address their various needs.