As the NFL season itself comes to its end, we’re in the midst of the time when the other teams start looking ahead. That includes dealing with free agency, which will be coming up in just over a month. That makes it time for teams to start thinking about who they want to try to keep and who they want to let walk. For the Los Angeles Chargers, they’ve got a bunch of decisions to make in that regard this off-season. Let’s discuss who their top priorities should be, and next week we’ll discuss who they should let walk.
2020 Los Angeles Chargers Free Agency: Players to Re-Sign
Receiving back specialist Austin Ekeler should definitely be at the top of the list of Chargers priorities this year. The 2019 season saw him have a crazy breakout season where he effectively became the #3 Chargers receiver. He ended up having 92 catches for 993 yards and eight touchdowns, and over 1,500 total yards from scrimmage. This puts him among the best of the best in the “receiving back” category along with Christian McCaffrey and James White.
The good news is Ekeler is a restricted free agent, so it should be easier for the Chargers to get him back – so long as they don’t decide to just let him go, which would be a very bad idea.
Tight end Hunter Henry had a nice bounce-back year in 2019 after spending all of the 2018 regular season out with a torn ACL. Despite still missing four games, he finished with 55 catches for 652 yards (both career highs) and five touchdowns.
He’s a big part of the Chargers offense, especially given they still don’t have a solid third wide receiver unless you count Ekeler. He’s probably their best red zone target but is capable of bringing in the longer passes as well. He may not be George Kittle or Travis Kelce, but he’s still one of the league’s better tight ends. And given his injury history and that he hasn’t put up monster stats like Kelce or Kittle, this should mean it won’t be too costly for the Chargers to bring him back.
When it comes to defensive free agents, getting safety Adrian Phillips back should be their top priority. He kind of disappeared in 2019 due to being on injured reserve for the bulk of the season. However, just the season before that, he was a first-team All-Pro. While his stats weren’t flashy this year – no interceptions – he was still in on 36 tackles in seven games. That would’ve put him on pace for 82 if he’d played the entire year. That’s a number which is comparable to his total last year (94).
Derwin James may be the face of the safety corps, but Phillips can do a lot of the same things – playing all over the defensive field, making hard hits, and just generally being all over the place. It could even be said Phillips is a poor man’s James – which is not a bad thing to have. The Chargers should definitely make sure they get this guy back.
Like a lot of fullbacks these days (assuming a team even has one), Derek Watt doesn’t contribute a ton on the stats sheet. He just got his first career rushing touchdown this year. But he’s been still doing his job because he almost squeaked into the Pro Bowl. He was a second alternate for fullback, but also a first alternate for special teams. And the struggles of the running game have been more on the often injury-plagued offensive line than Watt. It’s not necessarily a flashy re-signing, but it should be done.
This is another restricted free agent, but he’s worth mentioning anyway. Cornerback Michael Davis has come a long way since his rookie days, where he looked inept at covering. However, now he’s gotten to the point where he’s the best option for the Chargers opposite Casey Hayward (since Desmond King is still relegated to nickel/slot work). That leaves Brandon Facyson and Roderic Teamer. Teamer got a little better down the stretch, but neither he or Facyson are ready to be starting corners yet.
Davis finished a 2019 season where he played 12 games (two missed due to suspension) and finished with 39 tackles (31 solo), nine passes defended, and his first two career interceptions. While he’s still not top tier by any means, at times he was the only other corner doing much besides Hayward. The Chargers should be sure to retain him, since he may be the only other guy close to a sure bet at the position.
The Elephant in the Room
Obviously, there’s the issue of Philip Rivers. While Jay Glazer recently said the Chargers were moving on, Ian Rapaport suggested the Chargers were still exploring options for him – like the franchise tag. So in other words, we actually still have no idea whether he’s coming back.
Given how Rivers struggled often in 2019, it would be foolish to go forward without getting another young quarterback to replace him when needed. Still, given his prior play and that we still saw flashes of it at times, bringing him back isn’t a bad idea either as long as they’ve got a good backup plan. The franchise tag would be well used there.
Two of the guys mentioned here are restricted free agents, which makes it a little easier on the team. However, they should still be sure to retain them and the others. Henry might be the most important one of all because they don’t have a viable option at tight end if he leaves. But all of these are players that the Chargers should be ensuring they keep on their roster.