The initial rush of the 2023 free agency period seems to be over, and it has been quite a period for the Los Angeles Chargers so far. This is not really a surprise, given that they were in a situation of limited cap. Even with some restructuring of four of their biggest stars, they were left with only $20 million cap space going into the legal-tampering period ($6 million more later after they cut Matt Feiler). Nevertheless, especially when you’re trying to contend for the playoffs and possibly in a make-or-break year (for the coach and possibly GM, anyway), every move counts. So let’s go into what they have done so far – as well as what they haven’t done or who they let walk.
Thoughts on the 2023 Los Angeles Chargers Free Agency Moves (So Far)
Cap Restructures & Casualties
The Chargers were actually in the red at the start of the offseason, so some decisions had to be made, particularly with guys with bigger contracts. There were rumors that costly veterans like Khalil Mack or Keenan Allen could get shipped or even cut, but none of that happened. Instead, the front office chose to kick the can down the road and restructure the deals of Allen, Mack, Mike Williams, and Joey Bosa – which freed up quite a bit of space for 2023 but will still likely force them to deal with the problem of those big contracts later. Ultimately, they just delayed the inevitable – understandable while Justin Herbert is still on his rookie contract. But one or two of those four players will likely be gone next year to free up needed cap space (maybe 2025 at best).
Matt Feiler was a predicted cap casualty – and given that they had Jamaree Salyer waiting in the wings, it made sense. Feiler became expendable and was costing too much to keep around in a year with tight cap. This has proven to be their only cap casualty so far (unless they do a post-June 1st cut), but it and the restructures provided them with a little breathing room.
Signing Eric Kendricks
The only actual new acquisition in free agency so far is linebacker Eric Kendricks – but it’s an important one. They clearly brought him in to be a new starter at inside linebacker – and let Drue Tranquill walk instead. The former 2019 All-Pro struggled last year in a new Minnesota Vikings defense, but the hope is that he will return to form and be a strong playmaker for the Chargers instead.
That’s the only new addition in free agency, but it may not be the last. Brandon Staley is interested in bringing in recently released Cleveland Browns safety John Johnson – who he used to work with when they were both with the Los Angeles Rams. Staley has shown a tendency to bring in guys that he is familiar with, so if other such targets are available and the price is right, Johnson may not be the only one.
Most of the other Chargers’ moves have been re-signings. Some of them have been important ones, though. Most notable was bringing back right tackle Trey Pipkins, who had a remarkable breakout after once having been on the roster bubble in his earlier years. They were able to get him for a reasonable price too (three years, $21 million), given how expensive the offensive-tackle market has proven so far during this free agency period. The offensive line remains intact to protect Justin Herbert for another year.
The Chargers also brought back defensive lineman Morgan Fox, who did better than expected last year. With Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson still on the roster, this leaves zero questions on the defensive line. Donald Parham was also brought back after the two sides were initially unable to agree before the start of free agency, keeping a strong red-zone target for Herbert intact. Finally, kicker Cameron Dicker was retained as well – surprisingly though, they have not cut Dustin Hopkins, suggesting that they are planning a kicker competition (despite how well Dicker did and that he’s cheaper).
The biggest player that was allowed to walk so far during this Chargers free agency period was linebacker Drue Tranquill. This was a foregone conclusion after Kendricks was signed. What is surprising they never tried to bring him back, even though it seems like they could have kept him cheaply enough, given that he signed with the Kansas City Chiefs for only $5 million. They may have expected they would not be able to afford him, but it is strange that they didn’t at least try. Still, fans shouldn’t be unhappy with getting Kendricks instead.
Nasir Adderley was not brought back as well – because he retired young instead. It seems unlikely they would have brought him back anyway since he seemed to be in Brandon Staley’s doghouse down the stretch last season. Nevertheless, that does leave a slight question mark at free safety (hence the likelihood of signing John Johnson mentioned above).
Finally, Storm Norton was allowed to walk and ended up with the New Orleans Saints. This is only notable because it means fans won’t have to worry about him being a complete liability for the team if there are injuries at left or right tackle again.
Running Back Change?
Just before the start of free agency, it was revealed that starting halfback Austin Ekeler was seeking an extension – and, after talks stalled with the Chargers, requested to seek a trade. However, there does not appear to have been much noise on that front, suggesting that Ekeler may not be able to get the price he wants. Still, it remains possible that Ekeler may end up on another team this season. That would leave the Chargers with a massive hole at the position, given that there is literally no one else currently on the team that can be expected to fill in at RB1 (Joshua Kelley has turned into a good third-down back, but that’s about it).
Most of the notable players in free agency at halfback are already gone by now, but chances are some of them may be too expensive for the team anyway given the current cap situation. Their best hope may be to draft another running back – in the second or possibly even first round – and hope they strike gold this time. Tom Telesco has whiffed a lot on running backs in the last several years.
As stated, it has been a fairly quiet Chargers free agency period so far – and while we should expect another move or two, it should be expected to remain quiet. But they made the most of some of the moves they have made so far, bringing in a promising starter at linebacker and retaining a couple of important starters. Most of their remaining needs should be expected to be filled in the Draft – and they will need to make the most of those as well.
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