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Star Safety Feels “Different” In New Scheme, Could Seek New Team

Los Angeles Chargers star safety Derwin James doesn't appear to be a fit in the team's new scheme and could be on the way out
Derwin James

The 2023 season isn’t even over yet, and the Los Angeles Chargers are already adapting to the post-Brandon Staley world. The team recently released Sebastian Joseph-Day, and that might not be the end of their transactions. Star safety Derwin James saw a reduced role in his first game under intermit head coach Giff Smith.

Normally a full-time starter, Derwin James played a season-low 41 snaps in last week’s loss to the Bills, with the vast majority of his work coming in the slot. What’s most interesting is that James was on the sideline for multiple third and fourth downs, including the one where Stefon Diggs recorded a first down to all but clinch the game.

Could Derwin James Be On the Way Out In Los Angeles?

Speaking to reporters after the game, Derwin James said it was “definitely different” to be reduced to a role player, which could be a sign of things to come. The Los Angeles Chargers are in salary cap hell, currently set to be $34.6 million over the cap at the start of the league year.

James’ future with the team likely depends upon who the Chargers hire to be their next head coach. That said, there is a chance that the next coach sees Derwin James similarly to how Giff Smith appears to see him. In that scenario, the Chargers could save $9.33 million by designating him as a post-June 1st cut, or$12.75 million by making him a post-June 1st trade.

Derwin James has made the Pro Bowl every single year he’s been healthy enough to play 14 or more games. If the Chargers can’t appreciate what he brings to the table, somebody else definitely will. In no particular order, these five teams make the most sense as potential landing spots.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs defense is one of the best in the league, but they have a glaring hole at the safety position. Per Pro Football Focus, Bryan Cook, Justin Reid, and Mike Edwards all rank outside the top 50 at their position, and Edwards is about to be a free agent. The Chiefs could use a proper heir to Tryann Mathieu, and Derwin James would be an ideal fit for this scheme. The Chargers would never trade him to a division rival, but if he’s released, he might like the idea of getting revenge on his former team twice every season.

New England Patriots

Do the New England Patriots need another hybrid safety? Probably not. However, that has never stopped Bill Belichick from addressing the position in the past, and it’s hard to imagine him passing up an opportunity to sign Derwin James. Belichick loves versatile chess pieces that can do a little bit of everything, and there aren’t many players better at moving across the secondary than James. Kyle Dugger is about to become a free agent, but Belichick could opt to let the former second-round pick walk and sign James instead.

Washington Commanders

The Washington Commanders have a lot of work to do this offseason. Their defense is probably the worst in the league, and they’ll need multiple players to address the glaring weaknesses on the roster. Fortunately, the Commanders are projected to enter the 2024 league year with $81.7 million in cap space, the most in the NFL. Derwin James wouldn’t singlehandedly fix their terrible defense, but Washington could sign him and have plenty of money left over for the rest of the team.

Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers should spend most of their offseason adding talent to the offensive side of the ball. However, if they have a chance to add Derwin James, it’s going to be hard for them to say no to him. Von Bell is great, but the rest of the depth chart leaves something to be desired. This lack of depth becomes more evident when you factor in that Jeremy Chinn is about to be a free agent. The former second-round pick has struggled in recent years, and a change of scenery could be a good thing for his career.

Las Vegas Raiders

At 7-8, the Las Vegas Raiders have found a way to be competitive the second Josh McDaniels left the building, and they’ve done it all with the inexperienced Aidan O’Connell under center. This team is only a few pieces away from being a legitimate playoff threat, and Derwin James could be one of those pieces. Depending on who the Raiders hire as a head coach, Derwin James could be the versatile chess piece required to take this unit to the next level. Nobody will confuse the 2024 Raiders with the 1985 Chicago Bears, but James could help make this unit into an above-average defense.

Main Photo: Kirby Lee – USA Today Sports

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