During the 2020 offseason, the Chargers have made significant coaching changes and made transactions to prepare for free agency. The “Offseason in Review” series continues with reviewing the Chargers’ lost free agents this year. It concludes with an overview of how these losses may impact the 2020 Los Angeles Chargers.
Note: The trading of left tackle Russell Okung was included in the last article, so he is not included in this instalment.
Quarterback Philip Rivers
After 16 years with the Chargers, Rivers signed with the Indianapolis Colts on a one-year, $25 million pact. As explained in a previous article to help Chargers fan process a new starting quarterback, Rivers kept the Chargers average. He could compete in any game, but the Chargers had reached their ceiling. Moving on from Rivers allows the Chargers to take a chance to improve greatly. If the Chargers draft a quarterback as expected, there will be more salary cap flexibility to extend stars such as Joey Bosa, Keenan Allen and Hunter Henry. The extra space also allows for exciting new free agents. As the cherry on top, the Chargers are likely to get a 3rd round compensatory pick in 2021.
Running back Melvin Gordon
After some delay, Gordon agreed to a two-year deal worth $16 million with $13 million guaranteed. The loss of Gordon may also result in a net gain. Even going into the season, many fans believed that Ekeler was better, or at least more efficient. The stats on success rates for targets and runs support this theory. While Gordon’s proficiency at the goal line will be missed, the Chargers run game will be fine without him.
Safety/linebacker/special teamer Adrian Phillips
Phillips has lined up at linebacker and safety over the past couple of seasons, excelling wherever he played. He has also been a special team stalwart. It is disappointing that, after spending a bargain $2 million on Phillips in 2019, the Chargers opted not to match the $6 million over two years that the New England Patriots gave him. They signed a versatile asset that will be intriguing to watch on their defense. His losses will also be felt on special teams, where he was on the field for 79% of the snaps in 2018, his last fully healthy season.
Fullback/special teamer Derek Watt
Gordon’s Wisconsin backfield mate has been with Watt for a long time. In 2020, he will likely be blocking for a non-Wisconsin running back. This offseason, Watt joined his brother with the Pittsburgh Steelers on a three-year, $9.75 million contract. He played only 12-15% of offensive snaps. However, he played on a majority of the special teams snaps over the past 4 years. Last year, he tied Steelers linebacker Tyler Matakevich for the league lead in special teams tackles (16). Yet, the Chargers couldn’t allocate that kind of money to a fullback who played sparingly, regardless of the impact he made on special teams.
Safety Jaylen Watkins
After an injury eliminated Watkins’ 2018 season before it ever began, he eventually earned the starting job in 2019 after multiple injuries at safety (Derwin James, Adrian Phillips, Nasir Adderley) and ineffectiveness (Roderic Teamer). While he quickly ceded those snaps to James and Phillips when they returned from injured reserve, he played well and parlayed those snaps into a two-year, $3 million deal with the Houston Texans.
Linebacker Jatavis Brown
After an up and down career with the Chargers, Brown opted to take a one-year prove it deal with the Philadelphia Eagles. He fell out of favour with the Chargers in 2019, only playing 92 defensive snaps. Yet, he did play 50% of the special teams snaps. The special teams turnover continues.
Offensive guard Michael Schofield
Schofield was arguably the best (read: most available) offensive lineman for the Chargers last year. Still, he has not been signed by any team so far. He seems destined to act as veteran competition for a team that doesn’t fulfill its desires to draft a guard or as an injury replacement.
Linebacker/special teamer Nick Dzubnar
Linebacker is a loose term here since the Chargers refused to use Dzubnar as anything other than a special teamer. He played 65 snaps over 65 games in five years. That’s it. They also declined to play him at linebacker even when there weren’t any other healthy linebackers in the 2018 playoffs. He did play 80% of the special teams snaps in 2019, but offered replaceable production. The Tennessee Titans now get to use him on special teams.
Wide receiver/returner Travis Benjamin
Finally. He leaves $1.5 million in dead cap with the Chargers and is now signed to a one-year deal with the San Francisco 49ers. The Chargers will likely aim to find some speed at receiver before the 2020 season begins. Hopefully, Benjamin’s replacement can run AND catch.
Wide receiver/special teamer Geremy Davis
Davis has stayed on the roster fringe with the Chargers for the past four years, offering adequate special teams production but nothing else really. His largest impact was that he beat out 2019 offseason darling, wide receiver Artavis Scott. He now gets to compete for a spot on the Detroit Lions’ roster.
The losses of Rivers and Gordon change the identity of the entire team. Head coach Anthony Lynn has been vocal in wanting a mobile quarterback that is a winner. Meanwhile, Gordon’s loss allows the Chargers to see if Ekeler can be a true lead back. As such, Steichen will have completely different skillsets to use when metriculating the ball down the field. The Chargers have revamped their offensive line, so Schofield’s loss will not be felt as much. As for Benjamin, a new speed wide receiver has been needed since 2018 anyways. The new look offense is exciting in any offseason, but the lack of offensive cohesiveness may prove troublesome early in the season.
Make no mistake, both Philips and Watkins are underrated lost free agents. Their defections hurt the depth and versatility that the Chargers defense brings. Though, safety and defensive weapon Derwin James mitigates the losses. Nevertheless, they must now rely on defensive backs Desmond King (assuming he doesn’t get traded), Nasir Adderley and maybe the elite Rayshawn Jenkins to excel in new roles.
The lost free agents on special teams leaves defensive end Isaac Rochell, cornerback Brandon Facyson as well as linebackers Drue Tranquill, Uchenna Nwosu and Emeke Egbule as the leading snap hogs of the special teams units. The lack of experience here makes long-time Special Teams Coordinator George Stewart’s job even more critical than ever this offseason. The lack of continuity on this side of the ball may lead to some severe headaches early in the season, especially with a shortened offseason. Hopefully, the 31-year coaching vet is well-versed in Zoom.
The next article will discuss the brand new Chargers who will be donning the new powder blues for the first time in 2020. Feel free to comment if you thought the Bolts should have kept any of the discussed lost free agents!