Free agency is not even 24 hours old and many of the big names are no longer on the market. The San Diego Chargers stayed relatively quiet during the initial rush for signings and rightfully so. San Diego doesn’t have a ton of cap space and lacks to funds to throw around the type of money that was being casually dumped yesterday. The amount of money spent by other teams could end up being beneficial for San Diego in the latter stages of free agency.
The Chargers did make one move, signing running back Donald Brown of the Indianapolis Colts. Brown has come a long way since his Damnit Donald days both as a rusher and a blocker. Behind an offensive line Trent Richardson couldn’t rush for 3.0 yards per carry with, Brown ran for 5.3 yards per rush on 102 attempts. Brown isn’t going to be a feature back, but he doesn’t have to be. Ryan Mathews and Brown give San Diego a solid 1-2 punch with Danny Woodhead able to continue doing Danny Woodhead things. Brown could help lead to more Woodhead things, taking some rushing attempts away and allowing Woodhead to move around the formation more while still having a legitimate running threat in the backfield. That wasn’t the case when Ronnie Brown was on the field last year.
Brown received a three-year/$10.5 million contract, the exact same totals Jacksonville gave to running back Toby Gerhart on the first day of free agency. Gerhart has only rushed over 100 times in a season once in his four year career and had only 36 attempts in 2013. Only $4 million of Brown’s contract is guaranteed, so even in a suppressed running back market, the Chargers got a pretty good deal.
Running back, though, wasn’t one of San Diego’s positions needing upgrading in the offseason. The two positions needed were cornerback and pass rusher. Through the first day of signings, the majority of cornerbacks and pass rushers who were on the market are now celebrating in their homes like Scrooge McDuck. Cornerbacks Aquib Talib, Vontae Davis and Alterraun Verner got a combined $122.5 million in new contracts, while pass rushers got some big deals to re-sign before free agency started —looking at you, Everson Griffen — and more big names are coming to the market looking for new deals. The releases of DeMarcus Ware and Julius Peppers should help the Chargers in their search for a pass rusher. San Diego won’t sign either of those players to a big deal, but someone will, leaving one of the other free agent pass rushers to look elsewhere for a new team. By simple process of elimination there should be a player or two, who would have originally been out of the Chargers’ price range, readjusting their asking price and willing to settle for a smaller deal. Or if the Chargers wanted to swing for the fences, releasing Dwight Freeney and saving about $3 million is still an option if they wanted to attempt to bring in one of the premier players.
Meanwhile the 2013 AFC Champion Denver Broncos have been on a spending spree trying to make the most of whatever Peyton Manning has left in the tank. Denver signed Talib to a six-year/$57 million contract and safety T.J. Ward to a four-year/$23 million deal. Ward looks to be a great value contract, but the Broncos aren’t holding back from spending. They’re also reportedly the favorite to sign DeMarcus Ware. Denver’s spending could play to San Diego’s advantage if they wanted to give restricted free agent cornerback Chris Harris an offer sheet. A slightly front-loaded contract could force Denver’s hand by not allowing them to match after the new slew of contracts they’ve taken on in the past 24 hours and the ones they could still give out.
Cornerback still remains the deepest position in free agency with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Champ Bailey, Tarrell Brown and Antonio Cromartie still unsigned. The market for corners is likely to burst soon with more free agents looking for new teams than teams looking for cornerbacks. An under the radar corner like Washington’s Josh Wilson could almost come for free and would easily be an upgrade over what San Diego had last season.
Sitting in the corner watching everyone else have fun isn’t always the most popular strategy for fans, but the Chargers are going to benefit from being patient. General manager Tom Telesco is showing a great understanding of how he wants to intelligently improve the team. San Diego might not be signing the biggest names, but they could come out of free agency as improved as any team that spent the most in the first 24 hours. All they have to do it wait.
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