The weeks following the NFL Draft are usually the most dead period of the NFL season. The day-to-day news cycle runs slow with minimal things that actually deserve reporting. Occasionally members of front offices around the league will turn this time of year into extension season, shifting focus from the draft to players currently on the roster. Teams like the Seattle Seahawks got an early start before the draft signing Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas to extensions. The Cleveland Browns made the first move after the draft signing Joe Haden to a five-year extension. The San Diego Chargers have a lot of contracts coming off the books at the end of the 2014-15 season, but do any of them warrant an extension before hitting free agency?
Two thirds of the starting offensive line, tackle King Dunlap, center Nick Hardwick, and guard Jeromey Clary, will have their contracts expire after this upcoming season. Dunlap played very well last season after injuries had derailed his previous seasons in Philadelphia. He certainly won’t receive an extension before the season, but he could make a case to stay on the team with another solid season, though that will also depend on how the front office and coaching staff feel about moving D.J. Fluker to left tackle. Clary is 30 years old and San Diego drafted Chris Watt in the third-round at guard, which could allow the Chargers to move on at the end of the season. The interesting case on the offensive line will be Hardwick. Already 32 years old, Hardwick has played all 16 games in the past four seasons. He’s scheduled to be a $6.15 million cap hit this season, per Spotrac. The Chargers could extend Hardwick for an extra year or two, reducing the cap hit for this season while keeping a solid, albeit aging, center in the middle of the line.
Both Danny Woodhead and Ryan Mathews will be on the last years of their contracts. Two weeks ago, I mentioned this and stated the Chargers could take a back with a late-round pick in the draft in the event neither back returns. San Diego happened to draft the exact running back I suggested, Marion Grice from Arizona State. Grice has the ability to be a Mathews-Woodhead hybrid, making it a strong possibility the 2015 backfield is comprised of Grice and Donald Brown, without Woodhead or Mathews.
In the secondary, three more players who are likely to play big roles in 2014 will be impending free agents, Marcus Gilchrist, Shareece Wright and Richard Marshall. Marshall was brought back this season on a one-year/$570,000 contract and the Chargers shouldn’t put any more thought into that until the season ends. Gilchrist and Wright both carry a possibility of getting locked down if team friendly deals can be reached. Wright struggled to start last season, but improved as the season went on. Wright will only make $781,000 this year and the value of second contract will be directly related to his play in 2014. The Chargers are probably willing to take the gamble as Wright shouldn’t become too expensive short of a Richard Sherman-like season. Gilchrist, on the other hand, could be worth extending to a longer-term, team friendly deal. Gilchrist will be a $1.25 million cap hit this season, and is the most likely to raise his market value after a solid season. He played well in 2013 considering his switch from cornerback to safety and should continue to develop into a better player moving back into a nickel role. Gilchrist’s flexibility to also play all over the secondary makes him a value piece of the defense, allowing San Diego to play in the growing-in-popularity three safety set, which would allow both Darrell Stuckey and Jahleel Addae to see some more time on the field to continue to develop.
Gilchrist clearly isn’t the type of big name usually associated with post-draft extensions, but the Chargers don’t really have that type of player on the roster right now. With so many other contracts expiring this season, the Chargers can take a chance on locking down a young piece of their defense who they hope will continue to be a positive contributor for the next few seasons. There’s been no grumblings of a possible extension, but as football activities start to pick back up the Chargers could start to consider a proactive move like this.
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