[Editor’s note: This preview was originally published on Feb. 28, 2017, and updated on March 6 to reflect changes in the market do to franchise tags, re-signings, cuts, etc.]
What you need to know
The Los Angeles Chargers made arguably the best free-agent signing of 2015, nabbing cornerback Casey Hayward from the Packers. Hayward finished the season with the sixth-ranked overall grade at the position, in part due to his NFL-leading seven interceptions. After a disappointing five-win season and a head coaching change, the Chargers will be looking for another big hit this offseason, although they’ll have limited cap space to work with.
Salary cap room
$5,146,314 (30th in NFL; as of 3/6/2017)
- Interior defender
Notable free agents
- Jahleel Addae, S, 85.2
- Danny Woodhead, RB, 55.0
Jahleel Addae, S, 85.2 overall grade in 2016
With pass-rusher Melvin Ingram under the franchise tag, the Chargers should focus their efforts on retaining Addae, who is likely going to be within the team’s budget and is coming off the best season of his career after sticking with the team as a RFA last offseason. Despite missing nine weeks due to injury, Addae’s overall grade ranked 12th at the position, with above-average marks in both run defense and coverage – from Week 12 through the end of the season, he allowed just a 56.8 passer rating when targeted.
Kevin Zeitler, G, Cincinnati Bengals, 87.1
The offensive line has been a recurring problem for the Chargers in recent seasons. Matt Slauson had a solid 2016 at center after joining the team last offseason (81.2 grade, ranked 18th), but the prospects aren’t quite as good at tackle and guard, given the team didn’t have a single player grade among the top-50 players at either position.
At 27 years old and coming off of a sackless, 87.1-graded season, Zeitler is the best offensive lineman set to hit free agency. He’s graded among the top 10 guards for three straight years and has been above-average in both facets since being drafted in 2012.
Top 2017 free agency prospects
Andrew Whitworth, T, Cincinnati Bengals, 91.3
At 35 years old, Whitworth is very much a short-term option, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing if the team is trying to maximize their window with quarterback Phillip Rivers. Whitworth has been a top-10-graded tackle for eight consecutive seasons, and a top-five player for the last four years. Last season he led all tackles with a 98.0 pass-blocking efficiency rating, surrendering only 14 pressures – a number far below the 98 combined pressures allowed by King Dunlap and Joe Barksdale.
Tony Jefferson, S, Arizona Cardinals, 88.6
In the case that the team doesn’t retain Addae, Jefferson fits the bill at strong safety in new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s cover-3 scheme. Of this year’s class of free agent safeties, none is better against the run than Jefferson, whose 10.5-percent run-stop percentage led the position last year – a good enough mark that it would have been the fifth-best among linebackers. Jefferson is less spectacular in coverage, but has improved there over the last two seasons.
Karl Klug, DI, Tennessee Titans, 81.3
A late-season Achilles tear complicates things, but a healthy Klug would provide much needed interior pass rush, which the Chargers were sorely lacking last year outside of Brandon Mebane. Klug’s 81.3 overall grade was the 22nd-best mark among interior defenders in 2016 and he’s been above-average rushing the passer in each of his six seasons.
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