Ending the 2020 NFL season on a four-game win streak, the Los Angeles Chargers finished with a 7-9 record and walk into the 2021 free agency period, knowing they need to give QB Justin Herbert a supporting cast. That means not only addressing TE Hunter Henry, who will be a free agent in 2021, but the Chargers bolstering the offensive line to keep him on the field for the next decade or longer.
Chargers’ head coach Brandon Staley will hit the ground running when free agency begins in 2021
After several candidates’ names popped up, even Jason Garrett at one point, the Los Angeles Chargers handed the keys to Brandon Staley to serve as the next head coach.
Staley takes over after Chargers’ owner Dean Spanos released Anthony Lynn of his duties after the season. While a great motivator and someone the players liked, issues late in games became too much, and the team let him go. He finished his Chargers tenure with a 33–31 (.516) regular season record and 1-1 postseason record.
Brandon Staley’s résumé
Staley has been on a meteoric rise as of late. Garnering several teams’ attention in recent years. Add Staley to the list of names who get jobs after only being in the presence of Los Angeles Rams’ head coach Sean McVay.
He just wrapped up his first season as a defensive coordinator for the Rams in 2020, where the team had the best defense in the NFL in nearly every category. In fact, he has only been in the NFL since 2017. He served as the Chicago Bears’ linebackers coach (2017-2018) and for the Broncos in 2019.
Perhaps the Chargers know something we don’t in Staley. Bringing in a defensive-minded coach when you have a budding potential superstar QB in Justin Herbert seems a bit odd at first glance. However, his first priority will be working with Chargers’ GM Tom Telesco and deciding which players to target in free agency and which free agents they will let walk in 2021.
The Chargers will have plenty of salary cap space to use in free agency in 2021
Where most teams could find themselves handcuffed by a diminished salary cap in 2021, the Chargers should come out just fine. According to Over the Cap, the Chargers have $19.67 million in projected salary cap space.
It comes down to if they want to go after free agents in 2021 or use the money to re-sign one of their own players who will be free agents. If the Chargers go for option two, they have plenty of choices.
According to Spotrac, they have 29 players set to be free agents in 2021. Luckily, 12 of those players are either restricted free agents or exclusive-rights free agents. Here is a brief synopsis of what that means, and more information can be found on the NFL’s website.
A player with exclusive-rights status may only sign a contract with their original team if the original team placed the minimum salary tender and can not negotiate with anyone else.
If an RFA player is tendered a qualifying offer, his original team has a right of first refusal and may receive a draft selection as compensation if the player signs a contract with a new team.
Hunter Henry is the largest name of available tight ends in 2021 if he walks from the Chargers
The priority moving forward has to be giving Justin Hebert the best situation possible. That starts by bringing back Hunter Henry.
Henry ended the 2020 season with a career-high 60 catches (93 targets) for 613 yards and 4 touchdowns across 14 games. The 26-year-old tight end played on the non-exclusive franchise tag in 2020, which sets him up to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The Chargers will have the option of retaining Henry for 2021 by franchising him again, though his $10.6 million salary would rise significantly.
While XFL standout Donald Parham flashed at times, he is not the solution long-term. Also, Henry is the best tight end in the 2021 free agency class, so there would be no upgrade floating around. The next option would be in the 2021 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, winning four straight games comes at a price.
The Chargers have the 13th overall pick, which could be just outside the range for Florida’s Kyle Pitts. Granted, they could fall back for Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth and walk away with a tight end who can run a versatile route tree and is a polished blocker.
Addressing the offensive line in 2021 needs to be a priority again for the Chargers in free agency
The Chargers need to upgrade the offensive line and do it fast. According to ESPN’s blocking win rate, the Chargers were last in run blocking at 67% and were 31st in pass blocking at 47%.
The Chargers also need to upgrade their offensive line again. That was their intention when they traded for Russell Okung right guard Trai Turner last March. Turner was coming off four straight Pro Bowl appearances, but could not stay healthy this season and was not special when he was healthy. He is due $11.5 million next year, but with no guaranteed dollars left on his contract. If the team thinks this could be a sign of things to come, a cut before June would not cost them anything.
The interior line is a massive problem the Chargers need to address as well. Starters Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney are free agents, as is guard Ryan Groy and Sam Tevi. Center Mike Pouncey is also a free agent, but the Chargers’ chances of re-signing him are slim.
You can not have a quarterback who you believe will be the future of your franchise running for his life.
Los Angeles Chargers’ 2021 offensive free agents
TE Stephen Anderson, 28
RB Kalen Ballage, 26
G Dan Feeney, 27
TE Virgil Green, 33
G Ryan Groy, 31
TE Hunter Henry, 27
G Forrest Lamp, 27
C Mike Pouncey, 32
TE Matt Sokol, 26
T Tyree St. Louis, 24
QB Tyrod Taylor, 32
T Sam Tevi, 27
G Cole Toner, 26
Los Angeles Chargers’ 2021 defensive and special teams free agents
S Jahleel Addae, 31
K Michael Badgley, 26
CB Tevaughn Campbell, 28
LB Cole Christiansen, 24
CB Michael Davis, 26
CB Brandon Facyson, 27
DE Joe Gaziano, 25
LB Melvin Ingram, 32
LB Malik Jefferson, 25
S Rayshawn Jenkins, 27
P Ty Long, 28
LB Denzel Perryman, 29
DT Isaac Rochell, 26
DT Damion Square, 32
LB Nick Vigil, 28
CB Jaylen Watkins, 30
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