The final whistle of the Super Bowl marks the end of the 2021 season. That solidifies all draft positions and gets us looking to free agency as the next chance for teams to make significant changes to their rosters. In this series, I’ll break down the needs and goals of every team as it relates to the 2022 offseason. Included will be cap space, cut candidates, positions of need, and plenty of other useful stats and notes as we prepare for free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft. Special thanks to Over the Cap, Pro Football Reference, Pro Football Focus, and Ben Baldwin’s RBSDM.com for all of the useful stats they track and house.
Chargers 2021 Recap
Although losing to Raiders in primetime, with a playoff spot on the line, when both teams would have been content with a tie will go down as one of the most infamous endings to a season ever, the Chargers left 2021 with an overwhelming number of positive takeaways. Coming off an Offensive Rookie of the Year win, Justin Herbert took another step forward and is on pace to join the highest echelon of quarterbacks in this third year. Austin Ekeler set career highs in most rushing stats without missing a single game because of an injury. He also led the league in total touchdowns scored. The defense, on the other hand, struggled to keep pace. In a conference with Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Joe Burrow, a subpar defense with a few playmakers wasn’t able to cut it.
Key Offensive Stats
- Points per game: 27.9 (5th)
- Dropback EPA: .17 (7th)
- Passing yards per game: 282 (2nd)
- Rush EPA: -.08 (16th)
- Rushing yards per game: 108 (21st)
Though there were a few dry spells for Herbert, his season looks phenomenal from a distance. He became one of 12 quarterbacks to ever throw for 5,000 yards (17 games, I know) and one of just four passers to do so before turning 25. He finished 10th in adjusted yards per attempt, third in QBR, and fourth in Pro Football Focus offense grade. Herbert also became a menace on deep throws, completing 48.4 percent of his passes that went at least 20 yards downfield. That mark led all qualified quarterbacks. Mike Williams also looked like a more complete receiver and, combined with Herbert's explosive season, was able to hit a career-high in receiving yards.
Key Defensive Stats
- Points per game: 27 (29th)
- Dropback EPA: .08 (21st)
- Passing yards per game: 221 (12th)
- Rush EPA: -.004 (31st)
- Rushing yards per game: 139 (30th)
The defense didn’t make the same leap as the offense. The Chargers were one of the easiest teams to run on and didn’t counterbalance that with a shutdown secondary. They ranked bottom five in yards per carry and rushes of 20 or more yards allowed. Only one LA defensive lineman ranked better than 98th in TFLs. This issue became painfully obvious when Rex Burkhead dropped a 22/142/2 rushing line on them in a late-season loss to the Texans. Then, in Week 18, Josh Jacobs put the nail in LA’s coffin with a career-high in rushing yards, exposing their run defense when it mattered most.
Chargers 2022 Offseason
Total Draft Value
Notable Free Agents
RT Bryan Bulaga ($10.8 million in savings)
Notes: Los Angeles's total draft value is the sum of the value of every pick they own using the Fitzgerald-Spielberger NFL Draft Trade Value Chart. The values are only estimates until the NFL announces compensatory picks. Cap savings are listed assuming the player is cut before June 1st.
Bulaga‘s release is all but certain at this point. He only carries a dead cap hit of $3.3 million and played just 11 games for the Chargers during his two years with the team. Storm Norton, who replaced him for 16 games last year, allowed the third-most pressures in 2021. He is an exclusive rights free agent and will only be brought back as a backup. With LA having the third-most cap space before Bulaga’s inevitable release, no other big names will be anywhere near the chopping block.
It’s hard to find a more obvious position of need across the league. When you’re known as the defense that allows career games to running backs, something has to change. Expect LA to add at least one run-stuffer to their defensive line.
With Bulaga on the way out, the Chargers are bound to bring in someone to start at right tackle. If LA wants to give Herbert every opportunity to succeed, their investment in this position shouldn't be light. Most of the free agency talk revolves around left tackles but Morgan Moses is one of the most consistent right tackles in the league and is now a free agent after another solid year, this time with the Jets.
The Chargers can check off receiver from their list by re-signing Williams. In his fourth season, Williams racked up 1,146 yards and nine scores. It was the first time since 2016 that someone other than Allen led the team in receiving yards.
The Chargers fired their special teams coach for a second straight year. LA fielded one of the worst special teams units in 2020 and although the team improved in 2021, it wasn’t enough for Derius Swinton to keep his job. Vikings special teams coordinator Ryan Ficken was brought in as his replacement. The Chargers opened the year with Tristan Vizcaino as their kicker but he was cut after going 10-of-15 on extra points through six weeks. Dustin Hopkins was then brought in and played much better but will need to be re-signed if the team wants another year of his services.
LA also ranked dead last in average punt return and average net punt yards. In Ficken’s first and only year as the Vikings’ special teams coordinator, they improved in kickoff return average, punt return average, kick return average allowed, and punt return average allowed. Though it’s a small edge, getting better field position while putting opponents in worse spots will be a nice change of scenery for the Chargers.
The Chargers have one of the league’s best quarterbacks on a cheap contract and get to go on a small spending spree in free agency this year. They also have a few extra selections in the later rounds of the draft because of compensatory picks they are expected to receive. That puts them in the perfect position to keep their best talent in-house while adding depth across the board.
Even if Williams returns, it will be interesting to see if LA views receiver as a position of need. Josh Palmer and Jalen Guyton ranked 87th and 95th in yards per route run last year. Keenan Allen is about to cross the 30-year threshold as well. The Chargers can continue their march toward leading the league in scoring by upgrading at WR3.