Over the coming weeks, I will be performing an analysis of each position group on the Chargers roster. The goal is to break down each group and see how each player faired in 2019. This will help to determine which players should be resigned, which positions need to be upgraded via free agency, or the draft, and potential contract extensions for the many players entering their prime. I am pushing for a goal date of March 6th, prior to the start of free agency. Free agency begins March 11th for negotiating, and players may enter into contracts on March 13th, the start of the new league year. This will provide me a week to look at potential free agents the Chargers should resign, and targets to upgrade their own team.
Joey Bosa might be the best and most talented player on the Charger’s roster. I remember back when I was in college, I was working at Dicks Sporting Goods in San Diego. We had just received a shipments of Bosa’s 99 jersey, which were expected to be a hot commodity over preseason. It was about mid-preseason by the time we had put them on shelves. The Bosa holdout was already in full swing, but nobody expected it to last much longer, as the issue dealt with a signing bonus and offset language. Last week of the preseason, and the Chargers offered their rookie the largest signing bonus of any player not name Carson Wentz that year. Bosa and his party declined the contract based on the language of timing of the bonus payment, and now the Bosa holdout was headed into the regular season. Immediately, every Bosa jersey went on sale 75% off regular price.
Bosa became the most hated player in San Diego when that happened, but he did say, “Once I start making plays, people will forget”. That’s exactly what happened, as in the 12 games Bosa played his rookie year, he had 10.5 sacks, 11 hits and 37 hurries for 59 total pressures on his way to Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. Since, Bosa has become a fan favorite and is a threat every year as a potential Defensive Player of the Year Candidate. He has improved each year and is becoming a vocal leader. He has drive and a relentless motor on the field. This last year, Bosa had 12 sacks, 17 hits and 42 hurries for 71 total pressures. He was the Chargers highest graded player by PFF with a 89.6 grade, good for 6th best in the entire league at his position. Bosa also lead the league in defensive stops at 34 as a run defender, an area he has greatly improved.
Joey Bosa is well on his way to making an All-Pro team. He is a disruptive force on the edge and gets of quick on the snap. He plays with great lean using his long arms at full extension to get off blocks and has the speed to beat slower tackles on the edge. While he can beat you with his speed, he is also strong enough to drive 300 pound tackles back into the quarterbacks lap. Bosa has a great punch and is very smooth with his hands to get off blocks. He will occasionally give up contain, especially with quicker mobile quarterbacks. Also, he has a tendency of jumping offsides, but thats the price you pay for getting off the snap so quick. He has grown so much as a run defender, and gets into the gap he needs to, something he started really doing well this year.
Bosa is about to get paid, but I am not sure it’ll be by the Chargers. He is deserving of being the highest paid defensive player in the league, though that’s really not a Tom Telesco type move. If the Chargers are smart, they will pay him, as I believe Bosa is just now entering his prime. A 6-year, $138 Million dollar contract should do it, based off Aaron Donalds 6-year $135 Million contract signed in 2018. With 52 Million fully guaranteed, this would keep Bosa in a Chargers uniform until 2026, with potential outs after year 4. Make no mistake, this is what it will take to keep a player of Bosa’s caliber. Thats an average of $23 Million/year for the cornerstone of your defense. Pay the man, and lock him up now!
With Phillip Rivers likely leaving the Chargers, the longest tenured player on the roster will now be Melvin Ingram, who was drafted in the first round of the 2012 draft. Ingram is a high-motor player, who is extremely valuable to the Chargers defense in terms of getting to the quarterback. He is a stud that can be lined up out on the edge, inside Bosa at the 3-tech defensive tackle position, as a linebacker rushing the A or B gap, and can even drop in coverage. He is a piece used by Gus Bradley in multiple ways, and is a matchup nightmare for the offensive line. At age 31, Ingram is getting older, and while Ingram has had a great last few years, he looked less impressive in 2019. Still, he has a lot left in the tank and can still be valuable to the Charger’s defense.
In 2019, Ingram pressured the quarterback 47 times with 8 sacks 4 hits and 35 hurries. He ended the year with a 74.5% overall PFF grade, which put him at slightly above-average, on a down year for the Bolts. Part of the lack of efficiency might actually come down to the type defense Gus Bradley runs, which relies on pressure from the defensive line. This hurts the production of both Bosa and Ingram, considering Bradley relies on pressure from just 4 players with interior pressure, which has been non-existant. This allows clubs to key on Ingram and Bosa, and limit their ability to get to the quarterback. This really defeats their sack numbers, and limits the defenses turnovers, but also limits the big plays as well.
Ingram is getting close to becoming a cap casualty, and Telesco may approach him to restructure his contract this offseason. The Chargers can save $14 Million in cap space by cutting Ingram, and with Uchenna Nwosu’s ability to rush the passer, Ingram’s roster spot isn’t guaranteed. I don’t believe the Chargers wish to move on from Ingram, but a conversation about extending him, and spreading money over multiple years isn’t out of the question. Turning a 1-year, $16.6M contract into a 2-year $24M contract, with $10-12M fully guaranteed, seems like a win-win for both side. The team saves about $4-5M in cap space this year, depending on how the contract is set up and Ingram gets more guaranteed money. Ingram is too valuable to cut, but not valuable enough to pay $16.6M next year in my opinion.
It doesn’t seem Like Uchenna Nwosu has reached his full potential as a player of yet. Being a 2nd-round draft pick in 2018, Uchenna has yet to live up to his draft pedigree, and some of that has to do with his moving around the defense as a linebacker and as an edge rusher. Having position flexibility helps, but he looks better as a pass rusher, which is why I am providing my analysis here. He has only topped 50 snaps once in his career. As a jack of all trades, he looks like he could be used more similar to Shaq Thompson in Carolina, but isn’t quite as good in coverage. He doesn’t have the size or frame to really grow into a defensive end. He doesn’t really have a true position. He would make a better 3-4 outside linebacker, then a 4-3 defensive end or linebacker.
As a pass-rusher, Nwosu can be very quick around the edge. He uses his athletic ability and small stature to beat lineman who aren’t quick enough to keep up. Speed rushing is really his only move, and it limits how he can be used. An area of concern is his size on the defensive line, as he doesn’t have the strength too hold his ground in the run, or set the edge like 4-3 defensive ends are asked to do. When lineman get hands on him, he has trouble disengaging, and getting of blocks and he gets driven back. This makes him best utilized as a situational pass rusher, which is why he has seen such little playing time. He would also make for a great blitzing linebacker if only Gus would install some blitz packages. I would like to see him pack on muscle and as a full-time pass rusher from the Sam/Will/Mike positions, in addition to his 4-3 defensive end position. He isn’t the right type of player a Gus Bradley’s defense, but he is an athlete with speed. I doubt he is given a 2nd contract by the Bolts when he become a free agent.
Isaac Rochell is the right player for Gus Bradleys defense, and he has played pretty well in place of Bosa and Ingram when they have been absent. He was an absolute steal as a 7th-round draft pick and he has been extremely valuable as a depth piece on the defensive line. He has great movement on twists from the end position and I think he can play the 3-tech defensive tackle position if he were asked to. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to go into a season with Rochell as the full-time starter, but as a rotational player, who I can bring in on goal line defense, and as a player who will be entering his prime on the cheap, I am in on Isaac Rochell. He is strong enough to hold his ground in the run and can set the edge. He’s not the fastest player at getting to the quarterback, but he will occasionally surprise you. He fits Gus Bradley’s defense as a defensive end and isn’t a liability. What more could you ask from a 7th-round pick?
The Chargers could cut Melvin Ingram and get a younger player in free agency who may be just as productive. Cutting him would save $14M in cap space. A guy like Vic Beasley, Leonard Williams and Shaq Lawson are all coupon finds with high upside and a high ceiling. All 3 players were 1st-round draft picks who may just need a change of scenery to re-jumpstart their career. This is actually a really strong class for free agent pass rushers, so if the Chargers do look to move on from Ingram, they are not short on options here or in the draft. Personally, I think Vic Beasley has the most upside, especially at $10M/year estimated value. I’ll get more into free agency later, just want to get fans thinking about all the pass rushers available this offseason in free agency.