There are a handful of really good defensive lineman that can be found in free agency. The Chargers could be in a position where upgrading the interior might be a concern. They drafted Jerry Tillery in the 1st round of last years draft, but he has thus far underwhelmed. It is still way to early to give up on Tillery, especially since defensive tackle is a position that takes more time to develop than other positions. The team also has Justin Jones who has shown flashes, but he too is still growing into his role. If Brandon Mebane does not return, look for the chargers to find a nose tackle in free agency. Below is a list of notable free agents:
- Jordan Phillips – Buffalo Bills
- Shelby Harris – Denver Broncos
- Chris Jones – Kansas City Chiefs
- DJ Reader (NT) – Houston Texans
- Arik Armstead – San Francisco 49ers
- Javon Hargrave(NT) – Pittsburgh Steelers
- Ndamukong Suh – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Leonard Williams – New York Giants
- Michael Pierce(NT) – Baltimore Ravens
- Michael Brokers – Los Angeles Rams
- Quinton Jefferson – Seattle Seahawks
- Timmy Jernigan – Philadelphia Eagles
- Damon Harrison(NT) – Detroit Lions
- Mike Daniels – Detroit Lions
- Johnathon Hankins(NT) – Oakland Raiders
- Jarron Reed – Seattle Seahawks
- Andrew Billings (NT) – Cincinatti Bengals
At 6’3, 330 pounds, DJ Reader has the perfect size teams covet as a nose tackle. I watched both of his matchups against the Colts, who I believe has the best offensive line in football. He was usually double-teamed by Quinton Nelson and Ryan Kelly. In those matchups, Reader was still able to anchor down and not give up much ground against a really good Guard and Center tandem. He won more often then not on zone blocking schemes when Nelson would pull, often re-routing Nelson into the backfield. That is not an easy thing to do against one of the best Guards in the league. He would be a big asset against the run game for what ever team he goes to. Look for him to sign for Linval Joseph Money in the neighborhood of 4 years, $50M.
Andrew Billings is under utilized in Cincinnati and over shadowed by Geno Atkins as a defensive tackle. At just 25 years old, Billings best days are still ahead of him. He doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher, but he has real power to re-route offensive lineman. He has missed 1 game in the last 3 years. Billings isn’t going to wow with stats, but he will help others around him become better with what he does in the trenches. He would benefit from good coaching and veterans to help him develop further. Nose Tackles do not usually break the bank, because they usually do not have the sack numbers and are often two-down players, but Billings could be found between $5-7M/year on a multi-year contract.
Snacks is a beast of a man at 6’3, 350 pounds. He might be the best run defender in all of football. Since 2013, Damon Harrison has had a run defense grade of over 87 in every year except last year, according to PFF. While last year seemed like a down year, there is no reason to believe that he won’t be back to form. The Lions are going to regret the “mutual” parting of ways that happened a few weeks ago. Harrison helped turn the Lions run defense from one of the league worst in 2017 to 6th in 2018. While he played in every game in 2019, he wasn’t at 100% and it showed. If he doesn’t retire, he should have a pretty active market.
Michael Pierce has had some fine games in his short career and is one of the better nose tackles in football. He is a great run defender with the strength and anchor to hold his own against double teams. It is surprising to see the Ravens let him hit free agency, but they have been dealing with a lot of turnover on their defense. Pierce is the type of player that helps his linebackers have pro-bowl caliber seasons. He is a little on the shorter side at 6’0, but weighs in at 350 pounds. At 27-years-old, he a a lot of football left. His next contract will be around $6-8M/year, possibly more if a team is desperate enough.
Jerry Tillery and Justin Jones could use a veteran to help coach some of their technique as a pass-rusher. With the defense Gus Bradley deploys, it relies heavily on pressure from all four lineman. One of the better defensive tackles at getting pressure on the quarterback is Mike Daniels, who played next to Damon Harrison last year. Daniels has started showing his age, but he’s been very productive player in Green Bay since 2012. He is an above average pass-rusher from the interior with great hands and technique. He may not cost quite as much as he did last year, so I wouldn’t be opposed to bringing the veteran in to help develop our young defensive tackles. He could be found for around $7-9M/year.
There are quite a few defensive tackles the chargers could consider, but it is also possible that the Chargers like the tackles currently on the roster. If that is the case, then the Chargers might consider players in free agency for depth only. This could mean another Sylvester Williams from last year, or something similar. Mebane will need to be replaced very soon, and with Damian Square also hitting free agency, there isn’t another nose tackle on the roster. I think it more likely that the Chargers do find another nose tackle, though I think it unlikely that they sign a big name.
Ideal Scenario: Chargers sign Michael Pierce to a 4-year, $30M contract. This signals the release of Brandon Mebane saving $4.2M in cap space.