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Offseason Plan: Six unrestricted free agents the Chargers will re-sign

The Chargers are primed for a busy offseason defined by a number of internal personnel decisions. Some of those decisions will be easy, while others could prove to be exceedingly difficult for a variety of reasons. Either way, they have to make all of these decisions between February 4th and the beginning of free agency on March 13th.

As it stands right now, Los Angeles has 15 players set to become unrestricted free agents at 4pm EST on March 13th. There are some big names and key contributors on this list, a few depth pieces, and a handful of expendable players who are likely to be cut loose.

This is the third installment of my offseason plan series, in which I will cover all of the offseason moves I would make leading up to the draft. We already discussed the cuts, restructures and extensions I would pursue, as well as the team’s restricted and exclusive rights free agents, so let’s dive into the six unrestricted free agents I expect the team to re-sign this offseason. We’ll talk about the season they had in 2018, what I expect the team to do, and what their contracts will look like.

Let’s get started…

Adrian Phillips

Adrian Phillips was the Chargers most improved player, if not the most improved player in the NFL in 2018. The fifth-year defender led the NFL in special teams tackles (19) while finishing among the Bolts’ top five defenders in solo tackles (77), assists (29), total tackles (94), and passes defensed (10). Adrian also earned first team All Pro, Pro Bowl and Professional Football Writers of America All-NFL Team honors for his work on special teams. Needless to say, he’s going to get paid.

If any of the Los Angeles free agents are a lock to be re-signed this offseason, it’s probably Adrian Phillips. Adrian is the definition of a homegrown player in the NFL, having worked his way up from being an undrafted free agent to an All Pro over the last five years. I would expect Jahleel Addae’s four-year, $22,500,000 contract to set the (extreme) floor, while Adrian’s representatives will shoot for something more along the lines of Darian Stewart’s four year, $28,000,000 contract. They’ll settle somewhere in the middle.

Projected Market Value: 4 years, $26,500,000 with $8.5M in guarantees

Odds of being retained: 80/20

Darius Philon

Darius Philon led the Chargers interior defensive linemen in sacks (4) and tackles for loss (9). He also finished second among defensive tackles in assists, solo tackles and total tackles. Philon was their most consistent interior defender and seems primed to excel in an expanded role next season. It’s hard to imagine the front office not bringing Darius back considering the turnover they’re likely to experience at the position this offseason.

While productive, and certainly trending in the right direction in his career, Darius probably won’t command a ton of money. With that in mind, I expect the team to use Damion Square’s two-year, $4,000,000 contract as a baseline. Taking Darius’ large role and the NFL’s ever-growing salary cap into account, I think #93 gets an extra year and an additional $1,000,000 per year.

Projected Market Value: 3 years, $9,000,000 with $2.25M in guarantees

Odds of being re-signed: 65/35

*I’d feel better about Darius being retained if the team hadn’t scaled back his snaps down the stretch.

Damion Square

After replacing Isaac Rochell as the starting base end in week five, Damion Square did much of the dirty work against the run and provided invaluable interior pressure in passing situations. While the stat line may not stand out much (31 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, 3 passes defensed), his effort and energy played a key role in the transformation of the Chargers defense over the final 12 games of the 2018 season and, I suspect, earned him a couple more years with the team.

The team loves Square, and rightfully so. He is a true team player, playing key minutes at both defensive tackle positions and Joey Bosa’s base end spot. My guess is the Chargers will offer Damion a deal that closely resembles his most recent contract, adding a slight pay increase and throwing a nice guarantee his way.

Projected Market Value: 2 years, $5,500,000, $1,750,000 guaranteed

Odds of re-signing: 70/30

Kyle Emanuel

Kyle Emanuel posted 30 tackles, four tackles for loss, one sack, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and a defensive touchdown while appearing in all 16 games in 2018. He is widely considered the team’s best edge-setter (debatable) and a core special teams player, but he is also a liability in coverage and offers next to nothing as a pass rusher. The team also inexplicably thinks he’s a suitable backup at the MIKE and WILL linebacker positions.

This is something of a tricky contract to find comps for because, while Emanuel is technically a defensive “starter”, he doesn’t play starter snaps and is primarily valued on special teams. He also made $1,900,000+ in 2018 and will almost certainly sign for something between $2,500,000 and $3,000,000 per year. Is Kyle worth that sort of commitment considering the team is likely to reduce his role on defense? I don’t think so, but I suspect the team will see things differently.

Projected Market Value: Two years, $5,750,000, $250,000 guaranteed

Odds of being re-signed: 60/40

Geremy Davis

Geremy Davis had a great training camp and preseason before ultimately earning the fifth wide receiver position coming out of camp. While he didn’t see much time at wide receiver, he played extremely hard on special teams, finishing the season with 10 special teams tackles. It stands to reason he could enter camp with an inside track on the third or fourth spot on the wide receiver depth chart depending on what happens with Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin this offseason.

The team could very well part ways with both Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin this offseason. Should they decide to go that route, it could either lead to a larger role in the offense for Geremy Davis, or entice the team to sign veteran depth behind Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. Either way, Davis should come cheap and will probably at least head into camp with a chance with an inside track on one of the final three spots at wide receiver.

Projected Market Value: One Year, $850,000 with $100,000 in guarantees

Odds of being re-signed: 65/35

Jaylen Watkins

2018 Season: Jaylen Watkins signed a one year, $800,000 contract with the Chargers last offseason and was, by all accounts, enjoying a solid training camp and preseason before he tore an anterior cruciate ligament during the second preseason game. Watkins can play nickel corner and safety, and signing him creates competition throughout the secondary when healthy.

The Chargers obviously liked Jaylen Watkins enough to sign him last offseason, and I have a feeling they’ll probably give him a second chance this offseason. He should come relatively inexpensively and, as I mentioned above, bringing him back breeds competition in the secondary. Maybe bringing Jaylen back allows the team to transition Jahleel Addae into a more suitable dime linebacker role, while giving Watkins and Adrian Phillips a chance to compete at free safety.

Projected Market Value: One year, $850,000 with $150,000 in guarantees.

Odds of being re-signed: 60/40

You probably noticed the absence of players like Tyrell Williams, Denzel Perryman, Jason Verrett and Antonio Gates from this list. As you might have guessed based on their absence, I believe the team will part ways with each of them for one reason or another this offseason. I’ll discuss those at length in my next article.

So, in summary, I expect the Chargers to make every effort to retain Adrian Phillips, Darius Philon, Damion Square, Kyle Emanuel, Geremy Davis and Jaylen Watkins. While I’m on board with re-signing Phillips, Philon, Square, and Davis, I could go either way on Watkins. And I’m ready to part ways with Emanuel. In my opinion, Darius Philon is probably the most likely player on this list to outperform his deal, while it will probably be very difficult to get a justifiable return on a market deal for Kyle Emanuel.

Thanks for reading and please keep an eye out for my next off-season piece – Four unrestricted free agents the Chargers will not re-sign.

Let me know what you think in the comments section…

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