Rookie Left Tackles vs. Free Agent Left Tackles (2013 San Diego Chargers)
Quality starting left tackles in the NFL are very difficult to find, especially at a reasonable rate. San Diego found a keeper in 2011 in Jared Gaither, but Gaither failed miserably in 2012, crippled by back spasms & injuries. If Chargers new GM Tom Telesco and Head Coach Mike McCoy do stick with Gaither in 2013, they’re going to have to find a quality backup left tackle. And if this “quality backup left tackle” is forced to start a lot of games, he better have some experience too.
Rookie left tackles do not normally excel their first year, unless they’re top tier first round talents (like LT prospects Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher). Those two should do well day one. By the time San Diego picks in the first round, number 11 overall, both top tier left tackles will probably be gone, leaving Lane Johnson as the next top LT draft prospect. Johnson has tremendous upside, but he’s only started one season as a starting left tackle, and if he had to backup Gaither, he could be starting more games at left tackle than he has college experience at left tackle. It could be very overwhelming for Johnson as full time starter/protector of Philip Rivers blind side, but that’s only a guess.
If Telesco and McCoy decide to roll the dice on Lane Johnson in the first round, Chargers fans could possibly see Rivers playing the same as 2011 and 2012 (which was poor). Johnson could excel as a starter, but he’ll need some grooming, at least another half a season learning the NFL position. In that case, I don’t think the Chargers draft Lane Johnson with the 11th overall pick.
Left Guard is another first round possibility but interior linemen are not likely taken within the first third of the first round. O-guard Chance Warmack has tremendous upside in this year’s draft and could be that power pro bowl left guard San Diego really needs, but O tackles should be more coveted in first round. Cornerback would feel the safest pick with #11 (if Cason or Jammer are not brought back), but that’s the way former GM AJ Smith’s drafting philosophy was (as Smith drafted several 1st & 2nd round cornerbacks). The Chargers could be looking for more young pass-rushers too, as outside linebackers Shaun Phillips and Antwon Barns may not return either.
San Diego has several holes to fill on their 2013 roster, and whoever the Chargers draft with their first round pick should be a starter, not a project that can possibly start in 2014. Biggest need (by far) is a new left tackle, but WHO? Since Fisher or Joeckel will probably not be available (with pick 11), SD should pick up a cheap free agent backup left tackle that could start of Gaither has another injury plagued year.
Where will the Free Agent Left Tackles go?
• Jake Long = He’ll demand a lot money & a big/long contract ($10MM per year). I can see him going somewhere that is a winner, for a slight discount. Prediction: Colts (or Packers)
• Branden Albert = KC would love to keep him, but since they have the first pick in the draft, and there are no #1 overall QB’s worthy of that overall pick, they’ll select LT Luke Joeckel (for 75% less of what Albert will demand on the open market). Albert will go to a team you would expect either. Prediction: Titans (or NY Giants)
• Sebastian Vollmer = this guy is good and versatile, which will give him a bunch of money and a big contract (perfect for his current coach). He’s currently a right tackle, but he can play left tackle just as well. New England shouldn’t let him go, but he may demand too much money for New England to match. I can see an inter-divional rival throwing big money at Vollmer, but I’d like to see him as a Charger. Prediction = Dolphins (or Patriots).
• Jermon Bushrod = He’s looking for a big payday, just like his ole’ guard buddies Nicks, Grubs & Evens. But he won’t find it because he’s not that great. He will get a decent offer though, and I’d suggest from his current team. Prediction: New Orleans (or San Diego, as he can play both LT and RT)
• Bryant McKinnie = He’ll stay in Baltimore (for cheap too, but still he’s a stop-gap)
• Sam Baker = has left tackle ability, but he’s only had ONE good year. He should stay right where he’s at. Prediction: Atlanta (or SD if they can get him on the cheap)
Who would you like to see as the Chargers starting left tackle in 2013?
How would you project the Chargers starting offensive line?
LT / LG / C / RG / RT