<
>

Chargers position outlook 2016: Linebackers

SAN DIEGO -- Considered a weakness on defense heading into the regular season last year, the linebacker position emerged as the strength on that side of the ball for the San Diego Chargers by the end of the 2015 season.

Lock: Melvin Ingram, Manti Te'o, Denzel Perryman, Jeremiah Attaochu, Kyle Emanuel

On the bubble: Donald Butler, Nick Dzubnar, Tourek Williams, Kavell Conner, Cordarro Law, Brock Hekking.

Free agents: Joe Mays

The good: Ingram emerged as a consistent threat as an edge defender, finishing with 10.5 sacks, including 6.5 in his last five games. The South Carolina product became the first San Diego player since Antwan Barnes (11) in 2011 to finish with double-digit sacks. Te'o once again battled through injuries and emerged as a team leader on defense. Te'o finished with a team-high 83 tackles. Perryman was placed into the starting lineup in the second half of 2015 and served as a tone-setter on defense, finishing with 74 tackles and two sacks. Attaochu totaled six sacks and missed just one game due to injury, an improvement over his rookie year. Undrafted rookie Dzubnar led the team in special teams tackles with 13.

The bad: The Chargers allowed 4.81 rushing yards a carry last season, No. 30 in the NFL. Te'o missed four games because of an ankle issue, and has not played a full, 16-game season in three years with the Chargers, missing a combined 13 games over his professional career. Butler began the season as the starting inside linebacker, but was passed over by Perryman and relegated to special teams during the second half of the season. San Diego's 32 sacks was No. 24 in the NFL. The last time the Chargers finished in the top half of the league in sacks was 2012 (38).

The money: The Chargers can release Butler this year. He's due a $12 million option bonus on the fifth day of the 2017 league year -- $2.4 million of that would count against this year's salary cap. However, cutting Butler is basically a wash because the team would save $4.65 million in cash and have a total of $4.6 million in dead money left over from his contract. While Butler was passed over by Perryman, the University of Washington product remains a starting-caliber player in the NFL, and could flourish in a new environment. Ingram was signed to his fifth-year option last year and will make $7.75 million in 2016. Ingram will be an unrestricted free agent in 2017. Te'o also is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in 2017, and is scheduled to make a little over $1 million in cash in 2016. Attaochu, Perryman and Conner all are slotted to make about $1 million in cash for the upcoming season.

Draft priority: The Chargers likely will look to add another pass-rusher through the draft or free agency, but overall they have solid depth at linebacker. It's also one of the youngest position groups on the team, with just one person over the age of 27 in Conner (29).