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Sensible signings pay dividends for Chargers GM Tom Telesco

Matt Slauson has provided the Chargers with some much-needed stability at center. K.C. Alfred/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

SAN DIEGO -- The Los Angeles Chargers have been among the least active teams in free agency over the past three years, ranking tied for 21st in the NFL in total signings and 20th in total contract value.

Here’s a look at how those decisions have panned out on the field:

Total signings: 26* (tied for 21st in NFL)

Total contract value: $149,635,588 (20th in NFL)

Three-year W-L: 18-30

Biggest hit: Brought in to play nickel defender and add depth at cornerback, former Green Bay Packers defensive back Casey Hayward signed a three-year, $15.3 million deal with the Chargers during the offseason last year. Hayward developed into the Chargers’ best defensive back in 2016 after injuries sidelined starting cornerbacks Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers. Hayward led the NFL in interceptions last season with seven, which earned him an invitation to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his five-year NFL career. With Verrett, who earned a Pro Bowl invitation in 2015, returning from an ACL knee surgery, the Chargers should have one of the best cornerback tandems in the league in 2017.

Biggest miss: The Chargers inked veteran return man Jacoby Jones to a two-year, $5.5 million deal during the 2015 offseason. However, Jones struggled to stay healthy, and his lack of production on the field prompted the Chargers to release him eight games into the regular season. Jones averaged 21.4 yards per return in 2015, his lowest output since his rookie season in 2007 with the Houston Texans. And Jones had minus-4 punt return yards for the Chargers that season. The Chargers finished last in the NFL in 2015 with 84 punt return yards.

Sneaky-good move: In search of stability at the center position since longtime anchor of the offensive line Nick Hardwick retired after the 2014 season, the Chargers finally found someone in veteran interior offensive lineman Matt Slauson. The University of Nebraska product added experience, toughness and accountability up front, playing the most snaps of any offensive lineman in 2016 (970 offensive snaps). And with a two-year, $3 million deal he signed during the 2016 offseason, the Chargers got a bargain in Slauson, who’s slated to be the team’s center in 2017.

Verdict: An organization that focuses on drafting, developing and retaining its core players, the Chargers avoided chasing high-dollar free agents the past three years. They’ve experienced some hits with midlevel signings (Brandon Mebane in 2016) and some misses (Donald Brown in 2014). What GM Tom Telesco has done a better job of the past two seasons is identifying players in free agency who fit the organization’s culture and the coaching staff’s specific scheme, which has reduced the number of busts the team has experienced in free agency his first two years with the Chargers, such as the signing of cornerback Derek Cox and the re-signing of linebacker Donald Butler.

*Signings made during free agency period beginning in March.