SAN DIEGO -- The Los Angeles Chargers are not expected to be big players when free agency begins at 4 p.m. ET on Thursday.
Although the Chargers cleared more than $19 million in salary cap space by releasing offensive lineman DJ Fluker, cornerback Brandon Flowers and receiver Stevie Johnson on Tuesday, the team already made its big splash by placing the franchise tag on edge rusher Melvin Ingram.
Here are a handful of players who could make sense for the Chargers when free agency begins on Thursday.
OT Russell Okung: Mike Klis of 9News reports the Chargers could have strong interest in Okung, and that makes sense. The Chargers need to do a better job protecting Philip Rivers up front, and the former Oklahoma State lineman would be an upgrade at left tackle. One of Okung’s former teammates with the Seattle Seahawks, nose tackle Brandon Mebane, is with the Chargers, along with former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, so there’s some familiarity in Los Angeles for Okung. The Chargers likely would move on from King Dunlap and his $5.75 million base salary in 2017 if Okung is added to the fold.
WR Robert Woods: A former USC star and Southern California native, Woods finished with 51 receptions for 613 yards and a touchdown in the Buffalo Bills’ run-based offense last year and would be fit as a slot receiver for the Chargers. Returning to Los Angeles would be a reunion with head coach Anthony Lynn for Woods. However, the Chargers are paying Keenan Allen and Travis Benjamin significant, guaranteed money in 2017, and Woods likely will receive better offers elsewhere.
RB Dexter McCluster: New Chargers special-teams coach George Stewart has called McCluster one of the best punt returners in the NFL. And with Woodhead in Baltimore, it makes sense for the Chargers to bring McCluster back as a third-down back and return man. Branden Oliver also is a restricted free agent, and has similar skills as Woodhead.
CB Stephon Gilmore: The Buffalo Bills cornerback had his best season in 2016, finishing with five interceptions in 15 starts. Gilmore, 26, has 14 career interceptions in four seasons with the Bills, and at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds fits the profile of a big corner who could excel in Bradley’s scheme. However, the Chargers already have two quality cornerbacks in Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward, and I don’t see them spending big in free agency on another one.
CB Nickell Robey-Coleman: The Bills cut the slot defender this week ahead of free agency, saving $1.65 million in cap space. The undrafted rookie out of USC is just 25 years old, and the Chargers are looking for an experienced slot defender. However, at 5-8 and 165 pounds, the Chargers might want a bigger body at the position.
CB Darius Butler: Again, the Chargers are looking for a slot defender and Butler has a history of success at the position. He also offers versatility, with an ability to play safety. And at 5-10 and 190 pounds, Butler’s a big enough body to play in the box and be effective in the run game.
LB Erik Walden: The Chargers need another edge player to rush the passer, and Walden finished with a career-high 11 sacks last season with the Colts. At 32 years old, Walden could serve in a limited role as a pass-rush specialist for the Chargers.
TE Levine Toilolo: The San Diego native showed improvement as a pass-catcher and a run-blocker for the Atlanta Falcons in 2016 and is a big body at 6-8 and 265 pounds. With Antonio Gates near the end of his career, the Chargers have to look at adding depth to this position group.