Chargers should keep Tre Boston, Antonio Gates around in free agency

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- A playmaking safety and a talented-but-aging tight end top the list of players set to hit free agency for the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Chargers have 14 players slated to become unrestricted free agents in March. Among those, Tre Boston, Antonio Gates and guard Kenny Wiggins head the list of players the Chargers would likely want to keep in the fold.

After being released in a cost-cutting move during the offseason by the Carolina Panthers, Boston bet on himself, signing a one-year, $900,000 deal with the Chargers.

Boston’s move appears to have paid off. He had his best season as a pro, playing all 16 games and leading the team with five interceptions. Boston also tied for second on the team with 79 tackles and developed into one of the vocal leaders on a defense that gave up just 17 points per game, also No. 3 in the NFL.

“It’s everything that I could have prayed for to come in and perform the way I did on a one-year contract and just setting myself up for success in the next deal,” Boston said. “I won’t do it again, but I thank God for allowing me to play my heart out.”

The Chargers also had one of the best pass defenses in the league, allowing just 197.2 yards per game, No. 3 in the NFL.

Staying in Los Angeles would allow Boston, 25, to continue his work on his second career as an analyst on the NFL Network.

“I would love to be here,” Boston said. “We built a foundation and we have an identity. Everybody is starting to see that this team is truly one to be reckoned with. It hurts because what we did in the first half of the season really hurt us. We ended up being 9-3 in the last 12. But for me, I’ve just got to pray and see where God leads me.”

Gates, 37, did not have as strong a season statistically as he’s been accustomed to, as Hunter Henry emerged as the team’s No. 1 tight end. However, Gates said he wants to continue playing and believes the Chargers have a Super Bowl-contending team.

Gates made $5 million in the final year of his contract. So a lot will depend on what Gates is willing to accept financially in a reduced role and how much the Chargers want the future Hall of Famer to finish his career with the Bolts.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Chargers have about $25.6 million in cap space for the upcoming season, with an estimated adjusted cap in 2018 at $176 million.

The Chargers could save about $8 million in cash by releasing defensive tackle Corey Liuget. The former University of Illinois player was solid inside, but the Chargers have young, emerging talent at the position in Darius Philon and Isaac Rochell.

The Chargers also could save $5.75 million in cash by releasing wide receiver Travis Benjamin and $4.8 million by letting go of right tackle Joe Barksdale. But Benjamin has scored nine touchdowns the past two seasons, and Barksdale has served as a solid pass-protector for Philip Rivers.

The Chargers don’t usually make a big splash in free agency. But some free agents from other teams who could make sense for the Chargers include Carolina Panthers kicker Graham Gano, New York Giants running back Orleans Darkwa and Seattle Seahawks safety DeShawn Shead.

Unrestricted free agents: LB Jerry Attaochu, S Tre Boston, QB Kellen Clemens, TE Jeff Cumberland, TE Antonio Gates, T Chris Hairston, K Nick Novak, T Michael Ola, RB Branden Oliver, DT Tenny Palepoi, T Michael Schofield, G Matt Slauson, LB Korey Toomer, G Kenny Wiggins.

Restricted free agents: WR Geremy Davis, LB Nick Dzubnar, DE Chris McCain, TE Sean McGrath, S Adrian Phillips, RB Andre Williams, WR Tyrell Williams

Exclusive free agents: RB Russell Hansbrough, CB Trevor Williams