Los Angeles Chargers free-agency overview: Will Hunter Henry return?

Hunter Henry could get the franchise tag for a second straight year, as he developed a rapport with rookie quarterback Justin Herbert last season. Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Chargers have 16 unrestricted free agents coming off a 7-9 season. They are looking for protection for Justin Herbert through reinforcements on the offensive line. They also need to secure another reliable wide receiver, decide what to do with tight end Hunter Henry, and fortify their defense.

Here's what to expect from the Chargers when the NFL offseason hits high gear with the start of free agency on March 17:


Under contract: Justin Herbert, Easton Stick

UFA: Tyrod Taylor

Game plan: Herbert is the man. Big time. The team, however, might be looking for a strong No. 2 with some experience, even though they do like Stick. I think Taylor ran into the worst luck ever, with his bizarre injury before Week 2, but could be a good quarterback somewhere else if given the opportunity.


Under contract: Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Joshua Kelley, Darius Bradwell, Gabe Nabers (FB)

RFA: Kalen Ballage

Game plan: Ekeler, who is highly effective as a pass-catcher and a runner, was hurt for a large part of the 2020 season, but came back strong and seems to be healthy. The Chargers might want to add a more bulky, traditional running back to complement him.


Under contract: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Tyron Johnson, Jalen Guyton, KJ Hill Jr., Joe Reed

UFA: None

Game plan: The Chargers are fine the way they are, with a combination of reliability on shorter routes and big-play threats capable of connecting with Herbert on deep balls. Better than fine. But you can never have enough speedy wideouts.


Under contract: Donald Parham Jr.

UFA: Hunter Henry, Virgil Green

Game plan: They may have to franchise tag Henry for a second straight year to keep him. Or the Chargers could let him go and take their chances. But considering that he caught 60 passes for 613 yards and four touchdowns as Herbert's safety net last year, I'd keep him.


Under contract: Trey Pipkins III, Storm Norton, Trai Turner, Scott Quessenberry, Bryan Bulaga, Nathan Gilliam

UFA: Forrest Lamp, Ryan Groy, Sam Tevi, Dan Feeney

Game plan: Consensus is they have to spend money to shore up this much-maligned unit, which suffered from too many injuries (Bulaga, Turner and the recently retired Mike Pouncey) and too much inconsistency. They need to protect Herbert and will, either through free agency or the draft in April.


Under contract: Joey Bosa, Justin Jones, Jerry Tillery, Cortez Broughton, Linval Joseph, Breiden Fehoko, T.J. Smith, Jesse Lemonier

UFA: Damion Square, Melvin Ingram III

Game plan: The Chargers are expected to let Ingram, who had 49 career sacks in nine seasons but missed much of last year to injury, go elsewhere. They will need to find another pass rusher who can provide explosion from either side to help Bosa out.


Under contract: Kenneth Murray Jr., Uchenna Nwosu, Drue Tranquill, Kyzir White, Emeke Egbule

UFA: Nick Vigil, Denzel Perryman

Game plan: They'd like to develop Murray's pass-rushing skills a bit, but who knows. Murray led the team with 107 tackles last year but was inconsistent. He gets a bit of a pass for that, having to learn a new system and get up to NFL speed, but he needs to show why the Chargers traded up to draft him in the first round last year.


Under contract: Derwin James, Nasir Adderley, Alohi Gilman

UFA: Jahleel Addae, Rayshawn Jenkins

Game plan: James will hopefully be back healthy after sitting out all of 2020 and most of 2019. If James, an All-Pro as a rookie in 2018, can return and stay in the lineup, that will bolster the position considerably. But he won't be enough. They need another bruising safety who can blitz and cover.


Under contract: Chris Harris Jr., Casey Hayward Jr., John Brannon III, Donte Vaughn

UFA: Jaylen Watkins, Michael Davis

Game plan: The Chargers need to add some bodies here to guard against injury, as Harris was hurt for much of last season. When healthy, Harris provided a veteran presence to go along with the steady Hayward. Getting them some help is a priority.


Under contract: None

UFA: None.

Game plan: Kicker Michael Badgley and long-snapper Cole Mazza are restricted free agents, while punter Ty Long is an exclusive rights free agent. Either way, the Chargers need some help here after ranking last in the NFL in special teams according to FPI. A lot of help. They need to bring in a bunch of kickers and snappers and the most consistent wins at each position.