Free Agent Forecast: Five to Watch

San Diego will be more active in free agency than usual, as A.J. Smith has many holes to fill and a virtual playoffs-or-else ultimatum hanging over his head. He'll start by signing his own players, but expect multiple outside additions. Here is a look at five players who could help return the Bolts to the playoffs.

A.J. Smith's top priority, as always, will be re-signing his own players. That starts on the offensive line, with Jared Gaither and Nick Hardwick in need of new contracts. All indications are those deals will get done and the offensive line will return mostly intact (with Tyronne Green replacing the retired Kris Dielman).

The Chargers will lose some players on the open market, though. Vincent Jackson avoided the franchise tag and may be wooed by a general manager who shows him more love than Smith has (not saying much). Mike Tolbert could be gone, too, joining the franchise's long list of talented backup running backs allowed to get away.

Assuming that is how in-house free agents are handled, here's a look at five outside free agents who would make great pickups for the Chargers.

WR Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints

The Chargers need at least one splashy signing and this qualifies. Colston replaces Jackson and ensures Philip Rivers has a legitimate No. 1 receiver to work with. That's important since Malcom Floyd is injury prone and Antonio Gates is not what he once was. Colston makes tough grabs and lots of them; he has at least 70 catches in five of the last six years. Jackson, by comparison, has never registered a 70-catch season.

SS LaRon Landry, Washington Redskins

SS LaRon Landry
Otto Greule Jr./Getty
Landry's medical red flags are a worry, especially after the Bob Sanders experiment fizzled out. But San Diego sorely needs a playmaker on defense and Landry, if he can stay healthy after going down with an Achilles injury in 2011, certainly fits the bill. He is the kind of big hitter the Chargers have been missing since Rodney Harrison left town and has enough range to make an excellent complement to Eric Weddle.

OLB Bryan Thomas, New York Jets

The Bolts need an outside pass rusher in the worst way, but the real answer may not come until the draft (possibly Courtney Upshaw). But a veteran is needed, too, and Thomas may be the answer. While not a superb pass rusher, he is a complete player with experience in the 3-4 scheme. He has the speed to bend the corner and is underrated in run support and coverage. He is coming off an ACL injury but should be 100 percent in time for training camp.

RB Mewelde Moore, Pittsburgh Steelers

Now that Ryan Mathews has cemented himself as the lead back, it makes sense to replace Tolbert with a more traditional third-down back. Moore is an exceptional receiver out of the backfield (214 career receptions) and could replace some of what the Chargers lost when Darren Sproles left for New Orleans. Moore is also a great pass protector and a strong enough runner to start a handful of games if needed.

OT Brandon Keith, Arizona Cardinals

Even if the Chargers re-sign Gaither, another tackle is needed. Keith could replace Brandyn Dombrowski as the top backup and could even push Jeromey Clary. He also has the ability to play guard, which is key now that Kris Dielman is walking away. Keith has seen each of his last two seasons cut short by lower leg injuries, so he may come relatively cheap and be a great low-risk, high-reward signing.

Who should the Chargers go after in free agency? Discuss in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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