Free Agency: Chad Rinehart

Tom Telesco has several tough decisions to make regarding the retention of his pending free agents. While re-signing Donald Butler is the top priority, Butler is not the only starter slated to test the open market. Another is OG Chad Rinehart and the decision on whether to retain him is a bit more complicated.

After joining the Chargers on a one-year deal last offseason, Chad Rinehart appeared in 11 games, starting 10. His rating, according to Pro Football Focus, was a -2.4, which is slightly below the league average. But he still provided a tangible upgrade over anything the Chargers had at the position in 2012. Rinehart played in 684 snaps and allowed just one sack, keying an improved pass-blocking effort that sponsored Philip Rivers' resurgent season.

Rinehart missed five games with a toe injury and his durability -- or lack thereof -- is becoming an issue. He missed over half of the 2012 season with an ankle injury and had his rookie season in 2009 cut short because of a broken leg. He has appeared in all 16 games just once in his career (2011) and has never made more than the 12 starts he had during that 2011 campaign.

Complicating the decision on Rinehart is that Johnnie Troutman came on strong last year -- in what was essentially his rookie year after he missed all of 2012 with a pectoral injury. Troutman started nine games at left guard (and started at right guard in San Diego's playoff defeat in Denver) and quickly grew into the position.

Troutman was sloppier than Rinehart. The Penn State product allowed three sacks and was penalized eight times, including a crucial personal-foul penalty late in the regular season loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. But Troutman still has oodles of untapped potential and his physical style of play may be more in-line with the identity the new regime is trying to establish.

If the Chargers do allow Rinehart to walk, it will increase the importance of bringing back reserve interior lineman Rich Ohrnberger, who is also scheduled to become a free agent. It is unlikely Telesco wants too much turnover on his interior offensive line after he got solid production from that position in 2013.

The only other notable reserve (behind Rinehart and Troutman at left guard and Jeromey Clary at right guard) is Steve Schilling, a sixth-round pick in 2011 who has appeared in 18 games over the last three seasons, starting two of them.

So what will the Chargers do with Rinehart? It is likely Telesco will allow him to test the market. If no market materializes, he could return on a one-year, $1.25 million deal (which is the amount he signed for last offseason). But Telesco will not overpay for solid guard play, as he demonstrated last offseason by allowing Louis Vasquez to leave for the division-rival Broncos.

If Rinehart walks, San Diego should feel comfortable starting Troutman at left guard and spending a mid-round draft pick on another offensive guard to throw into the mix. Possible draft targets are Brandon Linder (Miami), Spencer Long (Nebraska), Kareem Edwards (Tennessee State) and Zach Fulton (Tennessee).



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Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the Scout.com 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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