SD's Offseason: Five-Phase Study

The Chargers were never going to be huge players in free agency, but Tom Telesco was burning up the transaction wire in the first couple weeks of March. Now that the Bolts have transitioned from bargain hunters to window shoppers, it's time to examine San Diego's offseason and determine how much -- if at all -- the team's talent level has risen.

San Diego's offseason can be broken down into the following categories:

Phase One: Retain

Telesco's biggest accomplishment was retaining San Diego's three priority free agents: Donald Butler, Chad Rinehart and Darrell Stuckey.

Butler comes off an injury-plagued season, but when healthy, he is an impact player with Pro Bowl potential. He and Manti Te'o give the team a pair of dynamic 'backers that should continue to grow together. Rinehart returns to his starting position at right guard, ensuring the entire offensive line returns intact. Stuckey, a captain on special teams, comes back to guarantee there won't be any third-phase slippage.

Telesco also brought back CB Richard Marshall, who started San Diego's final seven contests (including the playoffs). The Chargers went 5-2 in that stretch. Key reserves Reggie Walker (three sacks) and Seyi Ajirotutu (15 special teams stops, game-winning catch in Kansas City) were also brought back into the fold.

The Chargers did not lose a single player they truly hoped to retain.

Phase Two: Restructure

OLB Dwight Freeney
David Banks/USA TODAY Sports
One of the ways Telesco kept the losses to a minimum was by restructuring contracts instead of just releasing pricey veterans. This proved especially helpful at the outside linebacker position, where the team restructured both Dwight Freeney and Jarret Johnson. Not only did these moves free up cap space, but they are allowed the Chargers to bring back to key veterans to a unit that was stretched woefully thin in 2013.

Eddie Royal also restructured his contract, which was great news for Philip Rivers. Royal caught 47 passes for 631 yards and a career-high eight touchdowns last season despite battling a debilitating toe injury for most of the season.

Phase Three: Replenish

Almost every player the Chargers lost was replaced via free agency.

Derek Cox, who fell out of the rotation in November, will be replaced by former Cincinnati Bengals third-rounder Brandon Ghee. Also on defense, Kavell Conner follows the slew of former Indianapolis Colts migrating to San Diego, taking the place of backup ILB Bront Bird.

On offense, FB/TE David Johnson fills in for cap-casualty Le'Ron McClain. And Kellen Clemens inherits Charlie Whitehurst's coveted role as the player no one wants to see after August.

Phase Four: Fortify

The one clear upgrade the Chargers made in free agency was replacing third-string running back Ronnie Brown with former Colt Donald Brown.

Donald Brown comes off a season in which he averaged 5.3 yards per carry, caught 27 passes and scored eight total touchdowns. He gives the Chargers an every-down option behind Ryan Mathews, who was rejuvenated under Mike McCoy but struggles to avoid nagging injuries.

With the BMW backfield (Brown, Mathews and Woodhead) the Chargers will be able to lean on the ground game more than ever before. That should come in especially handy during the two (or three) matchups with the Denver Broncos, games where the time of possession is paramount.

Phase Five: Forthcoming

With the exception of upgrading the running back position with Donald Brown, the offseason has really been about maintaing the status quo. The roster, as it stands, is very similar to the one that ended the 2013 season on a hot streak.

Does that mean Telesco is satisfied with the team's overall talent level? Hardly. Instead, he wants to maintain in free agency and improve via the NFL Draft.

In his first draft at the wheel in San Diego, Telesco plucked two dominant starters (D.J. Fluker and Keenan Allen), one capable starter who figures to keep getting better (Te'o) and a solid rotational piece in Tourek Williams. And that does not even account for fifth-round selection Steve Williams, who missed his rookie season with a pectoral injury but figures to be thrown into the mix in 2014.

If Telesco fares as well in his second draft, the Chargers will be in excellent shape.

Which draft prospects are in Telesco's crosshairs? Stay tuned. Your experts have a new three-round mock draft set to debut later this week.

Do the Chargers still need more pass-rush help? 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.

BoltsReport Top Stories