Temperature Check on In-House UFAs: Offense

The Chargers have six starters scheduled for unrestricted free agency, three on offense and three on defense. We will examine all six players in this two-part series, along with a suggestion on whether San Diego should bring each player back or let him walk.

For a discussion of San Diego's pending defensive free agents, click here.

RB Ryan Mathews

There is no denying Mathews' ability when healthy. He is a powerful runner who has developed excellent patience and vision. The problem, of course, is his inability to stay on the field. He has battled injuries during each of his five seasons, never more so than this year when he appeared in only six games because of groin and ankle injuries.

"We know what Ryan brings to us," said GM Tom Telesco. "He's a great kid. We'll take our time and decide what we're going to do with all of our guys."

The Chargers already have other options at running back in Branden Oliver and Donald Brown, who Telesco insists will return despite an underwhelming debut season in lightning bolts. If the Chargers are indeed intent on brining back Brown, who will make a little over $3 million this season, then it makes sense to let Mathews walk and pick up a third running back in the middle rounds of the NFL Draft.

There is a chance Mathews comes back, only because the market for him will be soft due to his injury-riddled resumé, but San Diego would be better off using that money to address other needs. Middle-of-the-draft options at running back include Josh Robinson (Mississippi State), David Johnson (Northern Iowa) and Storm Woods (Oregon State).

Final Verdict: Let him walk

WR Eddie Royal

The Chargers almost cut ties with Royal last offseason, but instead restructured his contract and are surely glad they did. Royal caught 62 passes for 778 yards and seven touchdowns. He also served as the team's primary punt returner, with a 58-yard return marking his season's only highlight in that capacity.

Royal appeared in all 16 games for the first time since 2010 and came up with several big gainers and clutch catches. It also helps that he has a terrific rapport with Philip Rivers.

That being said, the Chargers will be just fine if Royal leaves. Rivers is an elite quarterback and offensive conductor who can bring out the best in any receiver. Case in point: rookie WR Dontrelle Inman, who didn't crack the offensive rotation until halfway through a Week 16 game in San Francisco, then went on to catch 12 passes over the next six quarters.

If Royal leaves, the Chargers could find a more affordable replacement in free agency, such as Leonard Hankerson (Washington) or Greg Salas (New York Jets). There are also some quality receivers who will be available later in the draft, such as Vince Mayle (Washington State) and Austin Hill (Arizona).

Keep in mind, more of Rivers passes in 2015 will go to Danny Woodhead and LaDarius Green, who combined to catch only 24 passes in 2014. That number should be over 100 next season if both players stay healthy.

Final Verdict: Let Him Walk

LT King Dunlap

No one could have seen this coming two years ago, when Dunlap signed a two-year contract worth just under $4 million to be San Diego's swing tackle. Since then, Dunlap has entrenched himself as the starting left tackle and, for that matter, one of the better left tackles in the league.

"He was big for us this year," said Telesco of Dunlap. "He was good for us last year, too, but he really stepped up for us this year, not only as a player but as a leader for us. He just played solid, consistent football week after week after week after week."

Dunlap started 29 games over the last two seasons (counting the playoffs), including all 16 in 2014, and gave up just seven sacks in that stretch despite facing a couple elite pass-rushing teams (Kansas City and Denver) twice per season. That's less than one sack allowed every four games, which is pretty darn good. He has also been penalized just seven times during that same stretch.

The Chargers have a lot of questions on the interior offensive line, but appear to have solid bookends with Dunlap on the left side and D.J. Fluker on the right side. Telesco should do everything in his power to lock up Dunlap with a long-term deal.

As for the kind of numbers the 29-year-old Dunlap can expect? Last offseason, Miami signed LT Branden Albert to a five-year, $47 million contract. Dunlap is not quite as effective as Albert, but he's not far off. I think a four-year, $36 million contract (with about $20 million guaranteed) seems fair for both sides.

Final Verdict: Lock Him Up

Which free agents do you want to see back? Discuss inside the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the Scout.com team. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 18 years and covered the team since '03. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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