SDBR Blog: Who's In, Who's Out, Who's Next?

Free agency is less than a week old and already it’s been an up-and-down time for the Chargers. San Diego was in great shape after the first day of the signing period, but has since lost some key contributors and missed out on a few outside targets. Here is our five-point recap of a wild first few days.

Part I: The Defectors

Ryan Mathews signed a three-year deal with the Eagles, where he will share a backfield with reigning rushing champion DeMarco Murray and former Charger Darren Sproles. It’s a good fit for Mathews, as Philadelphia’s depth in the offensive backfield makes his injury risk more tolerable.

“I just wanna say thanks you to my old teammates my friends and family,” Mathews said on Twitter. “To the fans that truly supported me, it's been fun and amazing!”

Eddie Royal inked a three-year deal with the Bears with the first two seasons guaranteed. The deal reunites Royal with his former quarterback in Denver, Jay Cutler; the last time those two played together Royal caught 90 passes for 980 yards and five touchdowns.

Marcus Gilchrist agreed to a four-year deal with the Jets, joining Darrelle Revis, Buster Skrine and former Charger Antonio Cromartie in New York’s remade secondary. Fellow defensive back and 2011 draftee Shareece Wright is also on the way out of town, agreeing to a one-year, $3 million deal with the 49ers.

Part II: Their Replacements

The Chargers have three capable running backs in Danny Woodhead, Branden Oliver and Donald Butler. If the season started today, Oliver would be the starter with Woodhead playing in passing situations and Brown providing depth. However, it is likely the Chargers will add another running back via the draft. Middle-round prospects include Duke Johnson (Miami) and David Cobb (Minnesota), but the way this offseason has gone so far, the odds of the Bolts picking a running back in the first round have greatly increased, be that Todd Gurley (Georgia) or Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin).

The Chargers are actively seeking to add a veteran receiver. Stevie Johnson was in town for a visit on Friday and is expected to make a decision by Monday. He would be a good get for the Bolts, who have lost out in their pursuits of Steve Smith and Andre Johnson over the last two offseasons. Regardless of who San Diego signs to replace Royal, expect Dontrelle Inman to have a bigger role on offense in 2015.

The Chargers replaced Gilchrist by signing former Dolphin [and Point Loma HS alumni] Jimmy Wilson to a two-year contract. Gilchrist and Wilson are both corner-safety hybrids who can cover slot receivers in nickel situations, so this player swap is basically a wash. Jahleel Addae could push Wilson for the starting role, while San Diego will likely target another safety in the draft.

“Fans here are going to get a football player,” Wilson said. “I can do a lot of different things on the football field, and you’re going to get maximum effort from me. I don’t like to let anyone down. I come from this city, so it’s my duty to give some of my attitude and toughness to this locker room and help the team win.”

Steve Williams would be the No. 3 cornerback if the season started today, but more competition will arrive on draft day.

Part III: MIssed Opportunities

We already mentioned Andre Johnson, who took less money from the Colts to stay in the AFC South and play alongside Andrew Luck and former college teammate Frank Gore. But Johnson is not the only player to wriggle free of San Diego’s grip.

The Chargers were the favorite to sign former Seahawks LB Malcolm Smith, but he opted instead to sign with the cash-flush Raiders, where he will be reunited with his former linebackers coach, Ken Norton Jr.

Another player we identified as a potential target -- Leonard Hankerson -- signed with the Falcons.

Part IV: Who’s Next?

The team is focused on finding a veteran receiver. Stevie Johnson is clearly the frontrunner, but if that falls through, the next most likely candidate would be Dwayne Bowe, who could follow the Brandon Flowers path to San Diego.

There is talk that disgraced pass rusher Greg Hardy is in discussions with multiple unidentified teams, according to his agent. One has to wonder if the Chargers are on that list after San Diego parted ways with pass rushers Dwight Freeney and Jarret Johnson earlier this offseason. Coach Mike McCoy could certainly handle the media attention Hardy would attract, as McCoy proved with his careful handling of Manti Te’o a couple years back.

The Chargers could make a run at Packers NT B.J. Raji, who missed last season with a torn biceps, but the feeling is he is likely to return to Green Bay. Another former first-round pick, Saints CB Patrick Robinson, could draw interest now that Wright has officially landed elsewhere.

Part V: The Elephant in the Room

Several core Chargers players are entering contract years, including Philip Rivers, Eric Weddle and Antonio Gates. The Chargers would like to lock up Rivers with a five-year extension similar to the one Ben Roethlisberger signed in Pittsburgh on Friday, but before he commits to finishing his career with the only franchise he’s ever known, Rivers wants this Chargers regime to prove it is committed to winning.

Adding Orlando Franklin and Jimmy Wilson is not enough to send that message.

True, the Chargers kept their two most important free agents (King Dunlap and Flowers) from hitting the open market, but coming off a non-playoff season, the game plan calls for more than retention.

The list of available talent is drying up fast. If GM Tom Telesco has a trick up his sleeve, the time to execute it is now. Either he upgrades his team’s talent now or he faces a mass exodus of talent next offseason.

How much of an impact will Wilson make in SD? Discuss inside the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the 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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