Free Agent Forecast: Randy Starks

The Chargers will not be big players in free agency. However, GM A.J. Smith is ready to strike a deal with the right player at the right price. Smith typically targets middle-tier free agents with enough upside to outplay their contracts. Titans defensive lineman Randy Starks fits the bill.

Tennessee Titans DT Randy Starks (6'3", 312 pounds) has the strength and versatility to improve the Chargers in several areas. In a 3-4 scheme, he can play defensive end on running downs and slide inside to nose tackle in passing situations.

Starks, 24, is one of the youngest veterans on the market. He plays with great discipline against the run, as evidenced by his 10-tackle performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 10. Starks also has great ability as an interior pass rusher, notching at least three sacks in each of his first three seasons.

The Titans will most likely be unable to re-sign Starks. They have three other defensive linemen scheduled for free agency: Albert Haynesworth, Antwan Odom and Travis LaBoy.

Starks played his college ball at the University of Maryland, where he shared the field with Shawne Merriman in 2002 and 2003. In Starks' three years at Maryland, he picked up 201 total tackles, 34 tackles for a loss, 17.5 sacks, 31 quarterback pressures and nine pass deflections. He also proved his uncanny strength by setting a school record with a 765-pound squat.

It is Starks' ability to fill up a stat sheet that has the Chargers intrigued. He could step in and challenge Jacques Cesaire for the top backup job at defensive end. Additionally, Starks' presence would allow Ryon Bingham to focus on playing nose tackle, where Bingham's lack of agility and lateral quickness are better disguised.

The Chargers are essentially forced to add a defensive lineman this offseason. Jamal Williams is aging and injury prone; Luis Castillo has missed six games due to ankle injuries each of the last two seasons; and Igor Olshansky is in the final year of his contract.

If the Chargers sign Starks as a free agent, it negates the need to draft a player at the position. That would be huge for San Diego, as the Bolts have traded away their second-, third- and fourth-round picks in this year's draft. Crossing "defensive line" off the wish list allows Smith to use his remaining picks in other areas, such as running back, offensive line and secondary.

San Diego could likely land Starks with a three-year, $6-million deal, similar to the extension inked by Bingham back in December. With the Chargers boasting more than $30 million in salary cap space, it is a deal they can certainly afford. With the team primed for another Super Bowl run, it is a deal they may not be able to pass up.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.

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