Monday, February 24, 2014
Chargers position outlook: Defensive backs
By Eric D. Williams
Safety Eric Weddle is the only player for the San Diego Chargers' defense to earn a Pro Bowl invitation. And while San Diego's defensive backfield played more consistently in the second half of the season, the Chargers need talent upgrades at both safety and cornerback to develop into an elite group.
The good: Weddle put together one of the best seasons by a safety in the NFL, finishing with a team-high 115 tackles. Weddle provides versatility because of his ability to play at the line of scrimmage and as a deep safety. The Chargers allowed eight touchdown passes in the final five games of the regular season and two postseason games. Young players like Wright, Addae and Gilchrist played better in the second half of the season.
The bad: The Chargers allowed an average of 259 passing yards a contest, No. 29 in the NFL. San Diego also gave up 58 passing plays of 20 yards or more, tied for No. 24 in the league. The Chargers did a better job in these categories during the backstretch of 2013, but continued improvement is needed.
The money: After losing his starting job to Marshall in Week 13, Cox played a total of eight defensive snaps the rest of the season. Signed to a four-year, $20.5 million deal last offseason, the Chargers can save $1.65 million in cap space and $4.25 million in cash by releasing Cox once the free agency period begins on March 11. That seems likely. Weddle eats up more than $10 million in cap space in 2014 and still has two years left on his deal, so the Chargers could look to restructure his contract in order to free up more cap space. Stuckey played well on special teams and could return in free agency. Marshall also would serve as a nice stop gap at corner until San Diego finds a long-term solution, and could return in free agency.
Draft priority: High. The Chargers need to add more length, play-making ability and size in the back end defensively. A big, enforcer-type hitter at safety and a rangy corner that can run should be on the menu. Seahawks cornerback Walter Thurmond might make some sense if the price is not too high. And there are plenty of talented cornerbacks available in this year's draft that can come in and play right away, including Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert and Ohio State's Bradley Roby.