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Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Chargers' free-agency shopping list

By Eric D. Williams

According to the latest calculations of ESPN’s Roster Management, the San Diego Chargers have about $5.8 million in salary-cap space heading into the start of free agency on Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET.

However, that figure does not include recent deals with guard Chad Rinehart and safety Darrell Stuckey, along with reported pay cuts for edge rusher Jarret Johnson and receiver Eddie Royal.

The Chargers are among the bottom third of the league in terms of salary-cap space and likely will not be major spenders during the first wave of free agency. But expect San Diego general manager Tom Telesco to be a sensible spender during the second wave of free agency, much like he accomplished last year by signing left tackle King Dunlap and running back Danny Woodhead to two-year deals.

Here are a few names to keep an eye on today, and the coming weeks.

Champ Bailey, DB, Denver Broncos: Yes, the future Hall of Famer turns 36 in June. He struggled with a foot injury most of the 2013 season, playing in only five regular-season games. But if healthy, Bailey can provide some versatility, with an ability to play on the perimeter and inside against the slot. Bailey has an offseason home in Orange County, California and likely would relish the chance to play against his former team, the Broncos, twice a year. Bailey said he would be willing to play safety.

Earl Mitchell, DT, Houston Texans: Selected in the third round by the Texans in the 2010 draft out of Arizona, Mitchell emerged as a starter in 2013, finishing with 48 tackles and 1.5 sacks. At 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds, Mitchell can play 3-tech or nose tackle, and he has some scheme versatility with an ability to play in a 3-4 or a 4-3. Mitchell, 26, seems too small to regularly fill in for the Chargers at nose tackle as a replacement for Cam Thomas, who also hits the free-agency market. Mitchell earned an A grade from ESPN NFL Insider Bill Polian.

Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants: The North Carolina product said he wouldn’t mind signing a long-term deal and being the missing link for a Super Bowl contender. Nicks, 26, also specifically mentioned Philip Rivers as a guy he wouldn’t mind as a teammate. But does Nicks have any gas left in the tank? His stat line in the past two seasons -- 103 catches and three touchdowns -- provides an answer.

Brady Quinn, QB, New York Jets: A good athlete and hard worker in the film room, Quinn could come in and push second-year pro Brad Sorensen for the backup quarterback job if the Chargers choose to move on from Charlie Whitehurst.

Steve Smith, WR, Carolina Panthers: Reportedly being shopped around the league by the Panthers as trade bait, Smith turns 35 in May but can still play. Smith played for Mike McCoy in Carolina and would be a good complement to Keenan Allen. If Carolina releases Smith, the Chargers should be one of the first teams in line for his services.

Paul Soliai, DT, Miami Dolphins: At 6-4 and 340 pounds, the University of Utah product would be an ideal fit as a 2-gap run-stuffer in the middle of San Diego’s defense. But because he's 30 years old, the Chargers might not want to invest long-term on Soliai. He’s also reportedly receiving interest from the Falcons.

Golden Tate, WR, Seattle Seahawks: The ultracompetitive Tate would be a good fit in San Diego’s offense because of his ability to stretch the defense along with a knack for making plays after the catch. The Notre Dame product also is one of the better punt returners in the game. Tate, who turns 26 in August, could be too expensive for the Chargers.

Walter Thurmond, CB, Seattle Seahawks: Thurmond’s strength is versatility. At 5-11 and 190 pounds, Thurmond can play off or press coverage, and is one of the best slot defenders in the NFL. He’s also a sure tackler and can return punts. But the University of Oregon product struggles to stay on the field, missing 30 of a possible 64 regular-season games. Thurmond also was suspended for four games in 2013 for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.