What the Chargers might be planning for free agency

Inglewood, CA - December 10: Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler.

Free agency in the NFL is traditionally a time to look outside the organization for help.

The Chargers, though, still have some issues to resolve inside.

Edge rushers Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa as well as wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams all have salary-cap numbers in excess of $32 million.

The team sits more than $21 million over the mandated threshold of $255.4 million, according to

So there are weighty decisions to be made in order for the Chargers to reach cap compliance by the 1 p.m. Wednesday deadline.

Rookie general manager Joe Hortiz and new head coach Jim Harbaugh inherited plenty of work as they attempt to retool the Chargers’ roster, a makeover made more difficult by the financial constraints the two men face.

Unless the Chargers drastically shed salary, Hortiz and Harbaugh figure to be bargain hunting in free agency.

Here’s a position-by-position roster update as the negotiating period arrives at 9 a.m. Monday:


Entering his fifth season, Justin Herbert has yet to win a playoff game. Yet his presence and potential are such that the Chargers’ head-coach opening was generally regarded as the most appealing in the league this offseason.

Chargers quarterback Easton Stick runs away from Chiefs defensive end Tershawn Wharton.

There is, however, a (somewhat) significant quarterback question for this team: who will be Herbert’s backup? Easton Stick is heading into unrestricted free agency, as is Will Grier. Max Duggan, a seventh-round draft pick a year ago, was signed to a futures contract in January.

The veteran backup-types expected to be available in free agency include Tyler Huntley, who spent time in Baltimore with new Chargers’ offensive coordinator Greg Roman.

Running backs

This is one position where significant change appears to be coming. Austin Ekeler and Joshua Kelley will be free agents after combining for 87.5% of the Chargers’ running-back carries last season.

Isaiah Spiller, a fourth-round pick in 2022, is the only other running back currently on the active roster. Elijah Dotson and Jaret Patterson signed futures deals following the season.

The running back market is deep and includes two other former Ravens in Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins.

With a new offensive staff and a publicly stated desire to build a more physical and powerful team, the Chargers are expected to add a fullback or a tight end who possesses fullback abilities this offseason.

Wide receivers/tight ends

For weeks, the outside anticipation has been that Williams will be released. His situation is further clouded by the fact he’s coming off a torn ACL that ended his 2023 season in late September.

Harbaugh has repeatedly spoken highly of Allen, and the veteran wideout said at the Pro Bowl that he expects to remain a Charger. Retaining Allen likely would mean extending him with a deal that would lower his 2024 salary-cap hit.

Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen holds the ball aloft after scoring a touchdown against the Raiders last season.
Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen, celebrating a touchdown against the Lions, is a pending free agent who expects to remain with the team. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The team’s No. 1 tight end the past two years, Gerald Everett, is a pending free agent. There is little depth behind him, leaving the Chargers no choice but to address the position this offseason.

Tight end isn’t a strength of this free-agent class, with the likes of Noah Fant and Adam Trautman among the best expected to be available.

Offensive line

The Chargers have a less talked about but still very important spot to fill at center, where veteran Corey Linsley faces retirement because of a heart-related ailment.

Will Clapp started 11 games in Linsley’s place in 2023 and is now entering free agency. Brenden Jaimes remains on the roster after starting three games when Clapp was injured.

Among the centers approaching free agency is Mason Cole, who played for Harbaugh at Michigan before being a third-round pick of Arizona in 2018. He started 34 games for Pittsburgh the last two years.

The rest of the starting offensive line — tackles Rashawn Slater and Trey Pipkins III and guards Zion Johnson and Jamaree Salyer — return, although the Chargers’ new regime could be looking to bargain shop for potential upgrades.

Defensive line

Being a bruising, tough team means beefing up the defensive front, and the Chargers have work to do there.

Morgan Fox, Otito Ogbonnia and Scott Matlock remain on the roster as veterans Austin Johnson and Nick Williams prepare for free agency. Don’t forget that the Chargers released Sebastian Joseph-Day late last season.

The free agents available include Justin Jones, a 2018 third-round pick of the Chargers who left to sign with Chicago two years ago. He started all 34 games for the Bears during his time there.

Christopher Hinton, who played for Harbaugh at Michigan, signed a futures contract in January and likely will continue to receive opportunities.

Edge rushers

Both Mack and Bosa have been mentioned in trade speculation for weeks, with Mack coming off a stellar season and Bosa off another injury-plagued one.

The uncertainty makes this a position where the Chargers could be considered everything from hefty to hurting.

Chargers edge rushers Khalil Mack, left, and Joey Bosa walk across the field with their helmets off during a practice.
Chargers edge rushers Khalil Mack, left, and Joey Bosa have large salary-cap numbers for the upcoming season. (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Tuli Tuipulotu had a promising rookie year, but there isn’t much after the top three players on the depth chart.

Quality edge rushers aren’t cheap, putting the Chargers in a tough spot if they’re shopping for one. Pending free agent Josh Uche’s production slipped appreciably in New England in 2023, but he is another former Wolverine.


This is another area where an overhaul seems inevitable with both of last year’s starters apparently departing. The Chargers released Eric Kendricks last week, while Kenneth Murray Jr. is about to be a free agent.

The only inside linebacker still with the team who played meaningful snaps last season is Nick Niemann, who has carved out a more prominent role for himself on special teams.

Daiyan Henley, a third-round pick a year ago, didn’t receive much of a chance during his rookie season.

A couple free-agent options: Jordyn Brooks and Josey Jewell. Brooks was in Seattle with Will Tukuafu, the Chargers’ new assistant defensive line coach.


There are two open starting spots — safety next to Derwin James Jr. and outside corner opposite Asante Samuel Jr. — with Alohi Gilman and Michael Davis approaching free agency.

The Chargers have three 2022 draft picks in safety JT Woods and cornerbacks Ja’Sir Taylor and Deane Leonard who continue to attempt to establish themselves as legitimate options on defense.

Ravens safety Geno Stone (26), celebrates his interception with teammates during a game against the Cardinals last season.

The free-agent list for safeties received a boost recently when several prominent players were cut around the league. But the Chargers don’t figure to have the cap space to pursue the defensive backs at the top end of the market.

One thing to consider: new Chargers’ safeties coach Chris O’Leary was at Notre Dame during Gilman’s two seasons there.

Another consideration: free-agent safety Geno Stone spent his first four NFL seasons with Baltimore and is coming off a seven-interception 2023.


After starting quarterback, this is the area where the Chargers have their most stability.

Their punter (JK Scott), kicker (Cameron Dicker), long snapper (Josh Harris) and return man (Derius Davis) remain on the roster coming off a season of consistent and reliable production.

Harbaugh also retained special teams coordinator Ryan Ficken and Ficken’s assistant, Chris Gould.

Among the players who played the most special-teams snaps in 2023, linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga is a restricted free agent.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.