Sports Out West

NFL free agency 2014: Chargers busy despite lack of big splash

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For a team with a modest spending limit in 2014, the San Diego Chargers have been busy in the first week of free agency. From signing, to restructuring to releases, the Bolts are making roster changes left and right.

The team’s latest move was the restructuring of defensive end Dwight Freeney‘s contract. The team and Freeney agreed to terms on a $1 million pay cut in 2014, according to U-T San Diego. The cut clears up more than $900,000 in cap space.

The star defender from Indianapolis, who suffered a season-ending torn quad against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 4 of 2013, was credited 15 quarterback hurries and a half-sack in his first season with the Chargers.

“Everything is looking great,” Freeney expressed in January about his recovery. “It’s all green lights pointing to great things next year. I’m ahead of schedule as far as rehab is concerned, so that’s good. I’ll be back. I still enjoy the game.”

Freeney isn’t the first player the Chargers have restructured a contract with. They restructured wide receiver Eddie Royal‘s and linebacker Jarret Johnson‘s contracts in early March. Royal’s restructure gives the team an extra $1 million in cap space, and Johnson’s allows another $2 million. With all three deals, the Chargers now have nearly $4 million more in cap space.

Here’s what else has been going on in San Diego.

Newbies:

Donald Brown (RB):

Coming from the Indianapolis Colts, Brown, who signed a three-year, $10 million contract, will add another dynamic and versatile back to the Chargers’ offense. The rising star can not only pound through defensive lines with a special push towards end zones, but he’s an explosive tool in the passing game.

In the Chargers’ new offensive scheme of throwing quick, shorter passes rather than long, risky ones, Brown will come in handy for quarterback Philip Rivers, who favors running backs who can help him in the passing game. Running back Danny Woodhead became Rivers’ best friend in 2013. Expect Brown to join Woodhead’s impressive catch and run abilities.

Kavell Conner (ILB):

Also coming from the Colts, Conner, who signed a three-year $2.7 million contract, will add depth to the Chargers’ linebacker core. Although Manti Te’o and Donald Butler will hold down the starting positions, expect Conner to have a special role defending the run game in Chuck Pagano’s defense, an area he has succeeded the most in during his three-year career.

David Johnson (TE):

Arriving from the Pittsburgh Steelers, Johnson, who signed a two-year, $1.7 million deal, will help bolster the Chargers’ run game. Johnson’s role for the team will come in the form of blocking, assisting the offensive line during run (or occasionally pass) plays. He will join the team’s other block-first tight end, John Phillips. Johnson can also play the role of fullback, where he can become a thick train of force propelling defensive linemen out of the way for one of the Chargers’ running backs.

 Brandon Ghee (CB):

Leaving the Cincinnati Bengals to join the Chargers, Ghee, who signed a two-year, $1.65 million contract, will attempt to strengthen the team’s weak secondary. The Chargers are taking a significant risk signing the corner, who has played in only 23 games since entering the league in 2010 and has still yet to record his first NFL interception and start.

But the team is desperate to fill the corner position, a spot that has posed a massive weak area in their defense for the past few years. With little money to spend on a big-name corner, the Chargers will look to young players who they can (hopefully) form into adequate players.

The last big-name corner the Chargers signed didn’t exactly turn out to be a brilliant addition.

 Kellen Clemons (QB):

Arriving from the Saint Louis Rams, Clemons, who signed a three-year, $2.7 million deal, will take the place of Charlie Whitehurst to back up Rivers. Unlike Whitehurst, who signed with the Tennessee Titans earlier in the week, he has experience as a starting, and winning, quarterback.

Stepping up for an injured Sam Bradford last season, Clemons went 4-5 in his nine starts, completing nearly 59% of his passes for 1,673 yards and eight touchdowns. He will be a safe and sturdy replacement for the Chargers if Rivers ever went down. But Rivers plays through just about anything you can pile on him, so don’t expect Clemons to take to the field any time soon.

Oldies:

Donald Butler (ILB):

Butler, star and leader of the Chargers young defense, re-signed with the team to a whopping seven-year, $52 million contract.

Darrell Stuckey (SS/ST):

Stuckey, a vital part of the Chargers special teams, re-signed with the team to a well deserved four-year, $7.6 million deal.

Reggie Walker (OLB):

Walker, who became a key defender for the Chargers late last year, re-signed to a two-year contract.

Richard Marshall (CB):

Marshall, who stepped in after Derek Cox lost his starting role, had a decent second-half of the year for the Chargers, including three fumble recoveries. In return for his play, he was granted a one-year, $855,000 deal.

Chad Rinehart (OL):

Rinehart, who started 10 games keeping Rivers upright in 2013, re-signed to a two-year, $6 million contract.

The Departed:

Derek Cox (CB):

The Chargers couldn’t wait to rid themselves of big-time bust Cox. Thankfully, he’s now the Minnesota Vikings’ problem.

Charlie Whitehurst (QB):

Whitehurst fulfilled his back-up quarterback duties in a pristine manner throughout his career in San Diego. He played a key role for Rivers in play calling and coverage awareness, earning him a chance at a starting position for the Titans.

Johnny Patrick (CB):

Patrick couldn’t quite improve his play to strengthen the Chargers secondary. After being released by the team, he was claimed off of wavers by the New York Jets.

Cam Thomas (DT):

Thomas started in a career-high 11 games in 2013 and recorded his first NFL interception against the Houston Texans in Week 1. He will now try to mend the Steele Curtain, signing a two-year, $4 million contract with the Steelers.

Although several players are taken care of, there are still others the Chargers have yet to get to. These include Danario Alexander (WR), Seyi Ajirotutu (WR), Ronnie Brown (RB), Bront Bird (LB), Lavelle Hawkins (WR), Stephen Schilling (OL), and Rich Ohrnberger (OL).

With potential important and key players’ futures still hanging in the balance, expect the Chargers to continue to keep busy in free agency.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Olivia Hops

Olivia Hops is a San Diego journalist, reporter, and producer who brings a fresh perceptive to the world of sports. Olivia has worked with U-T San Diego, U-T TV, Sports Illustrated, and other print and online publications. She is an absolute football junky, and her true passion lies with the NFL.