The first wave of free agency is done with.
And with the Chargers making some initial moves to the roster, plus the 2023 Annual League Meeting on deck for next week, we got a few of the Chargers beat reporters together to discuss where the Bolts are at right now.
Here's what Jeff Miller (Los Angeles Times), Joe Reedy (Associated Press), Elliott Teaford (Southern California News Group) and Eric Smith (Chargers.com) had to say:
What was your reaction to the Chargers signing Eric Kendricks?
Miller: The first thing I thought was that Drue Tranquill's time with the Chargers was over. I thought there was at least a decent chance Tranquill would be back after having a break-through season in 2022. He'll be missed, especially by the media members who are regularly around the team. Tranquill is a class act and a very good linebacker. But the NFL is a business as much as it is a sport, and the Chargers made the decision to pivot to Kendricks. That being said, Kendricks brings a proven record of production and availability, two things every coaching staff/front office in this league values.
Reedy: A little bit surprised with conventional wisdom focused on if the Chargers were going to re-sign Drue Tranquill, but I think it was a good move. It adds another solid veteran presence to the defense, especially the linebacker group, and possibly a mentor for Kenneth Murray. It also adds someone who wore the green dot on their defense last season, if they want to keep it at linebacker and not move it back to Derwin James.
Teaford: It had to be done if the Chargers weren't going to re-sign Drue Tranquill, who by the way, had a huge 2022 season. Tranquill's departure would have left a huge void and the Chargers had to move quickly to get that filled. Kendricks is older than Tranquill, but more experienced. It will be interesting to see how he works with Kenneth Murray Jr., starting with training camp. Kendricks will be another key piece for the defense.
Smith: Absolutely loved it. I may have a biased perspective because I covered Kendricks for six seasons in Minnesota, but the Chargers are getting a great player on the field and an even better person off of it. The loss of Tranquill certainly does sting, especially given his leadership and the way he played in 2022. But Kendricks brings plenty of leadership, too, and is among the game's best linebackers when he's at his best. Simply put, he's historically shown that his peak is higher than Tranquill's. We'll see if Kendricks can regain his form from a few years ago when he was an All-Pro, but knowing Kendricks the way I do, I'm not going to bet against him.
The Bolts best move in free agency so far?
Miller: Re-signing right tackle Trey Pipkins III solidified the offensive line as the Chargers look to continue to protect quarterback Justin Herbert and development some sort of consistent running game. Continuity upfront can only help. The Chargers just need their five O-line starters - figuring Jamaree Salyer takes over at left guard - to now remain as healthy as possible in 2023. This seems to be as settled on the offensive line as this team has been since moving to Los Angeles.
Reedy: I would say re-signing Trey Pipkins. He played well last year and has made incredible progress over the past two seasons.
Teaford: I'd say re-signing right tackle Trey Pipkins III was the best move in the first wave of free agency. He really proved his value to the team last season and it was smart to lock him up ASAP.
Smith: Yeah, I'll echo the chorus here and say Pipkins, too. As I wrote after the Chargers announced the move, Pipkins' return is a win-win for both sides. The Chargers get their starting right tackle back and also get to a chance to see Pipkins hit his prime after a few years of progress. If he can continue making strides like he did in 2022, he should be regarded as one of the league's better players at his position. Plus, with Matt Feiler having been released, Pipkins' return also helps clarify a starting line that should also includes Rashawn Slater, Corey Linsley, Zion Johnson and Jamaree Salyer.
Top under-the-radar move?
Miller: Punters are people, too! JK Scott's return means more ceiling-scraping bombs that result in the opposition calling for a fair catch. The Chargers led the NFL to forced fair catches in 2022, as special teams coordinator Ryan Ficken leaned heavily into Scott's ability to deliver the sky ball. This was not a sexy re-signing and it was significant. For what's it worth, I fully expect the Chargers to make another move or two that could fall into this category.
Reedy: Re-signing JK Scott. A huge reason why the punt coverage units improved significantly last year was due to Scott's hang time on punts.
Teaford: Bringing back kicker Cameron Dicker was a good move that might not be appreciated in the grand scheme of things right off the bat. Special teams were strong last season under Ryan Ficken and creating some serious kicking competition between Dicker and Dustin Hopkins at training camp will likely keep things moving in the right direction. Upward and through the uprights.
Smith: This one is a no brainer for me in JK Scott. If the Chargers didn't retain Cameron Dicker, they at least had another kicking option in Dustin Hopkins. But there was no other punter on the roster other than Scott, who had a career season in his first season in powder blue. He lead the league in average hang time ... and that helped the Bolts lead the league in punt return yards allowed. Scott was an unheralded weapon in 2022 and should be the same again this season.
Area of focus going forward?
Miller: There's still plenty of work to do. Wide receiver. Tight end. Cornerback. Kick returner. Depth all over the place. But my primary focus right now is on the pass rush and the edge particularly. Re-signing Morgan Fox was a bit of a coup for Tom Telesco and Brandon Staley. He brings the ability to get to quarterback from anywhere along the defensive front. But losing Tranquill could have a sneaky bad impact here. He proved himself to be an effective blitzer coming through the middle. Cornerback Bryce Callahan, who's a free agent, also brought some blitz ability a year ago, sprinting off the edge. The Chargers need someone - behind Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa - who can be counted on to apply pressure
Reedy: See if there is the possibility of adding speed at receiver along with veteran depth on defense.
Teaford: Obviously, we have to address the elephants in the room. Austin Ekeler and Justin Herbert are eligible for contract extensions. Can the Chargers get one or both done before training camp starts? It could be tough, but both have earned fat, new deals. It would be hard to imagine the Chargers offense without Ekeler for years to come. Beyond those two, the Chargers still have some job vacancies here and there,especially on defense. Will J.C. Jackson be ready to go after suffering that knee injury last year in Week 7? Will the Chargers need to find depth at cornerback if he's not ready? There's plenty to consider on offense too, especially on the o-line. Will center Will Clapp be back?
Smith: Sorry if you were expecting a flashy offseason like a year ago. That's not the way the NFL works, and Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco said in January that it wasn't going to be as splashy as 2022. The moves the Bolts have made have been necessary and important ones. Going forward, depth at both edge and tight end could be areas to address in the draft. And Herbert's possible extension always looms, too. But there aren't many starting spots on this roster, so finding young talent across the board in the draft will be key.
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