That will be a hot topic all offseason after the Las Vegas Raiders stunned the Chargers with a last-second field goal in overtime to head to the NFL playoffs. Unfortunately, the Chargers season ended in Las Vegas after an improbable comeback in the fourth quarter.
Now, LA will sit back and recover from a heartbreaking finish. The good news? The pieces are in place for this group to make another run at the playoffs.
Even better, the Chargers, who finished with a 9-8 mark, have a ton of cap space, a high number of draft picks, and have their primary offensive weapons returning in 2022.
Nonetheless, the Chargers have work cut out for them as they head into the 2022 offseason.
Biggest offseason questions
Can the Chargers put the right pieces around superstar Justin Herbert?
That is the biggest, most pressing question. With the talent of Herbert and him being on his rookie deal, now is the time to capitalize for LA.
Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler are back, Joey Bosa and Derwin James are the anchors on defense, and the Chargers have a lot of cash to spend in free agency if they so choose.
You can focus on Staley’s aggressive decisions and odd timeout all you want, but there is no denying that this team needs to address some holes.
The defense got ravaged by injuries and lacked development from some young players ( Kenneth Murray). Nonetheless, the Chargers are headed in the right direction and were just a couple of plays away from the playoffs.
Top free-agency decisions
Key free agents: Mike Williams (WR), Oday Aboushi (OL), Jared Cook (TE), Chris Harris (CB), Linval Joseph (DT), Uchenna Nwosu (EDGE)
Thankfully for the Chargers, the cap space is on their side. Heading into the 2022 offseason, LA has one of the biggest amounts of cash in the NFL.
First things first, figure out what to do with Mike Williams. This season, the former first-round pick exploded, posting career-highs in receptions (76), yards (1,146), and finished one touchdown catch shy of tying his career mark of 10. Now, he heads for free agency.
But the Chargers can easily place the franchise tag on him, which seems like the wisest decision. Jared Cook, Linval Joseph, and Chris Harris are almost certainly headed for free agency. Oday Aboushi signed a $2 million deal and played well before his season-ending injury, and the Chargers should have no problem bringing him back in another cheap deal.
Uchenna Nwosu is a guy the Chargers need to bring back, mainly how he played at the end of the season. He finished the year with five sacks and 24 tackles along with an impressive interception, flashing his ability to get after the quarterback quite often.
While Williams returning is a priority, Nwosu also needs to be a priority for this group.
Nonetheless, Williams is the most significant question mark. If they let him hit the open market, he should easily get a contract of $20 million a year. Teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars and Las vegas Raiders are a couple of wide receiver-needy teams that would throw the bag at Williams.
With other areas of need on the Chargers roster — primarily on defense — placing the tag on Williams makes sense and would still net him a nice paycheck for the 2022 season.
2022 NFL Draft needs and potential targets
Top draft picks: First round (own), second round (own), third round (own)
Draft needs: DT, OT, WR, EDGE, TE
The Chargers are set up well in the 2022 NFL Draft. Not only do they have each of the seven choices, but four compensatory picks should be added to the stack.
The Chargers will pick 17th overall in the draft, and there is no question that Georgia star Jordan Davis makes sense with that choice. The LA run defense was gashed time and time again, and Davis is easily a Day One starter for Staley’s group.
A run-stopper is what the Chargers need.
Next up? Let’s discuss wide receiver. The Chargers don’t exactly need a wide receiver as it stands now. Allen is a stud, and Jalen Guyton and Josh Palmer proved their worth. But, this all hinges on what the team does with Williams.
If he leaves, somebody needs to come in and be the No. 2 guy one way or another. If Williams stays, then the Chargers can add a depth WR in the later rounds of the draft, perhaps a guy like Justyn Ross, another Clemson product.
The OT depth was tested often, with Bryan Bulaga missing time and then Storm Norton getting destroyed against Maxx Crosby in the Week 18 clash with Las Vegas. Adding depth helps, and the Chargers will have a lot of picks to help in that department.
Cook is gone, and even though the Chargers nabbed Tre’ McKitty in the 2021 NFL Draft, another tight end could be beneficial. Donald Parham Jr. is a candidate for the lead role, but the position group looks iffy after that.
The EDGE position is interesting, mainly because Nwosu is also a free agent.
Nwosu was stellar for LA after Melvin Ingram dashed, and the former USC star showed that he is capable of playing as a starter. Either way, some depth is needed at this position, much like the entire defense.
1 player on each side of the ball who must step up in 2022
The defense needs help, plain and simple. One guy that needs to step up massively is linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. The Chargers traded up to select him in the first round in 2020, and it’s safe to say he hasn’t panned out since.
This season especially, Murray took a mammoth step back. Yet, Staley kept rolling with him despite the strong play of Kyzir White.
Perhaps he will improve in the offseason, but if not, Murray might be headed elsewhere, and general manager Tom Telesco will be hit with another draft bust.
On offense, it’s hard to choose one. For the most part, the offense flourished. Hopefully, the Chargers will address the offensive line depth, which will help.
One guy that needs to step up on offense is Parham. The Chargers let Hunter Henry walk in free agency, then signed Cook to a one-year deal as a bridge to the next tight end.
After drafting McKitty in 2021, it was even more evident that the team thinks highly of Parham. The Chargers’ young tight end missed the final stretch of the regular season after a devastating injury in the game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Nonetheless, assuming Cook leaves, Parham is very likely the guy. The question is, can he be the lead tight end?
The film speaks for itself, and there is a reason why the Chargers have kept him around this long.
The size, speed, and athleticism are all there for Parham. All he needs is to take the next step and become the lead guy in that position group.
Stats Courtesy of Pro Football Reference