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2018 Fantasy Football Free Agency Preview : Los Angeles Chargers

Free agency has a major impact on fantasy football. We’re a long way from the 2018 league year, but for dynasty team owners — especially those who’ve missed the playoffs — it’s never too early to start thinking about how player values could change.

I’m going to take a look at the Los Angeles Chargers fantasy-relevant free agents. I will also look at some players who may not be long for the team. After a look at the free agents and possible cut candidates, I’ll circle back and do some more player or position-specific analysis.

Free Agents information and cap numbers are courtesy of OverTheCap.

The Chargers are currently projected to have $22,962,403 in cap space in 2018, with the league’s new cap set at $178 million.

Free Agents

Player Position Type Current Average Per Year
Antonio Gates TE UFA $5,500,000
Kellen Clemens QB UFA $1,000,000
Nick Novak K UFA $900,000
Branden Oliver RB UFA $800,000
Jeff Cumberland TE UFA $775,000
Asante Cleveland TE RFA $690,000
Andre Williams RB RFA $690,000
Isaiah Burse WR RFA $615,000
Sean McGrath TE RFA $615,000
Tyrell Williams WR RFA $525,000

Cut Candidates

Player Position Dead Money Cap Savings
Corey Liuget DE $3,000,000 $6,500,000
Travis Benjamin WR $2,500,000 $4,500,000
Cardale Jones QB $0 $630,000
Kenneth Farrow RB $1,668 $555,000
Artavis Scott WR $0 $555,000
Andre Patton WR $0 $555,000

Antonio Gates is set to hit free agency, and at 37 years old, it’s likely that 2017 was the last season for him as a Charger. Even if the Chargers bring back Jeff Cumberland or Asante Cleveland, neither TE should threaten Hunter Henry’s role on the team. Henry saw 14 percent of the targets last season and should increase his workload going forward.

Neither Branden Oliver nor Andre Williams factored into the Chargers’ 2017 plans. Austin Ekeler leapfrogged both players over the course of the season and has cemented himself as the change-of-pace RB. Kenneth Farrow was waived/placed on injured reserve at the start of 2017, and his time as a Charger is likely over.

Travis Benjamin authored several splash plays last season, but his tenure with the Chargers has been underwhelming. Benjamin’s post-June 1 dead money cap hit is $1.25 million instead of the $2.5 million currently listed. I anticipate that the Chargers will attempt to restructure his contract and release Benjamin if he refuses to take a pay cut.

I expect that the Chargers tender RFA Tyrell Williams this offseason. When Keenan Allen was out of the lineup, Williams prove to be a capable WR. However, it’s hard to imagine that Williams performs at 2016 levels with Allen healthy and first-round pick Mike Williams set to see more playing time next season. Isaiah Burse, Artavis Scott, and Andre Patton are purely depth options for the Chargers, and it’s highly unlikely any of them are fantasy relevant.

With Kellen Clemens set to hit free agency, the Chargers will look to upgrade their backup QB. The Chargers probably would not feel comfortable with Cardale Jones running the offense in case Philip Rivers is sidelined.

The Chargers have been in the process of exploring ways to replace Nick Novak. Nick Rose showed some promise in his two games as a Charger. While he only hit one of three field goals, he successfully converted five of six extra points.

Team Needs

Backup QB, RB, K

The Chargers may not be committed to Rose as their kicker next season and signed former second-round pick Roberto Aguayo to a reserve/future contract. Aguayo spent time with the Bears and Panthers in 2017 but did not attempt a kick. I expect the Chargers will sign a veteran in free agency, given their concerns at the kicker spot.

The Chargers’ contention window is firmly open. An upgrade at the backup QB spot would be an excellent way to ensure that the offense continues to play at a high level if Rivers was forced to miss time. A player like Matt Moore or Derek Anderson should fit the bill. Alternatively, the Chargers could address this position via the draft and select a QB in the later rounds.

Summary

The Chargers don’t appear to have too many needs at the offensive skill positions. Their most notable free agent is Antonio Gates, who has been supplanted by Hunter Henry. Additionally, even if Benjamin were to get cut, it would only free up 64 targets. Both Benjamin and Tyrell Williams are deployed at similar depths on the field,1 and Williams’ RFA status makes him more appealing from a cap savings perspective. Williams posted a 43-728-4 line on 69 targets compared to Benjamin’s 34-567-4 line. The Chargers should cut Benjamin and utilize Williams as their primary deep receiving threat.

It will be interesting to see what role Mike Williams will play in 2018. Williams’ rookie season was derailed after he suffered a herniated disc in rookie minicamp. Despite returning from injury in Week 6, Williams failed to establish himself as a productive member of the offense. Given the draft capital spent, the Chargers will give Williams ample opportunity to establish himself as the No. 2. Provided Williams can stay healthy, it will be interesting to see if he’s able to beat out Tyrell Williams/Travis Benjamin in training camp.

Even if Williams takes on a more prominent role in the offense, the passing game flows through Keenan Allen. Not only was Allen able to thrive in a crowded receiving corps, but he also seems to have shed his injury-prone label. Allen posted a 102-1,393-6 line and accounted for 28 percent of the target market share.

Chargers Receivers 2017

No other Chargers receiver exceeded a 12 percent target market share, and it’s unlikely anyone eats into his workload unless we see a major breakout from Mike Williams. Additionally, Allen saw the most red zone use among all Chargers receivers.

 

Chargers Red Zone 2017

Melvin Gordon was a key cog in this offense. Gordon cracked 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his career, posting a final rushing line of 284-1,105-9. He also saw a career-high 83 targets,2 which were second most on the team after Allen. Gordon took full opportunity of the increased workload in the receiving game and posted a career-high receiving line of 58-476-4. Gordon has been utilized as a workhorse over the last two seasons, and his bellcow role should be safe for the foreseeable future.

Chargers RB 2017

Ekeler has cemented himself as the change-of-pace RB. Neither Williams nor Oliver did much with their limited opportunity, and the Chargers are squarely in the market for backup RBs. Chris Ivory is a likely cut candidate for the Jaguars and would be a good safety blanket in case Gordon misses time. Alternatively, a free agent who could be signed for the veteran’s minimum, such as Jeremy Hill or Eddie Lacy, could become a viable backup RB.

  1. Benjamin’s aDOT is 15.6, whereas Williams has an aDOT of 14.3  (back)
  2. 14 percent of the target market share  (back)

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