NFL free agency is off and running, and we’re keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2021 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The new league year begins March 17 at 4 p.m. ET, which means free-agent signings can be made official after that. The first round of the 2021 NFL draft begins April 29 on ESPN.
At roughly $25 million under the cap, the Chargers haven’t had to make a flurry of moves to clear cap space. However, guard Trai Turner, who carries an $11.5 million cap number, was released. They also made a decision on tight end Hunter Henry, as Adam Schefter reported that the Chargers will not use the franchise tag on him for a second straight season, making him an unrestricted free agent.
Moving forward, the Chargers are in desperate need of another O-lineman, either through free agency, the draft or both. They’ve got a young, star quarterback in Justin Herbert who needs protection to go with his new coordinator and a new head coach in Brandon Staley, who has more energy than anyone around the organization in some time.
The Chargers will sign the All-Pro center to a five-year deal.
What it means: The Chargers have a verified all-star to protect (and snap the ball to) quarterback Justin Herbert. They had been piece-mealing it ever since Mike Pouncey went on injured reserved with a hip injury last September. Dan Feeney stepped in, switching over from guard, and filled in nicely, but in Linsley they have an All-Pro who they are paying All-Pro money (he will reportedly be the highest-paid center in the league). He’s got great hands and is very mobile. The Chargers needed him.
What’s the risk: Linsley was placed on IR last December but was back by the end of the season. He also missed three games in 2015 and seven more in 2016. That said, there’s little downside here for the Chargers. The Packers couldn’t afford to keep him, and so it’s the Chargers’ gain. He is a huge addition to the Chargers O-line. Surely Herbert is happy.
The Chargers added the former Pittsburgh Steelers lineman on a three-year deal.
What it means: After playing right tackle for the Steelers, Feiler moved to left guard for the 2020 season, starting 13 games, playing 86% of the snaps. He started as a practice player in 2015 after signing with Houston as an undrafted free agent. He fills one of the guard spots for the line-challenged Chargers.
What’s the risk: After starting 13 games, he tore a pectoral injury and went on IR. He did return for the team’s first-round playoff loss against the Cleveland Browns.
What it means: The Chargers signed Davis as an undrafted rookie free agent …and just re-signed him to a three-year deal. Davis, 26, received interest from many teams and became a priority for the Chargers, especially after they released cornerback Casey Hayward Jr. last week. Davis started 26 games over the past two seasons and was especially good in 2020, when he had a career high 63 tackles while adding three interceptions.
What’s the risk: He’s only gotten better every year, so really no risk. It would have been a huge mistake to let him go. He’s big (6-foot-2) and fast. He is an ideal cornerback and one the Chargers were smart to hang on to as they remake their defense under new coach Brandon Staley.
What it means: It means that new head coach Brandon Staley has a little faith in a kicker the Chargers stuck with through thick and thin last season. Mainly thin. The self-named “Money Badger,” did make 14 of 14 field-goal attempts from 39 yards or less.
What’s the risk: He struggled with the long ones, making just 8 of 13 attempts from 40-49 yards. From 50-plus he made just 2 of 6. The team did sign Tristan Vizcaino as possile competition. Badgley’s 72.7% conversion rate on field goals was the third-worst in the league.
The Chargers and Cook, who is entering his 13th season, agreed to a one-year deal.
What it means: A veteran of five NFL teams (Titans, Rams, Packers, Raiders and Saints) Cook brings veteran leadership to the position. That’s a good thing with all the youth on this team — even at quarterback with second-year Justin Herbert, who had a great relationship with Hunter Henry, who left for the Patriots. Cook also brings production, as he caught 37 passes for 504 yards and seven touchdowns for New Orleans last season.
What’s the risk: Cook was born in 1987 and turns 34 in April. That might be too many years on the body of a tight end, as Cook has already played 12 seasons. But the Chargers must see something, even though the Saints released him on March 3. Still, Joe Lombardi is a former Saints assistant who now is the offensive coordinator for the Chargers. He definitely knows what Cook can bring to the table.