Chargers Q&A with Adam Caplan

LB Shawne Merriman (Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty)

SDBoltReport.com chats with Sirius NFL Radio host and Scout.com Senior NFL Reporter Adam Caplan with an eye on the offseason. Will the defense's play force the Bolts to re-up Shawne Merriman? How much will Darren Sproles command on the open market? Which free agents will the Chargers target? Caplan has these answers and more.

Michael Lombardo: Given how badly the Chargers defense has played this season, do you think Shawne Merriman's stock has actually gone up with him not playing?

Adam Caplan: It may have gone up a bit because they haven't been able to find a pass rush. It hasn't helped the defense that his replacement, Jyles Tucker, was out for a while with a hamstring injury. The Chargers have to be sure Merriman's knee is completely healed before getting him signed to a new deal. I also think the defense wasn't as aggressive under Ted Cottrell. It seemed the defense was almost passive and Norv Turner obviously saw that, as well, so he made the switch to Ron Rivera. I'd expect Rivera to be more aggressive.


RB Darren Sproles
Donald Miralle/Getty

ML: What kind of contract do you expect Darren Sproles to get after the season? I wouldn't anticipate him getting starting running back money, but he's certainly raised his stock with his penchant for making big plays. Do you think the Chargers can retain him?

AC: He offers the dual role as a backup to a starter and as a kickoff returner, so those roles carry some value. However, because of his size, he's not likely to receive a big free-agent deal. Teams that are interested in him will have those roles in mind, so I could see possibly a four- to five-year deal with $4-5 million guaranteed. The Chargers usually are aggressive with the players they want to re-sign.

ML: Based on what you've heard, how close were the Chargers to acquiring Raiders running back Michael Bush at the trade deadline? Why did the deal break down?

AC: The Chargers felt that Sproles couldn't hold up as the starter if LaDainian Tomlinson couldn't play for a while due to injury, so they looked for a big back who could handle a lot of carries. For whatever reason, the Raiders backed out. Oakland has a history of backing out of deals at the last minute, so I'm not surprised that happened. I'm not sure Bush is ready for a significant amount of carries, though. He looked sluggish when I was at Raiders training camp, and so far this season, I don't see him having a good burst on his runs.

ML: OG Mike Goff, 32, will be a free agent after the season and is not expected back. Do you think the Chargers will re-sign veteran Kynan Forney to take over for Goff? Or is Forney more of a stopgap player who's just around to provide depth this season?

AC: Forney is a decent backup and has extensive starting experience previously with the Atlanta Falcons (89 starts). At 30, he's basically a one- to two-year stopgap.


LB Matt Wilhelm
Doug Pensinger/Getty

ML: Matt Wilhelm lost his starting job this season, less than two years after signing a new five-year deal. Do you think the Chargers cut ties with him? Or is his contract palatable enough to keep him around?

AC: His cap number for 2009 is about $2.5 million and that number is a bit high for a backup. He's certainly serviceable, so I could see the Chargers asking him to take a pay-cut. Keep in mind they are high on backup ILBs Brandon Siler and Anthony Waters, so Wilhelm's job could be expendable. Tim Dobbins, who replaced Wilhelm in the starting lineup, is more athletic and makes more plays.

ML: What do you think will be the Chargers' top-three needs going into the offseason? Who are some of the top veterans who could be available at these spots?

AC: 1: Pass rushers: You can't have enough of them, so I'd sign one or two outside linebackers who can play in their 3-4 scheme, assuming the Chargers stay with it. Leroy Hill (Seattle) and Karlos Dansby (Arizona) fit their defensive scheme well and could come in and play significant snaps. Both can rush the passer and are versatile.

2: Right guard: I'd make a run at Stacy Andrews of the Cincinnati Bengals. He can play right tackle or either guard position. He's an outstanding run blocker who has gotten better in pass protection. He was Cincinnati's franchise player in 2008. Jahri Evans of the New Orleans Saints might also be worth a shot. He's a solid, young offensive lineman who will be a restricted free agent. New Orleans will put at least a first-round tender on him. If that's the level they use, it might be worth giving up a first-round pick to get him in the fold.

3: Nose tackle: Jamal Williams' knees prevent him from seeing the same amount of snaps that he used to see a few years ago. They need a developmental player who can handle 15-20 snaps per game. The Chargers could look to the draft for help.

Adam Caplan is Scout.com's national NFL reporter. He is also a host/analyst on Sirius NFL Radio. Caplan specializes in free agency, player signings and the draft. You can read more of his articles on the Scout.com NFL Experts site.

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