The Los Angeles Chargers will enter the 2021 season with a new head coach and with that, a new-look defense. The team moved on from Anthony Lynn and hired former Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley. While with the Rams, Staley employed a 3-4 base defense, a look that will be much different than what former Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley ran with this football team.
Under Bradley, the Chargers utilized a 4-3 style front which utilized a lot of Cover 3. The defense was, for the most part, stout throughout the Bradley tenure, although they were lacking in some areas—specifically when it came to rushing the passer. Even with an All-Pro level player in defensive end Joey Bosa, the team ranked just 25th in the NFL in sacks in 2020. The lack of sack production can be attributed to Melvin Ingram battling injuries as well as the depth behind Ingram not stepping up, but also this defense under Bradley ranked last in blitz percentage in the NFL. That will change under Staley, as his Rams defense last season ranked 20th in blitz percentage.
The Chargers' defense is going to be much better next season. The team will return All-Pro safety Derwin James, Bosa is still getting better, and Kenneth Murray will be another year further in his development. The front office will have some decisions to make in free agency however, as cornerback Michael Davis, safety Rashawn Jenkins, linebacker Denzel Perryman, and Ingram are all seeking new contracts. It's safe to assume that at least some of those players won’t be returning and this team will have to replenish this defense through free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft.
Here are three free agents the Chargers should target in free agency on the defensive side of the football.
Bud Dupree, EDGE, Pittsburgh Steelers
After a quiet start to his career, Dupree has now developed into one of the best edge defenders in the NFL. Over the last two seasons, Dupree has recorded 19.5 sacks and is outstanding against the run. He and fellow edge player T.J. Watt have formed one of the best pass-rushing duos in the league. Dupree would have likely made a ton of money as a free agent this season, but could come at a discount since he will be coming off a torn ACL. If the Chargers let Ingram walk, Dupree could be a great replacement if the price is right. Dupree has experience playing in a 3-4 scheme, and he and Bosa could form quite the pass-rushing duo. The need for more sacks and pressure is a major one for the Chargers, so adding Dupree, or a player at this level, should be a priority for the Bolts this offseason.
John Johnson, S, Los Angeles Rams
You know how it goes in free agency. Every year we see players follow their former coaches to their new team and I fully expect the Chargers to add a few former Rams. Johnson may not be a household name, but he is a very solid player in the back end. He has excellent size, instincts, and ball skills. Johnson can play both in the box and at free safety and could be a great complement to James if Jenkins walks in free agency. A safety tandem of James and Johnson could arguably be the best in the NFL.
Leonard Floyd, EDGE, Los Angeles Rams
Another Ram the Chargers could look to add is pass rusher Leonard Floyd. Floyd is coming off a career year playing next to Aaron Donald. He recorded a career-best 10.5 sacks last season being coached by Staley, and it's easy to see him wanting to reunite with his former coach. Floyd is a long, explosive edge rusher who is starting to come into his own as a three-down player. He plays with an outstanding motor and has plenty of experience playing in a 3-4 defense. I expect the Chargers to not re-sign Ingram due to age and his recent string of injuries, and Floyd could be a perfect replacement.