The Los Angeles Chargers had a rough start to their OTAs this week when tight end Hunter Henry tore his ACL on a non-contact play. Given that he was the number one tight end for them and that he was arguably the second go-to target for Philip Rivers after Keenan Allen, this comes as a bit of a blow to the offense. Luckily, they do have a fair amount of time to figure out what they want to do without him. Here are some of the options they have.
Possibilities for the Los Angeles Chargers Without Hunter Henry
Re-Sign Antonio Gates
This may be a bit awkward for both parties and not altogether easy, given that the Chargers did not re-sign Antonio Gates this off-season and made a big deal about the end of his Chargers career. But if Gates is not feeling too petty about the matter, he might be willing to return for another season to help Rivers out. He is definitely not what he once was, but he did show some flashes down the stretch last season when Henry went down. The long-time chemistry that the two have would help there. This may or may not happen, but it is probably the most logical option.
Do Nothing and Stick with the Current Roster
There is always the possibility that the Chargers might do nothing and just go with a “next man up” mentality. While that is not necessarily a bad mentality to have, in this case it would be pretty risky. The only other tight end on the roster that really has seen any regular season action is Virgil Green. He is more of a blocking tight end – in seven seasons, he only has 807 yards and four touchdowns. Unless one of the other tight ends on the roster (Sean Culkin, Braedon Bowman, rookie Ben Johnson) broke out, this would probably not work.
Now, if the Chargers had a good enough receiving corps, perhaps they could make it without a reliable tight end. The problem is, Allen is really the only one that can be depended upon every play. Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin are mostly just speed threats/deep pass options. Now, there is always the possibility that Mike Williams could break out in his second year. If that were to happen, the Chargers might be able to get by with mediocre tight end play. Having Allen and Williams both playing well would also open things up more for Tyrell and Benjamin without making the offense dependent on them.
Sign a Free Agent Tight End Besides Gates
If the Chargers are unable to work things out with Gates and still want to get somebody new, there are some options available that would not be too bad. They would be better than Green, anyway. Coby Fleener would likely be the best option available. He never had as good of a connection with Drew Brees as with Andrew Luck. But catching passes from Rivers could just help him rejuvenate his career – even if only a little bit.
Another option available would be Julius Thomas. He’s never done as well with other teams as he did with Denver, and he is a bit injury-prone. But he is still a decent red zone threat. There are also the veterans Brent Celek and Marcedes Lewis available. The latter is also still a good red zone threat, but the biggest draw of these two at this point would be the experience. Looking at the options available, Fleener is still the best choice for the Chargers should they choose to go the route of bringing in a new face.
Due to the high target volume Henry had, it’s important that the Chargers figure out what they are going to do without him sooner rather than later. And if they are going to bring in a new face (like Fleener), the sooner the better so Rivers has time to build chemistry. Regardless, whoever is the go-to option at tight end this year is unlikely to fully replace Henry. Mike Williams may still need to break out in order for the Chargers receiving corps to be well-rounded enough. But as said before, if there’s one fortunate outcome of this, it’s that the Chargers have plenty of time to sort all this out.