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Chargers

Hunter Henry is the Chargers’ top priority by extension or franchise tag

Chargers tight end Hunter Henry warms up before a game against the Colts on Sept. 8.
Chargers tight end Hunter Henry warms up before a game against the Colts on Sept. 8.
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The Chargers will have a new quarterback in 2020.

They hope to arm that quarterback with a tight end known for his abilities as both a receiver and blocker.

With that stated goal, the team is negotiating with Hunter Henry on an extension as the veteran approaches the start of free agency next week.

If the Chargers are unable to lock up Henry long term, they could use their franchise tag on him to guarantee his services for this coming season. The deadline for such a move is Thursday.

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A nonexclusive tag binds a potential unrestricted free agent to his team for one year, if certain conditions are met.

It doesn’t appear the Rams will be able to re-sign all their pending free agents, and the franchise tag deadline is Thursday. They might not even use it.

In turn, the player is given a salary no less than the average of the five highest-paid players at his position or 120% of his previous salary, whichever is greater.

Franchise-tagging Henry would cost the Chargers about $11 million, a relatively modest sum.

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Henry, 25, is coming off his most productive season overall. He caught 55 passes for 652 yards and five touchdowns, missing four games because of injury.

In three seasons — he sat out all but one game in 2018 because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament — Henry has scored 17 touchdowns.

Keeping their top tight end is a priority as the Chargers transition away from Philip Rivers, their starting quarterback for all 235 games the franchise has played since 2006.

They also are looking to bolster their depth at wide receiver, through free agency or the draft. The offense needs another threat after Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.

The Chargers and Austin Ekeler on Friday agreed to a four-year contract extension that added another chapter to the running back’s once-unlikely story.

The Chargers figure to lose pending free agent Melvin Gordon, though his future is somewhat clouded by an increasingly depressed running back market.

If the former 1,000-yard rusher fails to secure the sort of contract he’s seeking, there’s a chance Gordon could re-sign with the Chargers.

This already has been an active offseason for a franchise attempting to retool following a disappointing 5-11 finish, the biggest move being the decision to move on from Rivers.

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The Chargers also traded left tackle Russell Okung to Carolina for five-time Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner.

They re-signed running back Austin Ekeler to a four-year, $24.5-million contract that included $15 million guaranteed.

The Chargers have decided to not bring back Travis Benjamin, their fastest wide receiver but a player who has been unable to stay healthy.

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Head coach Anthony Lynn, who is 26-22 in three seasons, was entering the final year of his original deal before agreeing to an extension.

The team’s most significant offseason situation concerns quarterback. At the moment, veteran Tyrod Taylor, Rivers’ backup in 2019, is set to be the starter.

But the Chargers have been linked to Tom Brady, the six-time Super Bowl winner who could be on the verge of leaving New England via free agency.

Bolstering the offensive line would seem to be a must in any would-be attempt to lure Brady, which made the addition of Turner promising but also only a first step.

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If Brady does leave the Patriots, his new team will have to pay a hefty salary, perhaps pricing the Chargers out of consideration.

There will be other more financially friendly free-agent and trade options available at quarterback or the Chargers could draft someone they hope is a long-term solution. They have the No. 6 overall pick and are believed to like Oregon’s Justin Herbert.

Whoever is throwing the ball for the Chargers in 2020, one of his targets should be Henry, regardless of how the team goes about retaining him.

The Chargers have used the franchise tag only seven times and just once since 2011. Defensive end Melvin Ingram was tagged in 2017 before signing a four-year extension worth up to $66 million.


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