Offseason to-do list for the Chargers
The San Diego Chargers franchise is on shaky ground for more than one reason. While their possible relocation to Los Angeles has been a distraction, it’s been their questionable front office decisions that have threatened to lower their win total to proportions not seen around San Diego since before the franchise hired A.J. Smith as their general manager following the 2003 season (4-12).
GM Tom Telesco replaced Smith in 2013 and received a three-year extension this past summer after presiding over back-to-back nine-win campaigns, including the Chargers’ first post-season appearance since 2009.
But, if you take a closer look, the Chargers placed either first or second in the AFC West eight times under Smith, including five division titles until his final season in 2012. Under Telesco, the Chargers will finish third or fourth in all three of his seasons.
No matter what you think of Telesco, the extension means he’ll be the man in charge of getting the team back on track. The question still remains, will the head coach remain Mike McCoy? McCoy, who was hired by Telesco, has so far received no such extension, with his deal set to expire after the 2016 season. That lame-duck status more than likely means McCoy will be the fall guy as Telesco tries to save his job with a new field general.
Since the team of Telesco/McCoy took over in 2013, the Chargers overall grade has fallen each season from +67.7 (20th overall) that first season to -29.6 (25th overall) in 2014, to a staggering -203.0 (32nd overall) so far this season.
The primary culprit has been where games are often won or lost: the line of scrimmage.
On offense, the line has degraded each of the last three seasons from a -18.4 pass block grade (22nd overall) in 2013 to a -75.7 grade (32nd overall) so far this season.
The run blocking has suffered even worse, falling from a +41.1 (11th overall) in 2013 to a -44.3 (29th overall) so far this season.
The run defense also ranks dead last this season at -54.0.
Telesco has over $28 million dollars in cap space, available thanks to expiring contracts from several starters, including safety Eric Weddle and defensive end Kendall Reyes.
Reyes has been a second-round bust the past four seasons and ranks dead-last (128th) among all PFF interior defenders this season, with a 42.8 season grade (on a scale of 100).
The rest of the line is not much better, as DE Ricardo Mathews (123rd) and DT Sean Lissemore (116th) are just stop-gap players, so expect Telesco to look for at least two defensive linemen this off-season to help DE Corey Liuget up front.
Speaking of Liuget, Telesco gave the average talent a $51 million five-year extension with the second-most guaranteed money for a 3-4 end. Considering Liuget was the 78th ranked linemen this season for PFF before landing on IR last week, and the top-ranked 3-4 end for guaranteed money is the one and only J.J. Watt, you have to question just what Telesco was thinking.
As far as Weddle goes, he’s been a top-five safety for PFF from 2010 through 2014 including being labeled as the top PFF safety overall on two separate occasions (2014 and 2012), but he’s coming off his worst season since 2008 and turns 31 next season. I would therefore be surprised if he returned. That would open up a huge hole in the secondary for Telesco to address.
On the offensive line, only RT Joe Barksdale has performed above expectations. Barksdale is the 12th-ranked tackle (84.5) for PFF this season, and has been an undervalued player the past three seasons. He should be re-signed.
The major needs are along the interior of the line. Trevor Robinson ranks 40th of 41 centers for PFF this season (22.6), while guards Kenny Wiggins (76th) and Orlando Franklin (78th) both rank in the bottom seven.
Left tackle is also a concern because of repeated concussions to King Dunlap. Dunlap suffered three concussions in 2013, but rebounded strong last season. Unfortunately, the concussions returned for Dunlap this season, and his play suffered.
Additionally, Telesco must acquire more weapons for QB Philip Rivers. With WR Malcom Floyd set to retire and neither Steve Johnson nor Dontrelle Inman appearing to be adequate targets opposite injured Keenan Allen, it’s important to provide Rivers with some weapons on the outside.
At tight end, soon to be 36-year-old Antonio Gates is a free agent, but even during a season that currently ranks him fifth overall at the position (83.0), the Chargers do have 25-year-old Ladarius Green ready to take over. Green is currently the 16th ranked tight end for PFF (75.6).
Depending how free agency and potential trades go for the Chargers, the best-case scenario would be to trade down in the 2016 NFL Draft and acquire much needed picks to replenish their prospect pool.
If they decide to keep their pick, here is their likely first selection, per PFF’s initial mock draft.