Mason Thompson | January 15th, 2020
Many had the Chargers pegged for a long route to the postseason and potentially the Super Bowl. I for one had them ranked third overall in my preseason power rankings behind only the Patriots and Saints. The team had plenty of drama before the regular-season opener as Melvin Gordon was holding out for a new contract. Gordon would eventually end his holdout before week four. Superstar safety, Derwin James missed a significant amount of time with a foot injury suffered in mid-August. James would return by week 11, but it was too little too late.
The Chargers only won five games in 2019. They also lost an insane ten games by one score. If they had one play go differently in each game, they could’ve been a very different team and maybe still in the playoff race. Philip Rivers was not himself again this year, throwing over 20 interceptions. The team will need to take a look at Rivers and evaluate their options ahead of the 2020 season.
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What Went Right
Not much went right for the Chargers this year. Austin Ekeler showed that he could shoulder the load while Gordon was holding out. Ekeler’s contract is up as well as Gordon’s this offseason, and the Chargers will have to decide if they want to pay either of the two backs in the coming months. If Ekeler walks, I’d expect him to have a lot of interest from a variety of different offensive systems.
Keenan Allen and Mike Williams continue to prove to be a great duo at the wide receiver position. They combined for 2200 yards and eight touchdowns. Williams is finally producing consistently after missing his rookie season with an injury. Allen is one of the most underappreciated players in the league today and deserves more credit.
Joey Bosa continues to be a wrecking ball on the edge. While his brother got more attention this year, the older brother continues to prove that he was worthy of being the third selection in the draft. The Chargers are set at edge rusher with Bosa and Melvin Ingram.
What Went Wrong
Rivers took a major step back this year. He threw only 23 touchdowns compared to 20 interceptions. He says that he still wants to play next year but it might not be in Los Angeles as his contract is up. The Chargers likely offer Rivers some sort of contract but it is also likely that Rivers will try to play somewhere else. The Chargers only have Tyrod Taylor and Easton Stick behind him.
The injury bug hit the team yet again. Before the season started, James and starting left tackle Russell Okung both had serious injuries that impacted the Chargers progression into the regular season. Following the first game, Hunter Henry had a knee injury that sidelined him for five weeks, yet he still had eight touchdowns on the year. Starting center, Mike Pouncey was placed on injured reserve with a neck injury in early October, while guard Forrest Lamp was also placed on injured reserve with a lower leg injury. One of my favorites from last April’s draft, Nasir Adderley was placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury in late October.
First-round draft pick Jerry Tillery did not give much of an impact this year. He only had nine solo tackles and two sacks on the season. The Chargers would’ve been better off selecting Cody Ford, Greg Little, Jawaan Taylor, or Elgton Jenkins with the 28th selection.
Outlook for the Offseason
The Chargers rank in the upper-half in terms of how much they have to spend on free agency as the team has over $53 million in cap space left over. With multiple starters and key rotational players in line for new contracts, the Chargers will have plenty of decisions to make.
The Team’s Free Agents
The Rivers decision is going to be intriguing to watch as it will determine the team’s draft plans. He seems like he wants to be anywhere but Los Angeles as they have completely disregarded the offensive line in recent years.
If the team didn’t sign Gordon to a contract extension during the season, I doubt they will be able to sign him to one now that it’s the offseason where he’ll be able to see what other teams are willing to pay for his services.
Ekeler is a restricted free agent so the team should be able to retain him and they will get the same, if not more production from him than they did from Gordon.
Travis Benjamin is once again an unrestricted free agent. I’d bet the Chargers would at least offer him a deal. If the team doesn’t re-sign him, they will be short on receiver help.
Henry is one of the best tight ends when he is healthy. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened very much recently. With the retirement of Antonio Gates, the Chargers will need to at least offer him a contract or they will need to hope that Austin Hooper escapes from Atlanta.
Adrian Phillips wasn’t as big of a part in the defense this year as he was in 2018 when he was selected to the pro bowl. The chargers were playing three safeties for the majority of the year in 2018, which led to some of their success. Phillips should try to be brought back at a discounted price.
Derek Watt is one of the most well-known fullbacks in the league and it’s for good reason. He helped pave the way for Gordon and Ekeler the last few years and offers help in the passing game as well.
Open Market Free Agents
If the Chargers don’t get Benjamin back, Breshad Perriman would offer a similar skillset to replace him with.
Considering Henry’s injury history, the Chargers might not want to pay him as much as Henry’s camp wants. Eric Ebron would be a fine replacement for Henry while offering the same, if not more for touchdown upside.
The interior of the offensive line is in desperate need of help. Brandon Scherff should be the top target but if that doesn’t work Joe Thuney would be a good consolation prize.
Projecting the NFL Draft
The Chargers did bad enough to be awarded the sixth selection in April’s draft. The Rivers situation might not have figured itself out by this point so quarterback could still be a potential selection. The Chargers still have needs on the interior of the offensive line as well as tackle depth.
1st Round, Pick 6: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of Herbert. With the fact that Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa will be gone by this point, the Chargers have to have some plan at quarterback though. If Rivers leaves, Taylor is still in place which gives a bridge to Herbert, albeit not a great one.
2nd Round, Pick 37: Solomon Kindley, OL, Georgia
Lamp hasn’t lived up to his potential that many thought he had when he was selected in the second round. Kindley has generated a lot of buzz in the scouting community after his impressive 2019 campaign. He has been a starter for Georgia since he was a redshirt freshman.
3rd Round, Pick 71: Offensive Tackle
The Chargers offensive line is one of the worst in the league. If Rivers had a competent line in recent years, the Chargers might’ve made a Super Bowl appearance. With Herbert being more of a first-read type of quarterback, he will need as much time as possible.
The Chargers are coming off a very disappointing campaign in which many had them as a Super Bowl pick. Los Angeles could be looking at a change of scenery, not only at the stadium they play in but at the quarterback position as well. The offensive line needs drastic improvements to compete in the AFC.
Uchenna Nwosu and Tillery need to take big strides for the defense to get back to what it was in the 2018 campaign. With a healthy James at safety, the Chargers should still have one of the league’s best secondaries, although it wasn’t that way last year. It will be an interesting year for the Chargers.
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