At this point, the Chargers season is over and with more embarrassing losses stacking up, the need for big changes is more clear than ever. The team won recently against a revitalized Falcons team but also got out-classed by the Patriots. When you suffer your worst loss in franchise history nobodies job is safe. But I will add that potentially knocking the Raiders out of the playoffs was a nice little positive for an otherwise disappointing season.
Everyone is ready to move on from Anthony Lynn, but should the Chargers also move away from general Manager Tom Telesco?
In this series, I am taking a look at every off-season of Telesco’s career to determine if he should be the man going forward. The last article focused on the first years of Mike McCoy, and the major additions to the team in 2013 and 2014.
After missing big on some early draft picks and free-agent signings, Telesco would have the chance to redeem himself. This is the full breakdown of all of the general managers moves over the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
2015 Free Agent Signings
CB Patrick Robinson – 1 Year – $2 Million
OT Joe Barksdale – 1 Year – $1.1 Million
OG Orlando Franklin – 5 Years – $36.5 Million
WR Stevie Johnson – 3 Years – $10.5 Million
OL Chris Hairston – 1 Year – $685,000
S Jimmy Wilson – 2 Years – $4.25 Million
WR/ST Jacoby Jones – 2 Years – $5.5 Million
CB Brandon Flowers – 4 Years – 36.4 Million
OT King Dunlap – 4 Years – 28 Million
The Chargers added several linemen but the big perceived win was Orlando Franklin. Franklin was highly sought after and the Chargers got to steal him from the Denver Broncos. Franklin would struggle before being released, just two years into his 5-year contract.
This is a theme for Telesco. Stevie Johnson and Jimmy Wilson would also play less than 16 games for the team before being released. Neither made a significant impact on the team.
Telesco also wanted to fix a poor special teams unit by adding dynamic return man Jacoby Jones. In theory, I understand the move. In reality, it was a disaster. He would return five punts for -4 yards and average just 21.4 yards per kick return. He would be released halfway through the 2015 season. Yikes.
The two players that they were able to re-sign, Dunlap, and Flowers, also failed to meet expectations. These are two players that were originally brought in cheap on short contracts that played well. The problem is Telesco projected them to keep playing that well and gave them both big-money deals.
Flowers would have some scary concussion issues and play just 17 games over two seasons. Dunlap would also be hampered by injuries and uneven play. The mammoth left tackle appeared in just 19 games before being released. Telesco signed these guys for a total of 128 games and they would only be available for 36 of them.
To end on a positive note, Patrick Robinson very much outplayed his contract in 2015. Joe Barksdale and Chris Hairston could both be considered successes as well on their 1-year contracts. Usually, the shorter-term contracts work for Telesco, the big deals and re-signings, not so much.
The 2015 NFL Draft
Round 1 – Pick 15: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
Round 2 – Pick 48: Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami
Round 3 – Pick 83: Craig Mager, CB, Texas State
Round 5 – Pick 153: Kyle Emanuel, EDGE, North Dakota State
Round 6 – Pick 192: Darius Philon, DL, Arkansas
Now we get to the Melvin Gordon draft. Conventional wisdom in the modern NFL tells you not to draft a running back in the first round. You don’t trade up for one. Again Telesco parts with a fourth-round pick, this time to move up two spots for Gordon.
The Chargers recently let Gordon walk in free agency and it’s hard to tell whether he was a success. After scoring zero touchdowns his rookie season, he would end up scoring 47 total touchdowns as a Charger. That was the only thing he was above average at. He was not an efficient runner, averaging more than 3.9 yards per carry in one of his five seasons. It’s hard to justify trading up in the first round to get a replacement level running back.
The only of these players still on the team is Denzel Perryman. For the most part, when he has been on the field he has played well. Unfortunately, injuries have plagued his 6-year career. Perryman has not played a 16 game season, and including this season, has missed a total of 26 games. I don’t think this pick was a total bust, but it wasn’t great either.
Kyle Emanuel and Craig Mager both made their way into starting roles at some point and both underwhelmed. Mager was especially brutal never becoming more than a liability on the outside. He would only play in three games over his last two seasons and hasn’t played an NFL game since. Emanuel would play in every game but one in his four seasons and was a pretty good run defender. He just couldn’t rush the passer with only four career sacks. He is out of the league as well.
Darius Philon was a very good pick in the sixth round. He was the Charger’s best interior pass-rusher in 2017 and 2018 combining for 8.5 sacks. I questioned Telesco for not re-signing him but after some off-field concerns popped up, it was a good call.
2016 Free Agent Signings
WR Travis Benjamin – 4 Years – $24 Million
CB Casey Hayward – 3 Years – $15.3 Million
DT Brandon Mebane – 3 Years – $13.5 Million
S Dwight Lowery – 3 Years – $7.2 Million
TE Antonio Gates – 2 Years – $11 Million
OT Joe Barksdale – 4 Years – $22 Million
The 2016 free agency period is home to Telesco’s greatest signing, Casey Hayward. After being discarded from the Packers, Hayward would come in and play some of his best football leading the league in interceptions in 2016. Even with his current day struggles, Hayward has been the Charger’s best corner since he arrived.
For every Casey Hayward, there is a Travis Benjamin. No Chargers fan wants to relive this contract. Benjamin was the prized wide receiver of this class coming off of his best season. After never catching more than 18 passes, he recorded 68 catches and 5 touchdowns in 2015. This was an anomaly. He was an enigma in a Chargers uniform and struggled with drops and injuries. He did score two punt return touchdowns, but also muffed a punt and ran into his end zone for a safety. This was a brutal signing.
The rest of this class was pretty average. Re-signing Antonio Gates to a two-year deal worked out. He was good as a backup to Hunter Henry and played well while Henry missed time due to injuries.
Dwight Lowery, I thought played okay during his one season but never made it past that. Brandon Mebane was brought in to beef up the Chargers interior but was just a veteran presence. He was only average as a run defender and only recorded 3.0 sacks in his four seasons. Joe Barksdale was another short-term contract that was brought back on a longer deal. This also wasn’t a great deal as the Chargers maybe got one average season from him after signing.
The 2016 NFL Draft
Round 1 – Pick 3: Joey Bosa, EDGE, Ohio State
Round 2 – Pick 35: Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas
Round 3 – Pick 66: Max Tuerk, OL, USC
Round 4 – Pick 102: Joshua Perry, LB, Ohio State
Round 5 – Pick 175: Jatavis Brown, LB, Akron
Round 6 – Pick 179: Drew Kaser, P, Texas A&M
Round 6 – Pick 198: Derek Watt, FB, Wisconsin
Round 7 – Pick 224: Donavon Clark, OL, Michigan State
How much credit does Telesco get for drafting one of the best defensive players in the NFL?
He deserves some credit for not screwing this up but this was a no-brainer. Bosa won Defensive Rookie of the Year and has been dominant since he entered the league. This was a great pick. I would argue that he hit with his second pick as well.
Hunter Henry was drafted to be the heir-apparent to Gates at the position and has produced when healthy. Henry has performed like a top-10 player at his position when he’s healthy. He has had an injury history, including missing the entire 2018 season, but I still don’t hate the pick.
The other bright spot from this class was Jatavis Brown who exploded onto the scene as a rookie. Brown looked like an absolute steal but had a gradual decline after year one. Injuries and poor performances stacked up and he would be only a special teams player by the end of his rookie deal.
The rest of the players drafted here are no longer with the team, and for the most part out of the league. Joshua Perry, Max Tuerk, and Donovan Clark would combine for one start before being released. Kaser took over punting duties right away but was let go midway through the 2018 season.
This is one of Telesco’s better drafts, getting two impact players. After the top-end talent, the team was still unable to find more key players to contribute. It has been very hard for this front office to find talent on Days two and three from the draft. They have had more success with undrafted players.
Over the two seasons where all of these players were brought in, the Chargers would struggle to a 9-23 record. Mike McCoy, after two winning seasons, had the wheels fall off and was firmly on the hot seat.
After the 2016 season, McCoy would be fired ending a tumultuous run with the team. He seemed to be losing the locker room and the Chargers were losing games in heartbreaking Chargers fashion. Overall he would finish with a 23-37 record, the first blemish on Telesco’s coach hiring record.
McCoy was the most to blame, but the overall talent and depth on these teams weren’t great. It was the right move to move on in this instance but wasn’t a good idea to hire him to begin with.
In the next installment, I will be taking a look at the next two offseasons in 2017 and 2018. This will also mark the start of another polarizing head coach selection by Telesco, as the team brings in Anthony Lynn.