As the Chargers wrap up their second consecutive losing season, general manager Tom Telesco and head coach Anthony Lynn are firmly on the hot seat. It didn’t always feel that way though, because their partnership got off to a great start.
After the 2016 season, the Chargers fired head coach Mike McCoy. There were a lot of hot names on the coaching market that year like Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan, and Doug McDermott. Telesco didn’t go with a hot coordinator and instead went with a strong leader in Anthony Lynn. The Chargers we’re moving to Los Angeles and he thought Lynn would be the best man to ease the transition.
It’s hard to look back on now because both McVay and Shanahan have already led their teams to the Super Bowl. McDermott now looks like one of the better coaches in the league with what he’s been able to do in Buffalo. He is looking for his own deep playoff run this year as the second-best team in the AFC. When these options were out there, it’s hard to look at Lynn as a success story.
During these upcoming offseasons, Telesco was tasked with building a competitive team to make some waves in Los Angeles. The rosters he would put together in this timeframe would lead the Chargers to two winning seasons. These were the moves that got them there.
2017 Free Agent Signings
OT Russell Okung – 4 Years – 53 Million
S Tre Boston – 1 Year – 900,000
RB Kenjon Barner – 1-Year – 805,000
DE Melvin Ingram – 4-Years – 66 Million
S Jahleel Addae – 4-Years – 22 Million
LS Mike Windt – 4-Years – 4.41 Million
S Adrian Phillips – 1 Year – 690,000
OG Kenny Wiggins – 1-Year – 865,000
At first glance, this seems like a light crop of free agents even with the big addition of Russell Okung. There is a big reason for that. This is the season that many of Telesco’s bad contracts came back to bite the team. This offseason the Chargers released veterans King Dunlap, Brandon Flowers, and Orlando Franklin. This resulted in a ton of dead cap space.
That year the Chargers led the NFL with over 21 Million dollars owed to players, not on the roster. This is debilitating when trying to create a competitive roster. The trio of Flowers, Dunlap, and Franklin combined for a staggering $15.55 million in dead money. These were huge misses for Telesco.
The marquee signing was left tackle Okung and the Chargers desperately needed stability at the position. Okung came with a ton of injury baggage and was able to play in all but two games over his first two seasons. He was easily the team’s best lineman and was a big part of winning seasons in 2017 and 2018. He was traded this year and only played six games in 2019 but I think overall it was a good signing.
Tre Boston was a pretty good signing that season even though he caused a lot of headaches with missed tackles. Getting a starter that led the team in interceptions for that price was a good short-term signing. Kenjon Barner didn’t make the roster after getting beat out by a little undrafted free agent named Austin Ekeler. Bringing in Ekeler is a nice feather in Telesco’s cap.
A lot of the Chargers remaining money this year went towards re-signing their own. Ingram’s deal was actually slightly below market value and the Chargers had no obvious heir-apparent. He did a lot of the dirty work for the team, but edge rushers are judged by sacks. During this contract, he would average just over six sacks per year.
The Jahleel Addae contract was backloaded and he would be released after two seasons. Not great, but not terrible. The one that hurts is Adrian Phillips. This was a great value contract, but it also served as an opportunity to lock him up for multiple seasons for really cheap. Instead, that multi-year deal went to long snapper Mike Windt who was more expensive and was let go two years in.
The 2017 NFL Draft
Round 1 – PIck 7: Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
Round 2 – Pick 38: Forrest Lamp, OG, Western Kentucky
Round 3 – Pick 71: Dan Feeney, OG, Indiana
Round 4 – Pick 113: Rayshawn Jenkins, S, Miami
Round 5 – Pick 151: Desmond King, S, Iowa
Round 6 – Pick 190: Sam Tevi, OT, Utah
Round 7 – Pick 225: Isaac Rochell, DL, Notre Dame
This has to be the first-round pick that haunts Telesco the most. The rumors flying around at the time were that Philip Rivers was pressuring the team to not draft his successor. The team decided to give Phil another weapon but at what cost?
In hindsight, we can now see that the Chargers missed out on two franchise-altering quarterbacks. The team passed up on both Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson who are now bonafide superstars in the league. Many teams are kicking themselves for not seeing the potential in both players, but maybe none more than the Chargers. Justin Herbert is great, but this was easily the biggest miss of Telesco’s career in the draft. Can you imagine Mahomes donning lightning bolts?
Williams hasn’t been a total bust but now four seasons in it doesn’t look great. He has admirably battled through injuries most of his career but with a top-10 pick, you are hoping for a no doubt about it number one wide receiver. He has made a ton of jaw-dropping catches but overall has been inconsistent at best.
Desmond King was a steal in the fifth round but he is no longer on the team because of disciplinary issues. Rayshawn Jenkins has many head-scratching moments trying to tackle but is a full-time starter. That’s probably overachieving for a fourth-round pick.
As far as contributors up and down the draft, this is Telesco’s most complete draft class. Every single one of these players has played significant snaps for the team. At the start of this season, five of these players were starting, and that’s not including King who has been an All-Pro. The other player is Rochell who is a rotational player that has started eight games.
They haven’t all played exceptionally well. Getting two starting interior offensive lineman with second and third-round picks is a great value. Finding a starting left tackle in the sixth round is awesome. None of those guys is seen as an above-average solution at those positions long term, however.
2018 Free Agent Signings
C Mike Pouncey – 2-year – 15 Million
QB Geno Smith – 1-Year – 1 Million
K Caleb Sturgis – 2-Year – 4.45 Million
S Jaylen Watkins – 1-Year – 805,000
TE Virgil Green – 3-Years – 8.6 Million
OL Michael Schofield – 2-year – 5 Million
S Adrian Phillips – 1-Year – 1.5 Million
Should we start with Caleb Sturgis or leave it for later on? Well I mean we’re here so I will tell you that this, like Michael Badgley’s season, was a bad time for Chargers kickers. In Sturgis’ defense, he was one of many. He would last just six games into his two-year contract before being released.
Mike Pouncey was a signing that made a lot of sense but came with major injury baggage. I was hoping he could resurrect his career with the Chargers but he will have missed 26 of his past 32 games by season’s end.
Jaylen Watkins and Virgil Green were both solid depth pieces. Green doesn’t bring much as a receiver but was brought in for blocking duties. I actually like Watkins but he missed the entire 2018 season due to injury.
Geno Smith was whatever. Due to Philip Rivers’ Iron Man status, the backups for the Chargers never got much work behind him.
Michael Schofield and Phillips are my favorite moves from this class. Schofield played well after being claimed off waivers from the Broncos. This also served as another opportunity for Phillips to be signed long-term. He stuck around and showed in 2018 he was more than a special teams ace. He was a pivotal part of the defense playing very well, mostly as a nickel linebacker. The 2018 NFL Draft
Round 1 – Pick 17: Derwin James, S, Florida State
Round 2 – Pick 48: Uchenna Nwosu, EDGE, USC
Round 3 – Pick 84: Justin Jones, DT, North Carolina State
Round 4 – Pick 119: Kyzir White, S, West Virginia
Round 5 – Pick 155: Scott Quessenberry, IOL, UCLA
Round 6 – Pick 191: Dylan Cantrell, WR, Texas Tech
Round 7 – Pick 251: Justin Jackson, RB, Northwestern
Derwin James is one of my favorite players in the NFL to watch. Health is a big concern after missing most of the past two seasons but his talent is undeniable. He is the perfect blend of cover skills and physicality. Watching him get downhill and tackle in open space is delightful. To get him that late in the first round is almost hard to give Telesco credit for because it was such a gift. This was a home run pick.
Nwosu is another pick that I liked from this one, trying to find edge talent is always a priority. Even though the Chargers aren’t sure what they have in him but I think he’s one of their most underutilized talents.
Kyzir White, Justin Jones, and Justin Jackson have all shown glimpses of promise and have started for the team.
Jones has been a pretty good run defender but generates virtually no pass-rush on the interior. White played some good football this season filling in for Drue Tranquill but will have trouble finding a starting spot in 2021. Jackson has looked at times like the Chargers’ most electric back but has had constant injuries. It’s hard to bank on him ever being a full-time starter.
The team would end up releasing Cantrell due to injuries without ever playing. Quessenberry has actually started games for the team but now seems buried on the depth chart.
Over these two seasons, I think Tom Telesco proved that he could add contributors, especially through the draft. He was able to find capable players even in the later rounds, but only a couple have been top of the line starters. I would say out of these two drafts only James would be considered near the top of his respective position.
In free agency, Telesco had to work with a handcuffed salary cap due to his own mistakes. We didn’t see any colossal failures like Orlando Franklin or Derek Cox. Telesco made big improvements to the offensive line with Okung and Pouncey, but both victories were short-lived.
These off-seasons did turn into some on-field success for the Chargers leading Anthony Lynn to 21 wins over his first two seasons. The team would go 12-4 in 2018 and would add a playoff win over a surging Ravens team. Everything with Lynn and Telesco looked like it was going great, but their good luck was getting ready to run out.