The Chargers decided to part ways with head coach Anthony Lynn this week but general manager Tom Telesco remains. It’s not totally out of the question the team could fire Telesco as well but it seems like he’s safe for at least another season.
This also means that he will have some control over picking his third head coach for the team. Unlike when they brought in Lynn, this time Chargers owner Dean Spanos will be more involved in the hiring process. This is a crucial decision because whoever gets this job will have to be able to develop star quarterback Justin Herbert.
This decision will be far more than just Telesco’s call. After Lynn and Mike McCoy, I think it’s very fair to wonder if he should have another crack at it. I mean with some of the misses he has made in the draft and free agency, the pressure to perform this year will be immense.
Telesco will need to give whoever takes the head coaching gig the tools to protect Herbert. Once again in 2019 and 2020 Telesco tried to fix an ailing line, and failed as the Chargers still ended up with one of the worst units in the league.
These past two offseasons Telesco made some more big swings to bring in talent. Once again it’s hard to say that many of them have worked out. The draft picks have only had a maximum of two seasons in the league so it’s too soon to fully evaluate. That being said this is the picture that has been painted so far.
2019 Free Agent Signings
QB Tyrod Taylor – 2-Years – 11 Million
LB Thomas Davis – 2-Years – 10.5 Million
LB Denzel Perryman – 2-Years – 12 Million
DT Brandon Mebane – 2-Years – 10.55 Million
S Jaylen Watkins – 1-Year – 805,000
S Adrian Phillips – 1-Year – 2 Million
Whenever you have a free agency class that is headlined by a backup quarterback, it’s not going to breed excitement. Taylor is about the most you could ask for out of a backup and was supposed to be the starter this season. This would have been a very cheap starter, and I think he would have been better than his Week 1 showing. Either way, quarterback was far from the team’s largest need.
The other big one was bringing in veteran linebacker Thomas Davis. The Chargers in 2018 were decimated by linebacker injuries and needed a dependable presence. Davis brought health and leadership to the group but his play had subsided and he was released after a season.
The Chargers were strapped for cash but did have enough space to bring back Mebane and Perryman. By this point, Mebane’s play had fallen off and provided no pass-rush. Even as a run defender he wasn’t the physical presence he once was. He was released the following year.
Perryman had missed 16 out of his last 32 games at the time of signing. Another good defender who played well but came with injury baggage. To his credit, he’s missed only five games since. This year he was the Chargers’ most consistent linebacker. With the injuries we have seen from Drue Tranquill and Kyzir White, this was a good decision.
Phillips and Watkins were both solid pickups. Phillips was a key part of the Chargers 12-4 season, but not enough to sign a multi-year deal. This would be the last time Telesco could make this mistake as he would leave in 2020 for the Patriots.
2019 NFL Draft
Round 1 – Pick 28: Jerry Tillery, DT, Notre Dame
Round 2 – Pick 60: Nasir Adderley, S, Delaware
Round 3 – Pick 91: Trey Pipkins, OT, Sioux Falls
Round 4 – Pick 130: Drue Tranquill, LB, Notre Dame
Round 5 – Pick 166: Easton Stick, QB,
Round 6 – Pick 200: Emeke Egbule, LB, Houston
Round 7 – Pick 242: Cortez Broughton, DT, Cincinnati
Two years in and this draft looks rough. This was the latest in the draft that Telesco has ever selected in the first round. Needing interior pressure he selected Tillery who got pushed around early on. Now he is seen more as an edge defender and even there he has struggled with containment and numerous penalties.
The best pick of this draft so far is Drue Tranquill who had to miss all of 2020. In his first season, he showed some promise at linebacker and is lined up for the starting role next season. He was surprisingly good at stopping the run for his size and has plus athleticism.
I was very excited with the Nasir Adderley pick when he fell to the second round. After a misdiagnosed injury his rookie year he would miss the entire season. This season got the opportunity to start after Derwin James’ injury and it’s been a mixed bag. He seems to be missing the explosiveness he showed in college since the injury. He also has just one interception and a handful of blown coverages and missed tackles. He still has time but the team could prefer Rayshawn Jenkins long-term.
The biggest disappointment has to be Trey Pipkins. He was thought to be a reach in the third round, and it looks like he was. The physical tools are there but through two seasons he doesn’t seem close to being ready for a full-time starting role. None of the picks after the fourth-round have turned into anything other than reserves.
2020 Free Agent Signings
DT Linval Joseph – 2-Years – 17 Million
CB Chris Harris Jr. – 2-Years – 17 Million
OT Bryan Bulaga – 3-Years – 30 Million
LB Nick Vigil – 1-Year – 2.4 Million
RB Austin Ekeler– 4-Years – 24.5 Million
DT Damion Square – 1-Year – 1.75 Million
Keenan Allen – 4-Years – 80.1 Million
Joey Bosa – 5-Years – 135 Million
Telesco deserves a lot of credit for being able to retain two of the Chargers’ best players before the year. Losing either of these guys would have been devastating. He never let them get to unrestricted free agency and both played well one season into the deals. The one guy who didn’t get extended was Hunter Henry who was wisely franchise-tagged.
This was a spending spree for Telesco who had a ton of cap space and went to work bringing in veterans. He didn’t have to pay top dollar for any one position but attempted to fill major holes. On paper, these all looked like great moves but older players come with injury risks.
The Chargers also traded for guard Trai Turner and combined with Bulaga they seemed to fix the right side of the line. Health would be the theme however as they would combine to play in just 19 games. In over half of those games, the pair would have to leave early due to injury.
Chris Harris Jr. was somewhat of a puzzling signing because the team had 2018 All-Pro Desmond King at slot corner. King’s play had dropped in 2019 and he had a falling out due to disciplinary issues. It wasn’t out of the question he could reclaim that form and get on the same page with the team. Harris’ first Chargers season has gotten off to a rough start missing seven games due to a foot injury. When he was on the field he allowed a Passer Rating when targeted of 113.9.2020 NFL Draft
Round 1 – Pick 6: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
Round 1 – Pick 23: Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
Round 4 – Pick 112: Joshua Kelley, RB, UCLA
Round 5 – Pick 151: Joe Reed, WR, Virginia
Round 6 – Pick 186: Alohi Gilman, S, Notre Dame
Round 7 – Pick 220: K.J. Hill, WR, Ohio State
I think we can all agree at this point that Justin Herbert was one of the best picks by any team in this class. You can never judge a quarterback after just one season, but he couldn’t have asked for a better start. Thrust into action earlier than expected, Herbert shattered every rookie quarterback record.
In Telesco’s defense, he didn’t panic and mortgage the future to move up for Tua Tagovailoa or even Joe Burrow. This took at least a little luck because the Dolphins each could have taken him if they wanted. Regardless this was a huge hit by Telesco and I think it’s one of the reasons he still has his job.
Kenneth Murray was the second of the Chargers’ first-round picks. Spending a second and third-round pick for Murray was a big risk, especially for an off-ball linebacker. The team had many holes to fill and linebacker was a big need but it was a steep price. Murray struggled with the speed of the game early on. He would hesitate, overrun gaps, and struggle to get off blocks. Young linebackers usually struggle their first season, and towards the end of the year, he made major strides. With time he could still become the playmaker they envisioned him being.
The rest of the class saw little action in 2020 outside of Joshua Kelley. With running back Justin Jackson injured early in the year, Kelley had a great opportunity for early carries. In two of his first three games, he would average over five yards per carry, but would only hit that mark once more in his last 10 games. Fumbling in back-to-back games seemed to derail a promising start.
Alohi Gilman was passed on several times for a starting spot at safety and played mostly special teams. Joe Reed was fine returning kicks but the team didn’t trust his skills as a receiver. K.J. Hill had some big catches late in the season but finished with just seven receptions on the year.
When you look at these two off-seasons it’s pretty symbolic of Telesco’s tenure. A couple of home runs, and a lot of strikeouts. Out of the two draft classes, how many do we know right now are good players. Justin Herbert could be the only one. Tranquill and Murray are the next closest after promising starts. These three are also the only players in either draft class that are undoubted starters in 2021.
The analytics haven’t loved Telesco’s decisions in the draft. They rank in the bottom 10 teams in the NFL in draft return over the past five seasons. The Chargers aren’t getting enough value out of their draft picks. In free agency, only two players added in these two seasons have started more than 10 games.
The bottom line is that Telesco has not done enough to build a consistent winning roster. Coaching played a huge factor in close losses but the depth of the roster has been exposed. More than that, the team is consistently dominated at the line-of-scrimmage. It would be hard to find a season in Telesco’s time that had an above-average offensive line.
Going into 2021, Telesco has to be better. He has enormous decisions to make on internal free agents like Hunter Henry, Michael Davis, and three of the team’s five starting offensive linemen. As he continues to build this roster protecting Herbert has to be his priority. The draft will show how committed he is. He has drafted just two offensive linemen in the past three years. Neither of them are starters.
I went into this series to try and paint the whole picture of how Telesco has constructed this team. I think the stars picked at the top of drafts like Bosa, James and Herbert blind many from much of the late-round mediocrity. His bargain free-agent additions have covered up some big-contract blunders. Bad coaching mistakes have hidden some major roster flaws.
It looks as if Telesco will be allowed at least some say on the Chargers’ third coach during his tenure. If the next coach doesn’t succeed quickly, the seat is only going to get hotter. The good news for Telesco is he will have another shot to change the narrative in one of the biggest offseasons in franchise history.
So what do you think? Has Tom Telesco been a good GM for the Chargers thus far? Vote below.
Part 3: The Beginning of Lynn.