Analysis

What’s next for the Los Angeles Chargers

It was a disappointing year for the Los Angeles Chargers, to say the least. Once again, the Chargers were the sexy pick to win the AFC West (like they are every year) only to finish 5-11 and at the bottom of the division. In fact, they didn’t only get last in the division, they were swept by every team in the division. You know you’re a struggling franchise when you lose to the Broncos and the Raiders twice in one year. However, in only 2 of the 11 losses did the Chargers lose by more than a touchdown and those 2 losses came at the end of the year against playoff teams when L.A. had nothing to play for. They were always losing games in weird, unfathomable ways. For instance, in week 7 the Chargers played the Titans and with 34 seconds left, down 3 points, Melvin Gordon fumbled on the Tennessee one-yard line. They were a yard away from winning that game and a fluke fumble cost them. (Side note: What would the playoffs have looked like if L.A. had beaten Tennessee?) There were other games like that too. Against the Chiefs in Mexico City, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Philip Rivers was going to march down the field at the end of the game and score in the final seconds just like last year. Instead, he threw a pick. For a 5-11 football team, they had so many close games but why couldn’t they close it out? The answer: Philip Rivers.  

The former Pro Bowl quarterback has become more of a liability than an asset in his later years with the Chargers. This year Rivers threw his least amount of touchdown passes since 2007 and the second most interceptions of his career. At 38 years old, Rivers still thinks he could be the guy going forward. “They’re all kinds of factors, but I know I can still do it,’’ Rivers said. “I know I can do it at a high enough level for us to win. I have not done it well enough this year, but I still do love to play and love to lead these guys, and I still believe in this team.’’ Do the Chargers still believe in him, though? What are their options if they don’t?

Any time a team finishes their season at 5-11 people may think it is time to rebuild, but that shouldn’t be the case with L.A. They have a lot of talent at several key positions. They have elite pass rushers with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram and standouts in the secondary with Casey Hayward and Derwin James. Offensively, Keenan Allen is still a playmaker at wide receiver and so is Mike Williams. Hunter Henry is a threat at the tight end position as well. They may have to figure out the finances to keep restricted free agent Austin Ekeler because they will likely lose Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon to free agency. But overall, the Chargers are still a talented bunch who just needs an upgrade at the quarterback position. So, who might be that upgrade? There have been several conversations around the media that suggest that Tom Brady could step in help guide this team in the right direction. Brady would certainly boost ticket sales in L.A and he has a proven winning pedigree. However, I don’t know if the Chargers would want an even older quarterback who has shown similar signs of a decline. They need a talented quarterback who maybe just needs a change of scenery.

Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston are both set to be free agents this year. While I don’t have much hope for Mariota getting another shot as a starter, Jameis Winston is a very interesting situation. Winston, who was this year’s leading passer, had a roller-coaster season, to say the least. At any moment he could put 5 touchdowns and 400 yards, but in the same game, he could throw 4 interceptions. There was a lot of great and a lot of really bad. However, in L.A., with a better supporting cast, maybe he could show more of the great and less of the really bad. L.A. just needs a reason to tune in and whether it’s good or bad, Winston would be that reason.

Teddy Bridgewater would be another interesting option. He showed that he can be a starter by going 5-0 filling in for Drew Brees for the New Orleans Saints this season. As a former Pro Bowler and only 27 years old, Bridgewater could be a top target for L.A.’s quarterback position. However, I feel that there will always be a lingering concern about Bridgewater’s health. He suffered a gruesome knee injury in 2016 that almost cost him his career. Since that injury, he has only started 6 games. He is probably wanting a long-term contract and that could end up being very risky.

Another possible target would be Cam Newton. The Chargers would likely have to trade for Newton since that would probably be the only way he leaves Carolina. However, there is a sense in Carolina that they want to go a different direction, especially since the firing of head coach Ron Rivera. Newton may actually be on the trading block. Would he be a good fit in L.A.? Of course, he would! Haven’t you seen what he wears to his press conferences? He is flashy on and off the field. What better place to show that off than in Tinseltown?

What if the Chargers are thinking to rebuild? Maybe they want to draft a guy just like they did in 2004 with Rivers. L.A. picks sixth in the draft this year and there are a few really good quarterbacks in this year’s class. With it being unlikely that the Chargers are going to land Heisman Trophy winner and NCAA Champion Joe Burrow, they would have to settle for one of the lower projected quarterbacks. Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa is projected to be a top ten quarterback in the draft and would certainly be an incredible asset to the Chargers. Tua has great accuracy for a college quarterback and shows a strong pocket presence when under pressure. There are concerns, though, with the recent hip injury that he suffered back in November. It was the same type of injury that NFL/MLB great Bo Jackson suffered that ended his NFL career. Although Tua is expected to make a full recovery, it would still be alarming for a team that was getting ready to make him the franchise quarterback. Another concern would be that four of the five teams that are picking ahead of the Chargers may also be thinking quarterback. Tua, injury issues and all may not even be there when L.A. goes to pick.

With all that being said, the Chargers will have some options if they decide to move on from Rivers. As a Chiefs fan, however, I hope Phil sticks around. In the last 12 meetings against Rivers, the Chiefs are 11-1 and Rivers threw a whopping 22 interceptions. Kansas City has certainly had his number, but he is also just fun to watch. Not too many quarterbacks will get in a defensive lineman’s face the way Philip Rivers does or when he can’t get the snap off in time and he’s clapping his hands frantically and stomping his feet to try to get the ball. Then, when he finally gets the snap but it’s too late, he throws the ball to the ground in disgust and starts screaming at the sidelines. I will miss that. But all jokes aside, Rivers has had a great career and he was one of the ones to do it the right way. You never heard of any contract disputes or any involvement in scandals. He’s a family man who is true to his faith and it’s definitely hard not to root for a guy like that.

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