The Los Angeles Chargers are a franchise in disarray, and the winds of change are blowing strong as a rebuild appears to be on the horizon.
The big picture: After a failed move to Los Angeles, the Chargers followed up a 12-4 season with a 5-11 campaign and have no true starting quarterback on the roster heading into 2020. So is it time for the team to blow it all up and do a full-blown rebuild, or should the Chargers re-sign Philip Rivers and hope next year is different?
Here, we examine what the team is facing, and opine about what it should do.
Chargers free agents: The organization has several high-profile players set to enter the open market, and with them comes some big decisions to make.
- Philip Rivers, quarterback: The 38-year-old veteran is coming off a brutal season in which he tossed 20 interceptions and was instrumental in the team losing many of its games. The Chargers would not commit to bringing him back in 2020, and Rivers himself seems resigned to the fact that he may end up needing to sign elsewhere.
- Melvin Gordon, running back: This former first-round pick was rebuffed by the organization this past summer when he held out for a long-term contract extension. The honest truth is that, while he’s a very good running back who has a nose for the end zone, Gordon is a replaceable part, like most who play his position.
- Adrian Phillips, safety: A backup safety who has been very good for the Chargers, he’s a special-teams ace and has an All-Pro designation to prove it.
- Hunter Henry, tight end: When healthy, Henry is one of the NFL’s best receiving tight ends. Unfortunately, injuries have defined his career so far.
- Austin Ekeler, running back: Ekeler is a restricted free agent, so the Chargers should have no trouble re-signing him. One of the best dual-threat running backs in the league, he’s a no-brainer to bring back.
These five free agents have all started games and played big roles for the Chargers in recent years. Rivers is probably gone, and Gordon will almost certainly test the open market. The franchise would be smart to just move on from both of them.
Phillips, Henry and Ekeler should be retained if the price is right. They are all young and should remain core players for the organization.
Chargers draft situation: Los Angeles currently owns the No. 6 overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft. It’s a somewhat precarious position for a team that could be looking at a quarterback, as there are teams in front of the Chargers who will certainly be doing the same.
Here, we look at the options the Chargers would have in the first round.
Trade up: It’s costly to trade up for a quarterback, but when it’s worked out for other teams, they have the ability to make a Super Bowl push almost immediately.
- The Cincinnati Bengals are already gushing about Joe Burrow, and it has been reported that it will take a jaw-dropping trade offer to get them to move the first overall pick.
- On top of that, the Miami Dolphins are reportedly hot for Tua Tagovailoa and could trade up to No. 2 overall to land him.
With that in mind, it seems like a very risky endeavor to trade up that high, because the bidding wars will drive up the price to absurd levels. Though, the Chargers have reportedly been infatuated with Burrow since well before the season ended. And if they are completely sold on him, perhaps it’s worth it to take that huge gamble.
Settle for another QB: The perceived gap between Burrow, Tagovailoa and the rest of the pack this year is vast. However, we’ve seen perceptions smashed with a sledgehammer far too often in the NFL to assume the other quarterbacks won’t succeed.
If the Chargers were to stay put at No. 6 overall, here’s who they could consider if they pick a quarterback:
- Justin Herbert, Oregon: A player we’ve recently mocked to the Chargers, Herbert possesses elite arm talent and athleticism. He’s still very raw and needs a lot of coaching, but given time to develop he could have a Josh Allen-type impact.
- Jacob Eason, Washington: The draftnik community is split on what Eason might do as a pro. He has the arm to succeed, but he has never been able to consistently shine at the collegiate level.
- Jordan Love, Utah State: A dark horse who could take huge strides during the pre-draft process, Love is a player who’s been talked up by NFL draft writers all throughout the last college season.
Stick with Rivers: If the Chargers believe Rivers’ 2019 campaign was an aberration, they could very well bring him back and reload the roster for a playoff run in 2020.
Here’s a few players they could select if that transpires:
- Isaiah Simmons, linebacker, Clemson: This young star shined brightly in defeat as Clemson took on LSU in the national championship game. An athletic marvel, he flies to the ball and has the coverage skill to excel at the NFL level.
- Derrick Brown, defensive tackle, Auburn: A dominant big man inside, Brown would shore up an interior line that gave up nearly 113 rushing yards per game, along with 15 rushing scores.
- Jerry Jeudy, wide receiver, Alabama: If the Chargers bring Rivers back, they need to provide him with more weapons on offense. There isn’t a more dangerous playmaker in this year’s draft than Jeudy, who is an after-the-catch monster.
There are obviously a ton of options for the Chargers in the draft, and there is more than just one round to make impact moves. But since we’re discussing whether it’s time to blow it all up and start over, it’s the first-round pick that deserves attention.
But what if they don’t go with Rivers and opt instead to hit free agency for their quarterback?
Look to another veteran: It’s been widely speculated and reported that Tom Brady could leave the New England Patriots and sign with the Chargers in free agency.
There is some risk associated with that idea, however.
- Brady seemed to be in decline physically for much of the 2019 season.
- He will be 43 years old when the 2020 season begins.
In all honestly, if the Chargers are debating between Rivers and Brady, then there’s no need for Rivers to leave. The two veterans both have the ability to make big-time throws under pressure and lead a winning effort. But they both are on the decline at this point in their careers.
Other quarterbacks who could potentially be targets include Ryan Tannehill, Teddy Bridgewater, Jameis Winston, Eli Manning and Marcus Mariota. But most of these guys have either struggled in recent memory, have dealt with a decline or are simply huge risks due to turnovers.
Summarizing: The Chargers obviously have a ton of huge decisions to make. They have already decided to stick with coach Anthony Lynn, who did a fantastic job in his first two seasons at the helm before things fell apart last year.
They can easily move on from Rivers and Gordon, but the decision to start from scratch with a rookie quarterback doesn’t seem to mesh well with the overall talent on the team’s roster — especially on the defensive side of the ball.
The bottom line: Given the fact that the Chargers have elite talent on defense, can re-sign their top free agents without any real stress on the salary cap and play in the wild AFC West, where anything can happen, the notion that a full-blown rebuild should happen doesn’t seem like the best option.
Rivers is a conundrum. He was superb in his two seasons prior to the rash of turnovers that defined his 2019 campaign. But the truth is, if the Chargers are considering a rebuild, it may be better to wait one more season when Trevor Lawrence is in play. If Rivers sucks this coming season, the Chargers may be in even better shape to get what they need one year from now.
So, in the end, the Chargers probably do need to burn it all down and start from scratch. But this offseason may not be the time to do it.