Though the Super Bowl is over and games don’t begin until next fall, the NFL season never truly ends. In many ways, the “game” that goes on in between the games is just as important, if not more so, than what happens on the field. Here, in the offseason, is where the course of all 32 NFL franchises is determined. To highlight the importance of this period, and to take a peek at what each team is facing, I’ll be embarking on an ambitious series in which I briefly preview each team’s offseason. We’ll examine the major questions each team faces, what type of cap room they have, who they should be targeting in the draft, etc. My goal is to complete this prior to the start of free agency (March 13)…..which will likely not happen. Oh well.
We continue the previews with a team that simply can’t get have enough Norv Turner in their lives, the San Diego Chargers. In case you missed them, here are links to each of our past previews:
*Cap figures are taken from South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Estimated cap is $124 million.*
San Diego Chargers
2011 Record: 8-8
PPG For: 25.4 (5th)
PPG Against: 23.6 (22nd)
2012 Cap Number: $111,960,165
Draft Position: #18 Pick
Masochist: A person who is gratified by pain, degradation, etc., that is self-imposed or imposed by others.
Let me tell you something; when you voluntarily bring Norv Turner back despite massively underachieving with what is clearly the most talented team in your division, you are, by definition, a masochist. Because while this is certainly not the same team that won 14 games under Marty Schottenheimer, it has way too much talent to miss the playoffs two consecutive years. The job Norv has done is completely and utterly unforgivable – except that we’ve already established that the Chargers top brass are all masochists. They must love the pain of seeing lesser teams win the AFC West. They must love degrading themselves to the level of the Raiders and Cardinals. And yes, it’s all self-imposed. The day they decided that Norv Turner would be a better choice than Marty Schottenheimer was the day the Chargers franchise ceased to be relevant.
All that having been said, the AFC West is so pathetic that even Norv Turner might be able to win it this year. If the Chargers can retain the majority of their offensive talent and retool the defense, they will likely be the favorites once again. Doesn’t mean they’ll actually win anything – we know how good Norv is at underachieving! – but it does at least make them worth talking about. For now.
After seeing Philip Rivers turn into Neo-Ryan Leaf early last season, there was some legitimate concern that the 30 year old Rivers might have sunk into an early decline. After all, he’s never had the strongest arm, so this sort of thing wouldn’t be the most unusual thing in the world. To put it rather bluntly, a development like that would have almost assuredly ended football in San Diego. So, the fact that Rivers finally started to play like Rivers by the end of the year is easily the most noteworthy aspect of their season. Here is a comparison of Rivers in his first 11 games, and Rivers in his last 5 games.
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First 11 Games
Last 5 Games
The Chargers offense is very Rivers-centric in the same way that the Saints offense is Brees-centric (though not to the same degree, to be fair), so an 11 game stretch of 16TD-17INT level performances is absolutely disastrous. But whatever was going wrong in those first 11, it appears as if Rivers figured it out.
Also worth mentioning is the breakout season Ryan Matthews had. San Diego gave up a considerable amount for the ability to draft Matthews, which made his injury plagued rookie season all the more disappointing. After racking up over 1000 yards and gaining nearly 5.0 YPC, I doubt anyone is giving that rookie season a second thought.
One of the dirty little secrets of the San Diego Chargers is that they really aren’t all that talented anymore. Not long back, you could look around and see Pro Bowlers up and down the roster. Now, you look and see an underwhelming offensive line and a rapidly aging defense, devoid of any real playmakers beyond Eric Weddle. The defense, specifically, was a major problem area. They managed just 32 sacks (t-23rd), gave up 7.9 passing yards per attempt (28th), and had an opponent QB Rating of 92.5 (27th). And outside of Weddle, the team managed just 10 interceptions. Again, there are simply not enough playmakers on this team. Guys like Quentin Jammer, Shaun Phillips, and Takeo Spikes used to be, but those days are long since gone. Even if Rivers bounces back with another strong season, it’s hard to see this team going anywhere with a defense as stripped down as theirs.
Key Free Agents: T Jared Gaither, DT Antonio Garay, S Steve Gregory, C Nick Hardwick, FB Jacob Hester, WR Vincent Jackson, TE Randy McMichael, RB Mike Tolbert
3 Key Questions:
#1 – How will the Vincent Jackson situation play out?
What happens with Jackson will have huge implications for the Chargers, both in how they approach the upcoming draft and in how successful they are in 2012. Now, I make no pretense of having “connections” or anything like that, so what I’m about to say is nothing more than pure speculation on my part. I don’t foresee any scenario, *ANY SCENARIO*, in which Vincent Jackson is not a member of the Chargers next season. He is unquestionably their most explosive weapon, and there is simply no way for them to even come close to replicating what he does. Malcolm Floyd tried in 2010, and failed. Now, I certainly have my reservations about giving a massive contract to a 29 year old wide receiver who catches just 60 passes per year, but Jackson might be the exception. His incredible size and exceptional hands alone should keep him viable for at least a few more years, not to mention the overwhelmingly positive impact the rule changes have had on receivers of his ilk. If they can’t work out a contract, I’d expect them to slap the franchise tag on him.
#2 – Are there any keepers on this defense beyond Eric Weddle?
The Chargers started five guys on the wrong side of 30, and a couple others who play like their on the wrong side of 30. We already know that Eric Weddle is a stud, but is there anybody else they can look to as a potential cornerstone? The most obvious candidate is Corey Liuget, who the team drafted in the first round last year. To put it mildly, he struggled. A lot. In fact, some are already calling him a bust. Speaking of busts, 2008 first rounder, CB Antoine Cason , took a major step back after a promising third season. The only real promise shown by a young defender was by LB Donald Butler, but even he didn’t show much of a propensity for making big plays. Again, the Chargers have big needs on defense, and they’ve got to hope a couple of these guys pan out. Liuget, specifically, is the most promising of the group, and it would be really deflating if he turned out to be nothing.
#3 – What will the offensive line look like?
Kris Dielman’s health issues and subsequent retirement is a much bigger deal than people realize, and it seems almost impossible for them to replace his production. After all, this is a guy who made 4 straight Pro Bowls from 2007 to 2010 and missed just 3 games since 2005. Those guys don’t just grow on trees! This development makes the re-signing of Nick Hardwick almost as big a priority as retaining Vincent Jackson. If San Diego were forced to scramble patch holes at LG and C, along with starting a crappy RG…well, that just sounds like a pretty ugly situation.
If Vincent Jackson leaves, then Michael Floyd is the logical pick. He has a very similar body and skill set to Jackson, and I believe he’s the type of guy who can have an immediate impact. However, given their many needs on the defense and on the offensive line, I think it would be an absolute disaster if they were forced to use their first round pick on a lesser version (at least temporarily) of Vincent Jackson.
If Vincent Jackson is re-signed, then San Diego should be able to find a nice defensive piece at #18.
Dre Kirkpatrick or Janoris Jenkins – Cason has had four years to establish himself as an NFL starter, and it just hasn’t happened. With Quentin Jammer entering his mid-30’s, it might be time to try their hands at landing another playmaking CB. As I’ve said before, my preference would be Jenkins, whom I view to be a better talent and a player more suited to the NFL. He’s likely going to be available when the Chargers pick.
Dontari Poe – Devon Still and Jerel Worthy are two other guys who might be available, but I have issues with both. For one, their “inconsistent motor” is commonly cited as an area that needs improved. In case you haven’t noticed, that usually NEVER improves. For another, neither seem to be great fits in a 3-4. Either way, they kind of just replicate Corey Liuget. Poe, on the other hand, brings something to the table that San Diego needs. Current NT Antonio Garay will be 33 in November and is coming off a pretty unproductive season. Also, he’s a free agent, and it would be kinda dumb to sink a bunch of money on an old, unproductive player. Enter Dontari Poe. Poe is constantly lauded for his work ethic and high motor, and is easily one of the best physical specimens in the draft. The guy weighs 330 lbs and runs a 4.8 40! Every good 3-4 defense has a giant NT as its anchor, and Poe could very well be that guy for San Diego. Even though CB is a huge need, it’s far easier to land a decent corner than a good NT. Poe should be the pick if he’s available.
You and I both know that San Diego should win the AFC West next year. They have the best QB, they have the best offense, and they have the most talent. Of course, they should have won it each of the past two years. But hey, you know what they say about coulds and shoulds! And also, you know what they say about Norv Turner…