The Los Angeles Chargers season has finally concluded. Players have completed their exit interviews and General manager Tom Telesco gave his “State of the Franchise” address on Thursday afternoon.
For the first time since 2011 the Chargers face many important free agency decisions. In 2011, it was receivers Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd, running back Darren Sproles, and safety Eric Weddle. They let Jackson sign with Tampa Bay and Sproles with New Orleans. They re-signed Floyd and Weddle.
Now they must decide what to do with quarterback Philip Rivers, running back Melvin Gordon, and tight end Hunter Henry. They also have running back Austin Ekeler who is a restricted free agent.
The Chargers have not had a question at quarterback this big since 2005 when they had to decide between Drew Brees and the NC State product.
Rivers just turned 38-years-old and is coming off one of his worst seasons in recent memory. He threw 20 interceptions and only passed for 23 touchdowns, his lowest total since 2007.
"It's probably human nature when you're 38 and you throw some interceptions in games ... people say, 'You can't make the throw you used to make,' or 'You can't do this'… arm strength and all of that," he said. "And just none of that is true.”
He says he feels physically fine and still loves to prepare every week to play on Sunday. The issue is that he is a free agent after this year. He still wants to play.
"I plan to play football, so yes," Rivers said Sunday. "Where that is going to be will get sorted out over the next few months. I've never been in this position. I don't even know when the league year starts. We'll just kind of see. I'm very thankful for the 16 years, and if there is another, I'll be thankful for that."
Rivers has done a lot for the team and the organization in 14 years under center. He has won them 128 games. He played through a torn ACL in the 2007 AFC Championship against the Patriots. But he never got the franchise to a Super Bowl.
Since head coach Anthony Lynn has been in charge the Bolts have been doing extensive homework on quarterbacks in recent draft classes like Patrick Mahomes, DeShaun Watson, and Lamar Jackson, but decided to pass.
This year they have the sixth overall selection in the draft. They could draft Rose Bowl-winning quarterback Justin Herbert or wait until the second round to draft Utah State quarterback Jordan Love. Both are athletic quarterbacks who could perform well in Lynn’s offense.
During exit interviews on Monday, Rivers didn’t talk to reporters like he has in previous offseasons. That wasn’t a surprise given that he answered about 12 minutes’ worth of questions about his future. What was weird was the sight of his locker cleaned out, with only had a couple of things in it.
Receiver Keenan Allen and tight end Hunter Henry both praised the quarterback and said they believed he can still play at a high level.
Now it will be on Telesco and President of Football Operations John Spanos to see if they want the 16-year veteran back under center.
“I think in a perfect world No. 17 is your quarterback forever,” explained Telesco. “Hopefully I am not offending Dan Fouts when I say that. But he has meant everything to this organization.”
This was a very strange season for the Wisconsin alum. Before training camp started he decided he wouldn’t play until the team gave him a new contract. Telesco didn’t budge. Gordon decided to come back after the Bolts started 1-2.
He struggled to get in football shape. During week seven, the Chargers had a chance to right their season against the Tennessee Titans. They got the ball to the one-yard line and failed to get in, with Gordon fumbling the football. After the loss and the turnover, Gordon said he learned that he will never sit out again.
“Obviously, Melvin (Gordon) held out, so that doesn’t make me very happy,” explained Telesco. “I think it affected our team early, but you have to get over that. Despite all of that I love the kid. On a personal and professional level. We have to look at everything and see how everything fits together.”
Two weeks later Gordon started picking it up and had rushing performances of 80, 108, 69, and 99 yards. His nickname “Flash” seemed to fit again. In the last four games of the season, the Bolts threw the ball a lot more, cutting into Gordon’s carries.
He finished with 612 rushing yards and nine total touchdowns. In the last four seasons, Gordon has found the end zone a total of 47 times.
Does Gordon want to remain a Bolt?
"Of course," Gordon says. "They drafted me and changed my life. They took a bet on me. Took a chance on me when 31 other teams could have and passed me up. They're like your first love so to speak. I want to be here, man. I got great relationships with everybody around here. I love everyone from (the locker room) to the people on the staff, in the training room, to the equipment guys. I got a relationship with everybody around here, not just the guys in here. Hopefully, we can work it out.”
Gordon has grown as a running back since Lynn has taken over as the head coach. He had his first 1,000-yard season with Lynn. He has taken care of the ball only fumbling six times in the last three seasons, compared to eight times in his first two.
“I love Melvin Gordon,” said Lynn. “He is fun to be around, a hard worker and a high character young man. Who wouldn’t want Melvin Gordon on their team? But like I said we have a lot of free agents to look at right now.”
Gordon is a real toss-up to stay. The team has benefited from the one-two punch with he and Ekeler, but can they afford to pay both? Do they want to?
Gordon said during exits interviews he doesn’t need to be the highest-paid back. He also said he wanted to be with the Chargers numerous times. Telesco said on Thursday they will evaluate everyone and see who they need to re-sign moving forward.
It has been a rollercoaster ride for young tight end Hunter Henry. He was chosen in the second round in the 2016 draft. In his first two seasons he showed flashes of being able to take the mantle from future hall of fame tight end Antonio Gates.
In 2017, he sustained a small kidney laceration in week 15 and missed the final two games. In 2018, he suffered a torn ACL in OTAs but was able to come back for the divisional round of the playoffs. In 2019 he missed four games due to a tibia fracture, but he came back week six.
Henry showed that he wasn’t slowing down. He had 100 receiving yards and two touchdowns against the Pittsburgh Steelers in his first game back from the injury.
“I have talked to Hunter,” explained Telesco. “He had a great season for us. He has a high ceiling. Excellent player for us. We got to figure out all of the finances, cap, performance, and see how everything fits. As you know a philosophy of ours is to re-sign our own when we can.”
What Henry showed in 2019 was that even though he was slowed down by the injury he finished strong. In the last 11 weeks of the season, he had 592 receiving yards and five touchdowns. He was a consistent target for Rivers.
It’ll be interesting to see how Telesco negotiates with Henry because of the injury history. The Arkansas product has improved in every aspect of his game. He said before the season started he wanted to improve his run blocking, which he felt he showed strides in.
“It’s out of my hands now,” Henry said. “I don’t know. We’ll see … I’ve really enjoyed it here. I enjoy this locker room. I enjoy these guys. I enjoy this team. Hopefully, I can continue to be a part of it going forward.”
One contract that will be up after next season is defensive end Joey Bosa. The Ohio State product has been one of the most productive players not only on the Chargers but the NFL. He is entering his fifth-year option and should be a focal point for Telesco.
The young defensive end was drafted in 2016. He sat out most of the preseason because of a contract dispute that got ugly with the organization. On August 29th, he signed his deal and reported to the facility. The relationship between Bosa and the Chargers has improved as time has gone on.
His production has been off the charts in 51 career games he has 40 sacks, which makes him the 10th player all-time to reach 40 in 50 in NFL history according to Daniel Popper of The Athletic. He has had three seasons of double-digit sacks.
Last season, Bosa had a foot injury that kept him out of nine games, but in the seven he did play he sacked the quarterback 5.5 times.
Telesco needs to get the two-time pro bowler signed up because the longer he waits the more likely Bosa could drive up the I-5 north and join his brother, Nick, with the San Francisco 49ers.
“Yeah that will be down the road at some time not really focused on that right now,” said Telesco.
Ekeler had a breakout season. He was seven yards away from reaching 1,000 on the season and added 557 rushing yards and scored a combined 11 touchdowns.
The Western Colorado alum is a restricted free agent, so that means the team can put a draft pick tender. The higher the tender the higher the salary. It means the Chargers could put a first-round tender on him and if another team decides to sign Ekeler the Bolts can try to match it. If they don’t they receive the first-round draft pick of said team. Now if no team decides to offer him a contract the Bolts would give him a one-year deal worth $4.4 million or 110% of the player’s prior-year base salary.
On Thursday, Telesco didn’t indicate if they had decided on the tender as of right now.
The Chargers offseason starts now as they will begin to see if they need to make changes to their coaching staff. In about three weeks they will go to the Senior Bowl and start evaluating for the draft. They will also be evaluating who they will be keep come March and who will join a new team.
“I can’t rest until I start that process,” Lynn explained. “There’s no vacation for me. I can’t go to a golf course right now or go lay on the beach and relax without solving this problem. That’s just the way I relax.”