Wonko: Is this the Chargers' least talented team of the Norv Turner era? I not sure how you compare it to the last couple of years, but certainly compared to early Norv years: No one ever replaced the talent losses of guys like Merriman, Tomlinson, Gates (from healthy to injury prone), Jamal Williams, Luis Castillo, Stephen Cooper in his prime (debateable), Cromarties, (lololol) Lorenzo Neal. Plus, Rivers' struggles these days.
There's no doubt this team is less talented than it was when Turner was first hired, but the question is, "why?"
John Gennaro: I think not developing young players is a big part of it. I think the "bad drafts" have a lot to do with bad luck. Go back and look at the 2007 draft and the Chargers roster. They needed a wide receiver to replace Eric Parker Keenan McCardell, and most of the WRs drafted after Buster Davis were pretty terrible. The free agent market (along with WRs available for trade that offseason) was even worse. They had to take the best WR available with that pick, and Davis is probably that guy if he can stay healthy. Larry English was also bad luck. The guy didn't have foot/injury issues in college. How is A.J. Smith to predict that his foot would explode after he was drafted?
Follow after the jump for more discussion of the Chargers deteriorating talent.
Superduperboltman: Don't forget all the changes to the team. Coaching changes between Ted Cottrell and Ron Rivera and Greg Manusky. And on offense, too, with Rob Chudzinski gone. With injuries and constant change on both sides of the ball, it all adds up to disastrous results. Since my eye is on the defensive side more because of my writing duties, I actually am impressed with how Manusky runs the Defense with so much going on.
jkvandal: I think AJ's biggest mistake the last two seasons is not finding a suitable replacement for Antonio Gates at TE when it was clear that he was in decline. Every elite QB (and offense) has a "safety valve" for the QB in some way or another: a receiver who can get open on intermediate routes almost every down. For New England that is Wes Welker (or either Tight End), in Green Bay it is Jermichael Finley, and in New Orleans it is Jimmy Graham. The running backs have picked up some of the slack in that department this season, but you can't count on a running back as your safety valve when you are running play action.
Richard Wade: Some would probably make the argument that they did find a suitable replacement for Gates in Scott Chandler (to be clear, those people are wrong), but that they just let him get away. Also, they've tried to find that kind of slot receiver safety valve a couple of times and have just come up empty with the likes of Buster Davis and Legedu Naanee.
Wonko: I also think the team "suffered" from a win now mentality. They've pissed away 2nd round picks for years, but a lot of time those 2nd round picks make up for the shortcomings of your 1st rounds. Not to mention that A.J. track record of 2nd round picks is really, really good. That doesn't take the blame off of the busts in the 1st round, but it does compound it. The Hester one however is the only really bad one of the bunch. I'll make that deal to get Eric Weddle every time. I know they overpaid, but he was the last impact safety in that class and, if you believe A.J., they had to trade to a much higher slot that they wanted to in order to get him because none of the other teams were willing to deal. You also have to make that trade for Chambers.
Jeff Siniard: I agree with what Wonko is saying about the "win-now" mentality. I thought it had caught up to the Chargers in 2009, right before they rattled off that 10 game winning streak. What I think they’ve become is a modern version of the early 90s Broncos, Dolphins, and Oilers – where everything is built around the idea that great QB play will make up for everything else that’s wrong. It’s fine, and you win division titles (or wild card berths) when it works out, but when it doesn’t you have a stinker season – and you also don’t advance far in the postseason because you eventually face a better all-around team.
Wonko: I also think it's just hard to replace elite talent in the NFL. Have the Patriots replaced Richard Seymour yet? Asante Samuel? Lawyer Milloy? Teddy Bruschi? Mike Vrabel? They've created a system of interchangeable parts on offense (WR, RB, TE), which kind of reminds me of the Colts defense, but their defense doesn't work like that and it kept them from continuing their dynasty.
Richard Wade: I think the difficulty in replacing elite talent is something that really gets overlooked. There are only a handful of players in the NFL currently producing at the level Shawne Merriman did pre-injury. LaDainian Tomlinson had a Hall of Fame career here. Reasonable people have argued in good faith that he was the best running back they ever saw play. That's almost impossible to replicate. Antonio Gates when he was healthy probably was the best receiving tight end ever. Jamal Williams was a freak talent at nose tackle.