Allow me to begin this post by being honest: I jumped the gun. I rolled my eyes way too soon.
When Tom Telesco was hired to become the San Diego Chargers' next General Manager, I wasn't overly joyed and admittedly skeptical. The Indianapolis Colts' draft picks under him outside of the consensus picks of Andrew Luck, Reggie Wayne and obviously Peyton Manning weren't all that great. And the Chargers were a team built through the draft and needed an absolute brilliant draft in 2013 to have any shot of competing this year.
I had reason to be doubtful and critical, it wasn't unwarranted. But Telesco has approached his first season as Chargers' GM in a professional manner and is slowly beginning to win me over.
Assessment of the Chargers 2012 Roster
Many have Praised Tom Telesco and the Chargers Front Office for the number of players they have brought in to compete for the necessary jobs. While that is deserved, not a lot of praise has been given for the players he's allowed to continue their respective careers with other clubs.
Former Chargers Starters Louis Vasquez, Shaun Phillips, Antonio Garay, Quentin Jammer, Antoine Cason, Vaughn Martin and Tyronne Green all are members of another ball club. The loss of Antoine Cason will continue to nag at me for a while but for every other name listed outside of Louis Vasquez, I couldn't have agreed more with the decision to let them depart.
Louis Vasquez will be worth the money in Denver, he'll fit into what they do well and may possibly earn Pro Bowl Honors. You don't lose a talent like him and "get better." But for the San Diego Chargers, right now, paying a Right Guard almost 5 million a year with 5 million guaranteed was a bit steep, and I agree.
To part ways with "fan favorites" like Antonio Garay, Quentin Jammer and Shaun Phillips is not easy for a general manager to do in his first year yet he allowed each of these players to leave without even considering resigning them. I LOVE IT.
The left side of the offensive line in 2012-13 was atrocious and Telesco wanted nothing to do with them going forward. Releasing Jared Gaither seemed to be high on his list of things to do and showing to be a good one as the Chargers are saving money and the Left Tackle is still looking for work - deservedly so. Left Guard Tyronne Green was picked up by New England shortly after being cut in San Diego and some figured the Patriots could possibly turn him into SOMETHING. 18 days later, he was cut by the Patriots before they could even put pads on. Another deserving move if you ask me.
A lot of how you're perceived in the public's eye is based on how you treat the players who have meant something to the franchise. They obviously weren't in Tom Telesco's long–term plans and I am intrigued by him sticking to his plan early in the re-tooling process and his emphasis on basing the team on youth.
Production Over Upside
This is where Tom Telesco began to win me over. Throughout the 2013 NFL Draft process and free agency, Telesco has reiterated that he is always looking to upgrade the team. For instance, Telesco selected RT DJ Fluker to replace a productive player in Jeromey Clary. While we can't say he is any better than Jeromey Clary is right now, we do know he can't be any worse.
What Telesco decided to do with Clary next is what a General Manager should do with a player who has some form of productivity: find a place for him to best contribute. Telesco decided to not hand the job to 5th Round Pick Johnnie Troutman and put Jeromey Clary in there to compete for the job at Right Guard. This isn't a move I necessarily am in love with but if you understand Telesco in wanting players who will contribute now, then the idea makes sense.
Same can be said for his other selections in the draft. I, like many others, was initally upset that he had given up a 4th–round pick to select Manti Te'o. But if you take a look at what players were selected in the 4th, there are far more projects than there are projected starters. The second round saw a run of ILBs taken off of the board. Kiko Alonso, Arthur Brown and Jon Bostic. Did Tom project this was going to happen? Possibly. While some argue Brown will be the best ILB of the draft, the most productive of the four ILBs is and was Manti Te'o. Production over upside, period.
This method has been applied via Free Agency also. The running back situation is a good example. There is not a running back with more "potential" or "upside" than Ryan Mathews. We all — outside of Nick Shepherd — believe he can be something special and Tom Telesco could've easily taken the same approach. Nope. He went out and signed Danny Woodhead, a player who was uber-productive for the Patriots. Is he necessarily better? Probably not. But if we are discussing pure production in all facets in the game for a running back, Woodhead was far more productive than Mathews was last year.
As a coach, I will always take what I know over what I hope can happen. I believe the Front Office is taking this same approach.
Simultaneously Molding the 2013 Roster, and the Future
Tom Telesco didn't necessarily have to attempt to keep this San Diego Chargers team competitive this year. This is still AJ Smith's team — which netted 7 Wins — and he could have chosen to ride it out without changes and put his official stamp on the team in 2014. Instead of viewing the 7 wins as a sign of a downslide in San Diego, he has approached the offseason and the roster with the thought that "it shouldn't take much to get to 8 or 9 wins."
Telesco has added productive players throughout the offseason yet has not jeopardized the cap space going forward. Masterful in that aspect, letting the smoke settle on the bigger names and grabbing solid camp competition early.
He has put a more competitive team around Philip Rivers: If Rivers is better because of the upgraded line, then Tom Telesco doesn't have to address the QB situation immediately and gets to be "competitive" in his first 1-3 years. If it doesn't work and Rivers remains average in the coming year, Telesco can blow everything up and start his own team with about 20-30 million to spend — after cutting Rivers and Gates of course.
So when John Gennaro asks What Grade Would You Give Tom Telesco?, based on the winter and spring, Ill gladly say A-.