I don't want this post to get too long and rambling. I have a history of doing that. I want to stick to my point and try to convince you, the reader, that my heart is in the right place when I root for the 2-7 San Diego Chargers to lose to the Kansas City Chiefs this weekend.
Here we go, right into the teeth of it...
This is LT's week, right? His number will be retired by the San Diego Chargers officially and he'll be honored at halftime in front of a crowd of (I hope) 50% Chargers fans.
In my opinion, there has never been a better Chargers player than Tomlinson. He's the most talented and most legendary player in team history. There is nobody more befitting a retired number, because he was also a great guy and a great representative of the team away from the field.
But let's go back a bit. How did the San Diego Chargers land LaDainian Tomlinson?
The 2000 Chargers went 1-15. They earned the 1st overall pick in both the 1st and 2nd rounds of the 2001 draft. They traded down to #5 overall in the first round, selecting Tomlinson and picking up Tim Dwight (and another pick that turned into WR Reche Caldwell) along the way. The used their 2nd round pick on Drew Brees.
So, after successfully tanking to the top (bottom?), the Chargers drafted two future Hall of Famers. The franchise was changed forever.
Coach's Note: Mike Riley was the Chargers' coach at the time, and increased his team's win total from 1 to 5 after adding Tomlinson to the roster. Unfortunately for him, that wasn't good enough. He was replaced by Marty Schottenheimer one year after Tomlinson was drafted.
Here's a fun one.
The Chargers didn't tank all the way in 1989. They finished last in the division, but went 6-10 after starting 2-6. That's bad tanking!
The Chargers should have picked 7th in the 1st round of the 1990 NFL Draft. However, the Cowboys (who would've had the #1 overall pick) and the Cardinals (who would've had the #5 or #6 overall pick) both forfeited their 1st round picks by selecting players in the 1st round of the 1989 Supplemental Draft. (FWIW, the Cowboys picked QB Steve Walsh and the Cardinals picked QB Timm Rosenbach)
Instead, the Chargers picked 5th, and ended up with a man that personifies the team more than any player that has ever put on the jersey. A Hall of Fame Linebacker, and a Hall of Fame San Diegan, Seau landing with the Chargers involved a bit of luck and at least a bad first-half to the 1989 NFL season.
Coach's Note: The Chargers' coach at the time? Dan Henning. After drafting Seau, Henning went 6-10 again and then 4-12 before being replaced by Bobby Ross.
File this under "timely tanking". The 5-11 Chargers improved themselves from 5-11 to 8-8 in Schottenheimer's first year. Then, they somehow found a way to go 4-12. That allowed them to get the #1 overall pick, when Brees seemed a little lost in his development (he hadn't quite figured out how to throwe behind a bad o-line at his height yet).
In what turned into his signature move as the team's General Manager, A.J. Smith used that #1 pick to net Philip Rivers and three more draft picks that would become Nate Kaeding, Shawne Merriman, and Roman Oben (via trade).
The next season, Rivers' first, Brees figured out how to find "lanes" to throw through (thanks to some help from Doug Flutie). The team went 12-4, and A.J. Smith had enough draft picks to put together one of the league's most historic draft classes in 2005:
- Shawne Merriman (1st)
- Luis Castillo (1st)
- Vincent Jackson (2nd)
- Darren Sproles (4th)
There's eight Pro Bowls between those four guys. What happened after that doesn't even matter, but it's worth noting that Scott Mruczkowski (7th rounder) ended up playing a big part for the Chargers down the line.
Have I effectively made my point?
Let me break it down this way.
Players the Chargers drafted in the 1st round as the result of having a top-10 pick (since 1990):
- Junior Seau, LB
- Stanley Richard, DB
- Ryan Leaf, QB
- LaDainian Tomlinson, RB
- Quentin Jammer, DB
- Philip Rivers, QB
- Shawne Merriman, OLB
- Luis Castillo, DE
Players the Chargers drafted in the 1st round without a top-10 picks (since 1990):
- Chris Mims, DE
- Darrien Gordon, DB
- Sammy Davis, DB
- Antonio Cromartie, DB
- Craig "Buster" Davis, WR
- Antoine Cason, DB
- Larry English, OLB
- Ryan Mathews, RB
- Corey Liuget, DE
- Melvin Ingram, OLB
- D.J. Fluker, OG
- Jason Verrett, DB
- Melvin Gordon, RB
Now does it make sense?
Franchise players, game-changing players, don't magically come to your team. Tom Brady is a unicorn. Franchise players, the ones that end up with their number retired and hopefully a championship ring on their finger, come as a result of having top-10 picks.
The fact that Philip Rivers is the only impact player on the Chargers' roster that can stay healthy and contribute regularly is not surprising and it's not a sign that the GM needs to be fired. Actually, it is downright predictable. The Chargers need some losses, they need to tank, so that they can add a few more impact players to the roster before Rivers retires.