As many would say, the NFL is a business. Of course, with a business comes business decisions. Every NFL team has a front office that gets paid TONS of money to make the right “business decisions” that will ultimately put their team in the best possible position to succeed. Like many things in life, some of those choices turn out to be the right ones while others just simply don’t work out.
In June of 2015, General Manager Tom Telesco and the San Diego Chargers signed defensive lineman Corey Liuget to a five-year, $51 million dollar extension. It was deemed as a questionable move considering the fact the team hadn’t re-signed former All-Pro safety Eric Weddle or franchise QB Philip Rivers.
Liuget, 26, got off to somewhat of a promising start early on. Before cashing in, his previous three years looked like this:
2012: 9th on team in tackles, 2nd in sacks (7.0), 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 9 pass deflections and 6 tackles for loss.
2013: 7th on team in tackles, 1st in sacks (5.5), 1 forced fumble, 2 pass deflections and 3 tackles for loss.
2014: 7th on team in tackles, 1st in sacks (4.5), 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 2 pass deflections and 11 tackles for loss.
Most importantly, Liuget was as durable as they come, having not missed a game in those three years. Without any legitimate bright spots along the defensive line, Corey Liuget showed he would be a key contributor on the team for many years to come.
There’s only one problem with that. Liuget hasn’t become that key contributor the Chargers were hoping for. In fact, some may say the former first-round pick has actually regressed since signing the big-money extension.
His numbers after signing his new contract are as followed:
2015: 34 tackles, 3 sacks, 0 forced fumbles, 0 fumble recoveries and 2 tackles for loss. (Liuget would only play in 11 games before being placed on IR with a foot injury.)
2016: 36 tackles, 0 sacks, 1 fumble recovery and 8 tackles for loss.
In fairness to Liuget, the numbers in 2015 aren't as bad as they may look considering he only played 11 games. However, in 2016, Liuget simply didn't live up to his contract at any point in the season. In a year which he was expected to become a leader of a young and promising defensive unit, Liuget has severely under-performed and has some fans questioning how much longer he’ll be with the team.
Let’s take a look at a few clips from previous seasons on Liuget. We’ll start with the good.
2015 Week 6 at Green Bay: Here you’ll see Corey Liuget fight through a block to get to Aaron Rodgers before he could escape the pocket.
2014 Week 7 vs Kansas City: Here you see Liuget fight off the block with his hands, generate pressure and eventually sack QB Alex Smith.
2015 Week 11 vs Kansas City: On this play, 94 takes on the double team at the line, fights off the pulling TE and stops the runner in his tracks.
Those are some plays you'd expect to be almost routine for a guy that’s getting such a huge check. However, they haven’t. What you're about to see is what the Chargers have got from Liuget in 2016.
2016 Week 12 at Houston: This is Liuget getting completely tossed to the ground by the right tackle on a running play to the left. Not good.
2016 Week 15 vs Oakland: Yes, Oakland’s offensive line is VERY good. You’d just expect a little more from your most expensive player on defense.
2016 Week 13 vs Tampa Bay: Here he is once again getting blocked completely out of the play.
Now, Liuget isn’t the only defensive lineman to ever get put on the ground. He isn’t the first and certainly won't be the last. But, when you're the 7th highest-paid at your position in the entire NFL, you have to win more one-on-one matchups than Liuget has shown.
Below is a list of the only players at Liuget’s position who make more than him. I included their stats from 2016 to give a little more context. JJ Watt was left off of this list due to him being classified as a defensive end.
Ndamukong Suh: 72 tackles, 5.0 sacks, 8 tackles for loss
Fletcher Cox: 43 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 4 tackles for loss and 1 forced fumble
Marcell Dareus: (8 games) 39 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 tackles for loss
Gerald McCoy: (15 games) 34 tackles, 7.0 sacks, 3 tackles for loss and 1 forced fumble
Malik Jackson: 33 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 5 tackles for loss
Geno Atkins: 32 tackles, 9.0 sacks, 5 tackles for loss
While some of you may be thinking it’s unfair to compare Liuget to a group of guys with such elite talent, I made sure to have a list of some guys who make less than Liuget, and who have also outplayed him.
Damon “Snacks” Harrison: 86 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 5 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble
Kyle Williams: 64 tackles, 5.0 sacks, 7 tackles for loss
Nick Fairley: 43 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 4 tackles for loss
Linval Joseph: 77 tackles, 4.0 sacks, 2 tackles for loss and 3 forced fumbles.
As you can see, Liuget hasn’t performed up to the level of the guys making more than him. He’s not even playing as well as guys who make less.
I’m not expecting Corey Liuget to be the best ever at his position by any means. But, once you're given a contract worth that much money, you're expected to play better than you ever have before. That certainly hasn’t been the case for Liuget in 2016.
In a league that is often described as a “What have you done for me lately?” league, Liuget must elevate his play immediately. Partner that along with the deep class of defensive lineman in this upcoming draft, Liuget may be fighting for his job next season if the Chargers go that route.
Now, will Liuget ever become that elite talent like the Chargers were hoping for when they drafted him 18th overall? Maybe. I don’t know. Nobody knows at this point.
However, one thing we do know is this. Corey Liuget robbed the San Diego Chargers this season.