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Grading the Chargers off-season moves

As the first wave of free agency has passed, Louis Gorini grades the recent moves of the Los Angeles Chargers

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The NFL free agency period is an exciting time for both teams and fans alike; well unless you are supporters of the Los Angeles Chargers.

You see, a lot of teams use this time to either plug-up some major roster holes, completely overhaul their team identity, go all-in and make a run for the Super Bowl, or even tear down their roster to start the rebuilding process. However, the Los Angeles Chargers have a different type of philosophy.

As NFL teams are actively wheeling-and-dealing and acquiring notable names; the Chargers for the most part, find themselves on the sidelines avoiding the big free agent signings. The Chargers believe in an (outdated, if you ask me) philosophy to build through the draft and then go bargain bin shopping for free agents with the leftovers. And yes it has worked out in the past, but L.A. has NEVER deviated from that strategy.

This year was a perfect example of a time when the Chargers should have been more aggressive with their free agency plans. This past season, they finished two games away from the Super Bowl. They have a talented roster with an aging quarterback who, although he is still elite, is clearly towards the end of his career. But after the first week of free agency, it is safe to say the Chargers are sticking to their guns and doing business as usual.

So, as I digress, I take it upon myself to hand out the ever so popular free agency grades after the first week of signings. And before I bestow myself the power to either provide validation or criticism of the following acquisitions, I would like to explain my grading system. Growing up an “A” meant you did a phenomenal job, a “B” was for a good performance, a “C” was just average work, a “D” was below average, and finally, “F” meant you failed. So let’s take a look and see what kind of student the Chargers were during week one.

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LB Thomas Davis

Chargers GM Tom Telesco stated earlier this year that one of his biggest priorities was to “heavily focus” on the linebacker core this off season. So it was no surprise that one of L.A.’s first move this offseason targeted that position group. Los Angeles’ first external signing this year was former-Carolina Panther, Thomas Davis, who was signed to a 2-year, $10.5 million deal (with $5.25 million guaranteed).

Now, Davis wouldn’t have been my first choice when it came to upgrading the makeup of the linebackers for the Chargers as there were many younger/higher-ceiling options out there (Jamie Collins and Zach Brown). Couple that with the fact that the 35 year old backer hasn’t played a full season since 2016, and has a history of injuries (3 ACL injuries!!), it is easy to see why some fans probably weren’t jumping for joy.

That being said, the move itself was not a bad one. Thomas Davis can play both WILL and middle linebacker at an elite level. With a grade of 74.2 by Pro Football Focus, Davis was the 19th ranked LB in 2018 with 79 total tackles and 3 tackles for a loss. The 35 year old vet will give the Bolts some flexibility at the second level and be a great presence in an already strong locker room. All in all, this was a solid signing by the Chargers.


NFL: International Series-Tennessee Titans at Los Angeles Chargers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

LB Denzel Perryman

One of my least favorite sports cliches’ is the saying, “Player X is a great player, WHEN HEALTHY*.” A player can’t be great if he is always on the sideline. Never has a phrase been so accurate when describing the Chargers next signing, Denzel Perryman. Outside former Charger Jason Verrett, Perryman has to be one of the most polarizing players on the team for fans. When he is on the field, number 52 has proved to be a physical, punishing MLB that patrols the middle of L.A.’s defense.

The former second-round selection is a real difference maker especially when stuffing the run. However, during his tenure with the Chargers, Perryman has never played a full 16-game season. So at first the re signing of Perryman was concerning; that is until the numbers came out. Los Angeles was able to re sign the talented Perryman to a low-risk, high-reward deal (2-year, $12 million, $4.9 million guaranteed). This gives the Chargers some stability and consistency among their linebackers, all while giving them a second look to see if a high-ceiling player can remain on the field. And if he is incapable of doing so, the Chargers can easily get from out of this short-term contract next year without any serious financial implications. Once again, another good deal for the Chargers.


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QB Tyrod Taylor

The last time the Chargers had a competent backup quarterback for Rivers was way back in 2011 with Billy Volek. Since then, the Bolts have rolled out a bunch of misfits and expendables (Charlie Whitehurst, Kellen Clemens, Cardale Jones, and Geno Smith). This brings us to L.A.’s next signing, Tyrod Taylor.

I won’t even get into contract details because, frankly, it’s a moot point and doesn’t matter. This is perhaps one of Los Angeles’ best signings so far, and I’ll explain why.

Tyrod Taylor is still fairly young (29 years old) but has tons of real game experience and has been adequate, to say the least. In addition, Taylor’s style of play is in stark-contrast of Rivers’. Number 17 is a straight-up, drop back quarterback with almost no mobility. Taylor, on the other hand, has shown time-in and time-out to be extremely elusive when faced with pressure. So god forbid if Rivers ever had to come out of the game, the opposing defense will now have to adjust and have a completely different gameplan to account Taylor and his mobility.


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DT Brandon Mebane

Tom Telesco was doing pretty good up until this point. This off-season, NFL analysts and draft aficionados have consistently paired L.A. with the top free agent or draft defensive tackle prospects. Los Angeles had a bunch of question marks in the middle of their defensive line with Brandon Mebane, Corey Liuget, and Darius Philon all becoming free agents for the 2019 season. The possibilities to reconfigure the interior of the Chargers’ defensive line was exciting and limitless! So what did Los Angeles wind up doing to address one of their most pressing needs? They re-signed Brandon Mebane, their 34-year old defensive tackle, to a two-year $10,550,00 deal with $5,250,000 guaranteed.

Mebane was not terrible in 2018, though. Last year, the Chargers interior defensive lineman racked up 40 total tackles, one sack, and three tackles for a loss giving him a Pro Football Focus grade of 65.8. However, there was an abundance of other younger, and more promising options for L.A. to target.

Whether it was Malik Jackson, Sheldon Richardson, or even more cost-efficient options like Darius Philon or Malcolm Brown, the Chargers had a real shot this year to dramatically improve their weakness and failed to do so. Instead of injecting the middle of the defensive line with youth and talent, Los Angeles ultimately decided to keep the same problem on the field while expecting different results. Now if the Chargers wanted to keep Mebane to be that strong veteran leader in the locker room I would have totally understood. But, Tom Telesco addressed that leadership attribute he constantly looks for in the Thomas Davis signing.

So let’s recap this signing: Los Angeles elected to not only bring back a 34-year old defensive lineman over younger and more talented options, but they actually gave him a raise from his last contract as well! This is where being to loyal and constantly focus on signing your own bites the Bolts in the ass!


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S/LB Adrian Phillips

Just when I think Tom Telesco couldn’t get any dumber, he goes ahead and does something like this... AND TOTALLY REDEEMS HIMSELF! Adrian Phillips was a much needed Swiss Army knife for the Chargers last year. His contributions every Sunday were one of the main reasons why the “Bolt Gang” was so successful in 2018.

The term versatile gets thrown around sports too often, if you ask me. Being versatile does not mean being able to play multiple positions and schemes. What being versatile really means is the ability to play multiple positions and schemes, AT A HIGH LEVEL. Adrian Phillips was a versatile defender for the Chargers last year.

Every week he would have a different assignment, whether it was playing both safety spots, or being a linebacker when L.A.’s linebackers were ravaged by injuries. He showed fantastic instincts and closing speed play-after-play and was rewarded by being voted to the All Pro Team as a special teamer (not to mention he also earned his first Pro Bowl bid). Many thought Phillips would leave Los Angeles for greener pastures, and by greener pastures I mean more money. But the market was never there for him this off-season and Tom Telesco scooped him up on a one year deal to keep the “Jack Boyz” fully intact.


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GM Tom Telesco

I had to slip this one in. Yes, one of the biggest signings for the Los Angeles Chargers was their general manager, Tom Telesco. The Chargers signed Telesco to a multi-year extension at the completion of a successful 2018 season. Where Telesco excels is evaluating draft prospects as he consistently done well over the last couple of years. Another area of strength for the Chargers GM is his ability to attract solid veterans at a discount price which has lead to his nickname: “The Coupon God.”

All that being said, Telesco does have some flaws in his approach to assembling a team. Even though he does a good job at acquiring players at a good deal, he fails to show creativity when it comes to salary cap manipulation. In addition, the longtime Chargers GM has never thrown caution to the wind to go for the jugular during free agency. His “build through the draft only” mantra makes him avoid going all-in with one or two big time free agent signings. Nonetheless, extending Tom Telesco was absolutely the correct move as he created a fantastic football culture, to go along with his young and talented squad.