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How the Chargers return to the postseason in 2020

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A guidebook for relevance

As the 2019/2020 playoffs continue without our beloved Chargers, some teams have been busily working toward getting “back to the dance” next season. Most of the biggest plunges have been from those teams that axed their head coaches (or, in the case of Dallas, didn’t renew their contract over one extremely awkward week). That makes sense! Even those teams in need of a reshuffle don’t want to get too far ahead of themselves before watching this year’s playoffs and learning what they can.

However, it’s never too early for next season prognostication.

Coaching

It seems that the Chargers are content to hold on to much of their coaching staff, including head coach Anthony Lynn. There were many reports of Lynn’s seat “getting hot” after the Chargers really disappointed in 2019. There was a valid argument to ditch Lynn for a new hire, but the Chargers have been above average during Lynn’s tenure. While both sample sizes are small, the ownership couldn’t point at Lynn’s 26-22 (.542) regular season or 1-1 (.500) post-season record as a necessity for change.

After a stellar 2018 season, it can be argued that Lynn earned himself a mulligan. Everyone is aware that the Chargers were on the wrong side of more 1-score games than any other team in 2019, and with these two years in mind it makes sense to give Anthony Lynn one more year to right the ship. After all, he’s under contract for one more year and the Chargers don’t like to throw away money.

The 2019 Chargers made the unusual move of changing offensive coordinators during the season (and after a win!). Despite mixed results down the stretch from Shane Steichen, there are reasons to be optimistic about the OC’s trajectory (things can really only improve, right?). The defensive coordinator, Gus Bradley, has built a solid unit that is formidable, if inconsistent. Special teams haven’t been the Chargers’ heel for the last 1.5 years, which is a true relief.

Players

The elephant in the room is whether or not the Chargers will welcome a new quarterback. If the team has the goal of at least getting to the wild card round next year, there are two good options. The most realistic option is to negotiate a new two-year contract with Philip Rivers, a known commodity and the heart and soul of the current team. The second-best option is to bring in a proven starter, such as the rumor-mill darlings that are Tom Brady and Cam Newton. It seems unlikely that either of those players actually hit the open market (not even throwing Brees into the mix), and bringing in a journeyman isn’t a good way to maximize their 2020 opportunity.

What’s that you say? There’s a third option? Oh, good point—the Chargers are situated to draft a premium quarterback this year. They absolutely should (heck, the equity means they only lose about a round’s worth of value if the pick bombs ala Josh Rosen), but if their ultimate goal is to make it to the dance in 2020 then a rookie QB is not the best answer. 2021? That’s a different matter.

The Chargers would be well-served to prioritize keeping their best players and drafting for their biggest needs. The offensive line is, well, an especially offensive line as currently structured and needs a lot of overhaul. Austin Ekeler is a beast and should keep the chains moving in 2020. The Chargers should not worry about replacing Melvin Gordon, and definitely should not waste draft space on a 3rd-round-or-higher RB.

The Chargers need to get serious about their linebacker corps. While they need to keep Bosa and Ingram happy with good contracts, it’s worth looking around the league post-draft to try and bolster their weakest defensive links with proven commodities. Teams that just drafted young OLB or MLB might be interested in a lopsided trade to save salary and roster space. Keep your eyes on the Lions and Giants for just such an opportunity.

Home Field Advantage

The Chargers’ biggest shot in the arm might be heading into the newest and brightest stadium in the league after three years of misery. While no one knows what the future holds for either the Rams or the Chargers in their new home, both teams have a sterling opportunity to attract new fans.

The Chargers have grappled with the challenge of having opposing team’s fans take over their small stadium over the past three years. Why? One thing we know wasn’t a factor was the price of tickets for those traveling fans. Prices were among the highest in the entire league at these seven home games. The flip side of that could be that local fans (or even those potential Bolt-curious fans) weren’t ready to pay such premium prices. Working in tourism, I can confirm that it is a genuine fact that folks on a vacation are much more likely to splurge for premium experiences compared to similar experiences at home.

The new stadium is promising family-affordable pricing and many, many more seats. The Chargers currently claim that tickets could be as low as $50 in 2020, hopefully luring casual fans. The sheer number of seats also makes it less likely for a hostile takeover. Rounding up 14,000 fans to have a majority in Dignity Health Sports Park is easier than the requisite 35,000 fans to command the same at SoFi Stadium.

Of course, that’s assuming a full house. It’s possible that no new crowds are attracted and the visiting teams simply save a few bucks on cheaper seats but same proportions. If the Chargers have any sort of marketing trump card, this summer would be the perfect time to play it.

-Jason “It’s like a re-pilot” Michaels