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Five bold predictions for the Chargers offseason

Los Angeles Chargers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

The LA Chargers will probably have their most notable offseason since ... they became the LA Chargers. Except instead of overhauling the location of the team, they’ll be overhauling key pieces of the roster, none bigger than that situation at quarterback.

I actually have no bold predictions to make about who the next quarterback will be because I think the most likely outcome is a relatively boring one. That the Chargers will wait until next year or perhaps until later in the draft.

However, I do have five predictions, some bolder than others, about what LA will be up to in the coming weeks and months.

Chargers place the first round tender on RB Austin Ekeler

Last week, Adam Caplan tweeted that it “would not be surprising if the Chargers only tender (Ekeler) at 2nd-round level...” and then that became a “report” to some that LA was all but set to tender Ekeler at the second round level. What he said was, “It would not be surprising...”

I’ve noticed this more and more as the years have gone on, especially from reporters like Mike Florio or Ian Rapoport, that they’ll say things that are clearly opinions with no inside information that are turned in a way to seem like reports. Caplan has an opinion here that it would not be surprising if the Chargers gave Ekeler a second round tender but he doesn’t say that it would not be surprising if the Chargers gave him a first round tender. He doesn’t say that it would not be surprising if they signed him to a long-term extension either.

And I think it would be fair to say that all of us would not find any three of those scenarios unsurprising. But the only one in the tweet is about the second round, so in a vacuum it seems like that is a report. Of course, it is not.

The first round tender on Ekeler would be $4.7 million for one year and if another team signs him to a long-term contract, LA has the right to match it or to receive a first round pick. If Tom Telesco puts a first round tender on Ekeler, he’s not signing a deal with another team. At round two, teams can start to wonder, “Could I do better than a 25-year-old who just had 92 catches for 993 yards?”

There’s something enticing about putting that carrot on the stick and seeing if you can come away with either a slightly cheaper Ekeler ($3.2 million on the second round tender, but also kinda rude) or a second round pick or to negotiate a different deal, but I think given the transition at QB, the best bet is to secure the guy who caught 85.2% of his targets for 9.2 yards per target. I don’t love the idea of long-term deals for backs of any kind but a one-year deal at $4.7 million is a worthy risk given the context.

Tom Telesco does not draft a quarterback with his first pick

Anthony Lynn stressed a “best player available” strategy at the combine and given the success of the non-QBs, I have a hard time believing that the best player available at pick six will be Justin Herbert or Tua Tagovailoa.

There could be four offensive lineman going in the top-12, plus prospects like Chase Young, Jeffrey Okudah, Derrick Brown, and Isaiah Simmons, who may make a handful of teams regret passing on him. Not even Joe Burrow is listed as the “best player” in this draft by many talent evaluators, so is Herbert or Tagovailoa going to get higher grades than one of these elite defensive prospects?

I think the team has already decided to go in a different direction than Herbert or Tagovailoa — or that they expect at least one of them to be off the board by six — and they select one of the tackles or the top defensive player. I’d lean in the direction of o-line.

They could evaluate day two options if Jordan Love, Jake Fromm, Jacob Eason, Jalen Hurts, or other are still available and have given scouts the confidence to make them a QBOTF project. I don’t love the second round for QBs, they rarely work out as more than backups, but Drew Lock and Jimmy Garoppolo have produced as of late. Kinda.

Melvin Ingram is traded to the Buccaneers

This is the boldest prediction of the piece, not only in that it has the team parting with Ingram, but I’ve decided on a destination too.

The Bucs have a lot of cap space but they’re also in need of some gathering in of pieces for a really good front-seven; Shaquil Barrett, Ndamukong Suh, Jason Pierre-Paul, Carl Nassib, and Beau Allen are all free agents. If Barrett has found that a team will pay him a sweet deal for his 19.5-sack breakout campaign, and Tampa Bay is more wary than to trust him to repeat, then Ingram could be a solid fallback.

He’s got one year and $14 million of base salary left on his deal, which would make him the 14th-highest paid edge rusher of 2020 based on current contracts. (Some new contracts will be added in, others may be deleted.) That’s not a bad deal even though Ingram has slowed down over his last two (Pro Bowl) campaigns in 2018 and 2019.

The Bucs aren’t shy about trades usually and LA might like the salary cap relief because they’ve got some 2021 free agents who they’d surely like to start retaining soon and I don’t think Ingram has to be in the plans beyond next season. I’m not saying you’d be in love with the return on an Ingram deal (maybe it could be as high as a third rounder, maybe it’s more underwhelming than that if the Chargers had already decided to move on) but I could see them making a change there.

The team goes all-in on a free agent guard

If the Chargers go “all in” on any position, guard would seem to make the most sense to me. They could focus on someone like Jack Conklin — perhaps my top free agent overall — but if they draft a tackle, then it becomes less of a need. They could draft Tristan Wirfs or someone else, place him at guard, and get a good prospect that way too. There’s lots of ways to potentially work this, but the interior seems to need the most help especially with the constant uncertainty around Forrest Lamp.

The top two players are this position are Joe Thuney of the Patriots and Brandon Scherff from Washington. The top-paid guards in the league now are Brandon Brooks of Philly and Zack Martin with the Cowboys, both of whom make $14 million per season. I expect that Thuney and Scherff will top that, collecting around $45-50 million over the first three seasons of the deal alone.

It’s a lot of money but the Chargers are now one of the teams without an expensive quarterback, so it would be irresponsible for them to not start spending a lot of money on players who would make the rest of the team around the QB position better. Thuney or Scherff would likely do that and if Mike Pouncey, Russell Okung, and Lamp all returned healthy, it would be a drastically different line situation in 2020.

I’d also note that I expect them to sign two notable defensive tackles who you’ll be excited about. That position is just so deep in free agency, you won’t believe it.

The Chargers draft a wide receiver on day two

I feel like this will somehow draw the most ire. I’ll explain.

Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are both free agents in 2021. The 2020 NFL Draft class at receiver is considered to be one of the best ever. Teams will be sitting there in rounds two and three and thinking, “This is the world we live in now? That this receiver is available at pick 69?”

Not only does LA have an upcoming problem to work through in regards to Allen and Williams as free agents but they have a current problem at WR3 and WR4. If they lose Allen or Williams next season for any reason, they’re now down (potentially) to an offense that has Tyrod Taylor at QB and only one wide receiver of note and as far as we know, Hunter Henry didn’t return either. What’s the status of Austin Ekeler? It all falls apart rather quickly.

As much as it would feel like the Chargers were passing on positions of greater need by selecting a receiver, it would emphasize two things that we probably already consider to be truths of the 2020 team:

  • They’ll take a best player available approach, not a needs-based approach
  • They’re situating themselves for 2021, not 2020. If they were situating themselves for 2020, they wouldn’t be considering Tyrod Taylor as the starter next season.

I could see that “Wait, what???” reactions if Telesco and Lynn go with a receiver in the second or third rounds, but I’d expect those to die down a bit once you watch the highlights of said player.

It wouldn’t be overkill, it would be planning. My guess is that Allen lines up a long-term extension for something like $18-20 million per season, which almost immediately nixes a rational plan to extend Williams, who may command $14-16 million per season based on similar players who have signed contracts recently. Is the team going to spend $35 million per year over 2021-2023 on two wide receivers when the next two draft classes are going to be overloaded with receiving talent?

Also, reminder that this is an article about “bold” predictions.