“Draft. Develop. Re-sign.”
For as long as I’ve been closely covering the Chargers, general manager Tom Telesco has consistently used this phrase when describing his team-building philosophy. He and his staff take pride in drafting well, and then parlaying that into team-friendly deals once his current coaching staff have done their jobs developing said players into impact players at the NFL level. It makes sense when you look back and see how often TT has shown unwavering loyalty to the players he personally drafted into the league.
But up to this point in the offseason and just one week into free agency, Telesco isn’t holding as true to his usual mantra, allowing a number of homegrown talents to sign elsewhere in hopes of flipping the script on what many have come to hold synonymous with the Chargers: blown double-digit fourth-quarter losses and horrendous injury luck.
The Chargers have made eight moves this free agency period, signing four new players to contracts and re-signing four of their in-house talents. While 50/50 isn’t that egregious of a split, I want to point out that only one of the in-house free agents that is penciled in as a starter is Davis. Anderson and Facyson are depth players and Badgley isn’t guaranteed to be on the team come September if he can’t get over his struggles from a year ago.
The homegrown talent that you’d have expected TT to bring back, i.e., Hunter Henry who is a top-5 player at his position that the team drafted themselves, wasn’t re-signed. He ultimately signed a hefty three-year deal with the Patriots where he got over $12 million per year. Yes, that contract would have put the Chargers in a bit of a bind when it came to building the offensive line and addressing other needs, but that wouldn’t have stopped the move to re-sign him from being unsurprising. While I would have disagreed with the move, I felt like it was a foregone conclusion he was going to return. That’s just how used to those decisions I got over these past few years.
I also think the lack of moves in bringing back any of Sam Tevi, Dan Feeney, Forrest Lamp, and Isaac Rochell also could be seen as a white flag for Telesco when it comes to his once highly-thought of draft record. As of this moment, there are only three current Chargers who were drafted prior to 2018: Keenan Allen (2013), Joey Bosa (2016), and Mike Williams (2017). Prior to this past season, the entire 2017 draft class was on the roster. In less than one offseason, Telesco punted on almost the entire class. That’s a lot of wrong decisions to admit to in such a short period of time.
But don’t be mistaken. This is a good thing. Fans should be less worried about the sheer amount of underwhelming draft picks in the past and more optimistic about the fact that TT is standing firm with his apparent decision to finally move on from the Anthony-Lynn era players that never seemed to get over the hump with their progression.
The 2018-2020 classes are all still intact minus former sixth-round receiver Dylan Cantrell, so there is something to be said for that. The Bolts did get seven or eight potential starters from those drafts, including Justin Herbert, Kenneth Murray, Derwin James, Justin Jones, Nasir Adderley, and Kyzir White. Players like Jerry Tillery and Uchenna Nwosu are still on the fence about whether or not they’ll be starters in 2021, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they are.
Now, Telesco is faced with what could be the most-crucial draft of his Chargers tenure. The front office has done a good job so far at signing the necessary pieces to build around Herbert, but can they capitalize on the early free agency success by hitting on another two or three impact players in the draft? This class will define the beginning of the Brandon Staley era in Los Angeles and it doesn’t make anything easier that the team needs to find a starting left tackle, one of the most-pivotal positions on the field.
No pressure though, right?