COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP)Tom Telesco isn’t going to make any quick decisions in the wake of the Los Angeles Chargers’ disappointing 5-11 season. But the team’s general manager does have a long list of things that have to be completed before free agency begins on March 18.
The top two things are decisions about the coaching staff and if Philip Rivers returns as the franchise’s quarterback.
Rivers’ future will be one of the emerging stories in the league before free agency. The 38-year old quarterback, whose contract expired at the end of the season, was fourth in the league with 4,615 yards but also threw the third-most interceptions with 20.
”There’s throws that he still makes that a lot of QBs in this league don’t. He can still compete at a top starter level, but I am doing a disservice if we don’t look at everything,” Telesco said.
If Rivers does return for a 17th season in powder blue, Telesco said that wouldn’t preclude the Chargers from taking a quarterback with the sixth overall pick in April’s draft. Los Angeles also has Tyrod Taylor under contract. Taylor will be going into this 10th season in 2020 and has 46 starts.
Telesco didn’t rule out re-signing running back Melvin Gordon, who missed the first four games due to a contract dispute. Gordon scored nine touchdowns but saw his yards per touch average drop from 6.1 to 4.5. Austin Ekeler is a restricted free agent.
Coaching staff decisions must be made sooner. The Chargers had an interim offensive coordinator for the final eight games after Ken Whisenhunt was fired. Telesco said he liked the way quarterbacks coach Shane Steichen did as interim coordinator and acknowledged it was a tough role for him because there weren’t many changes that could be made midseason.
The Chargers were tied for the most wins in the AFC in 2018 (12) and advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs before experiencing a seven-victory decline this season. Nine of the 11 losses were by one score and Telesco saw common threads in all the defeats: turnovers, red-zone offense and third-down defense.
Los Angeles tied with Cincinnati for the worst turnover differential in the league and had the lowest takeaways in franchise history. Its red-zone offense had a 52.8% touchdown conversion rate (tied for 22nd) and third-down defense was fourth worst.
”When there are a lot of factors involved that is on the GM’s plate. I have to do a better job of getting us in a position to win consistently. We can’t keep having these spikes,” Telesco said. ”We’re not discouraged. I like the culture here and the foundation that has been built. When you go 5-11 and 0-6 in the division there is a lot of work involved.”
The one thing Telesco does have going for him is salary cap flexibility. He said this should be the most money he has going into a new league year since he became the general manager in 2012.
The extra money could come in handy with the Chargers moving into their new stadium at Hollywood Park next season. With the disappointment of 2019 and wanting to make a splash in their new home, there may be the temptation to make a big signing or trade.
”You have to be careful of players with big names, especially if the performance isn’t there anymore,” he said. ”There’s pressure to win. Everything is a bigger scale here (in Los Angeles). I think the bar here is high and that shouldn’t scare us. We have to play winning football and be exciting. There’s a difference between splash and exciting. We can get there but try to be fun.”
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