The 2016 season was not kind to the Chargers, nor its fans. On the field, San Diego failed to finish games, resulting in a 5-11 record that included nine losses by one score. Off the field, the team, the league and the city were unable to come to an agreement on stadium issues.
So, the team’s long-rumored move to Los Angeles has commenced.
Will a new home and a new head coach help turn this team’s fortunes around? Or does Anthony Lynn’s team have more problems that need to be fixed to expect a one year turnaround?
Richard Wade, managing editor of Bolts from the Blue, shared his thoughts on those and other issues facing the soon-to-be Los Angeles Chargers.
Zoneblitz: We’ll focus primarily on the field, but the 800-pound gorilla in the room is the team’s move. What are your thoughts on the transition to Los Angeles?
Wade: As a native San Diegan and lifelong Chargers fan the transition to Los Angeles has been awful to experience. A big part of the enjoyment of sports is the shared experience with family, friends, and community. With the team packing up and leaving, that shared experience has been taken apart. Also, the manner in which the Spanos family has handled the move has been embarrassing to watch, so there is really very little to feel good about when it comes to supporting this franchise in 2017.
Zoneblitz: The Chargers were, in my opinion, one of the league’s more confusing teams in 2016. It went 5-11 but lost nine of those games by one score. How would you assess this team and what went wrong?
Wade: The Chargers’ inability to close out games can mostly be traced back to two things: terrible coaching and inadequate depth. Head coach Mike McCoy was one of the worst I have ever seen at managing the clock and understanding game situations. He directly cost the team multiple games. Also, the roster that general manager Tom Telesco put together had some very capable starters at most positions, but the depth was poor to nonexistent and that showed up in the second half of games early on and was even more exposed as injuries started to pile up.
Zoneblitz: Was firing Mike McCoy the right move and what do you think of hiring Anthony Lynn as his replacement?
Wade: Dean Spanos, as he normally does, waited at least one year too long to fire his failed head coach. McCoy was always in over his head and never showed any signs of improvement. In his first season as head coach, everything that could possibly go right that was outside of the team’s control did and they sneaked into the playoffs. It was the worst thing that could have happened to them because it was used to cover for every misstep the next several years.
It’s hard to know what to think of hiring Anthony Lynn. He started last season as a running backs coach where he had spent almost his entire career. I like the things I have heard him say in press conferences and his former players seem to love him. I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt until I have reason to do otherwise.
Zoneblitz: And what do you think of both the additions of Richard Smith as linebackers coach and Gus Bradley as defensive coordinator, along with Lynn’s decision to retain the majority of McCoy’s staff?
Wade: The Spanos family is incredibly cheap and loves the idea of maintaining continuity even when coming off years of continued failure. It’s uncertain how much of the decision to keep McCoy’s staff was Lynn’s decision for those reasons. I am cautiously optimistic about the hires of Bradley and Smith as I think their recent failures came from being promoted into jobs they couldn’t do from ones they excelled at. It will be very interesting to see what they can do with the Chargers’ talented young linebacking corps.
Zoneblitz: Philip Rivers hasn’t missed a game in 11 years and he just keeps putting up numbers, but he’ll be 36 in December. Can he be a cog in a turnaround and at what point should the Chargers start planning for the future?
Wade: Philip Rivers is arguably the best quarterback in franchise history (and Dan Fouts is in the Hall of Fame for a reason) but the team needs to at least start thinking about who will be under center when he retires in a few years. I personally believe that this offseason is at least one year too early to start grooming a replacement unless there is a developmental prospect they like on day three of the draft. Rivers likely has at least two more years in him as a top tier quarterback and the team should be hesitant to burn draft capital on a position that won’t help win during those seasons.
Zoneblitz: Between Melvin Gordon, Tyrell Williams, Hunter Henry, and, if he could ever stay healthy, Keenan Allen, the Chargers seem to have solid offensive pieces to build around. Where could that unit improve and what is its upside in 2017?
Wade: The Chargers have some talent at the skill positions on offense, but the offensive line is a tire fire and has been for multiple seasons now. They need to replace at least two starters and would benefit from replacing four. If the line can be rebuilt, we are looking at a top-10 offense in 2017.
Zoneblitz: In terms of points allowed (423), 2016 was a bottom six all-time defense for San Diego. What went wrong and what is needed to fix it?
Wade: The defense was actually the strength of the team in 2016. The points allowed were ugly, but the offense was mediocre and turned the ball over constantly which put the defense in impossible-to-win situations repeatedly. As for how to improve that unit, they desperately need another pass rusher to complement Joey Bosa even if they re-sign Melvin Ingram, and they are notably weak at safety where the incredibly average (and injury prone) Jahleel Addae is their best player.
Zoneblitz: Joey Bosa, minus the contract holdout, appeared to be everything the team hoped for as a rookie in 2016. What’s his upside and what other defensive pieces are in place?
Wade: Bosa is going to be a superstar. He is an elite athlete with tremendous technique and a great motor. He will continue to improve and if they can put better talent around him so that the offense can’t focus all of their energy on him he will be even more of a nightmare for opposing offensive coordinators than he already is. I cannot wait to see what he looks like after his first full offseason.
Zoneblitz: How far is this team from contending?
Wade: Unless the team gets incredibly lucky with health this season, I think 2018 is the best-case scenario for competing. They just don’t have the depth of a championship-level team and they don’t have anywhere near the cap room of other teams going into this offseason. If things break right for them (and poorly for others) they could make a push this season, but it would be unreasonable to expect it.
Zoneblitz: What would you like to see the Chargers do in the draft and free agency?
Wade: The Chargers need to focus on rebuilding from the inside out. The offensive line has only one competent starter on it and the defensive line is made up of the admittedly incredible Joey Bosa and the aging Brandon Mebane (who is coming off an injury). They need to commit to strengthening both lines or nothing else they do will matter.
Zoneblitz: Is there anything you would like to add?
Wade: Philip Rivers is one of the best people in professional sports, and I really hope that when we look back after he eventually retires we don’t see that his greatness was squandered by the inept team management of Dean Spanos.
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