Chargers Regroup for Next Season
January 31, 2019
By Bill Seals
The 2018 Los Angeles Chargers, by NFL standards, had a successful 2018 football season. They went 12-4, their best record since 2009. They made the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
They won a playoff game on the road at Baltimore. They overcame a 16-point halftime deficit at Pittsburgh to beat the Steelers. They overcame a 14-point fourth quarter deficit at Kansas City to upset the Chiefs. The Chargers had seven players named to the Pro Bowl, the most of any NFL team.
Despite the successes of the 2018 season, the Chargers are not the best NFL team in Los Angeles. That honor belongs to the Rams, who will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots. Despite their 12-4 record, which tied for the best record in the AFC with the Chiefs, the Chargers did not win the AFC West division.
The Chiefs won the AFC West by virtue of their better division record. The Chargers had a very good season and still managed to lose the "Fight for LA" and the AFC West division.
Four NFL teams won 12 or more games during the regular season. The New Orleans Saints and the Rams both went 13-3. The Chiefs and the Chargers both won 12 games. The Saints, Rams and Chiefs all won their division and played home playoff games. All three had byes in the first round of the playoffs. All three played in their conference championship games.
The Chargers, because they did not win their division, went on the road where they lost to the New England Patriots. The obvious goal for the Chargers in 2019 will be to win the AFC West and to be at home for the playoffs.
So, the offseason has begun for the Chargers and a review of the roster will be in order. The Chargers at this point have about $28 million in salary cap space for 2019. Their first priority is to re-sign their key free agents. Among them are safety Adrian Phillips and wide receiver Tyrell Williams. Phillips, an undrafted free agent out of Texas, made the pro bowl and was first team All-Pro as a special team's star.
He was also second on the Chargers in tackles at 94. Williams, an undrafted free agent out of Western Oregon, has caught 153 passes over the past three seasons. He has totaled 2,440 yards in receiving and 17 touchdowns over the past three seasons.
The Chargers will need to decide what to do at the tight end position. They got a combined total of 48 receptions for 567 yards and three touchdowns from three players at the tight end position in 2018.
In 2017, Hunter Henry caught 45 passes for 579 yards and four touchdowns, despite missing two games to injury. He caught eight touchdown passes in his rookie season in 2016. Henry missed the entire 2018 season due to an ACL injury to his right knee.
Henry will be 24 on opening day next season and has a very reasonable salary of $1.1 million in 2019. He will be an unrestricted free agent in 2020. Antonio Gates will be 39 on opening day next season and Virgil Green will be 31 to start the season.
The Chargers need to look to free agency and the draft to get younger at the tight end position. Gates will be in the Hall of Fame when his career is over and Green is a good run blocker, but the Chargers need to think about the future.
The linebacker position should see a lot of change. Denzel Perryman, Kyle Emanuel and Hayes Pullard are all unrestricted free agents. This was not a position of strength for the Chargers and injuries did not help. As Tom Telesco said in a postseason address to the media, "That position group, it just hurt that we had some guys hurt there. It's one group that we need to focus on pretty heavily in the offseason."
Perryman is a good middle linebacker, but he has missed 17 games over the past two seasons with injuries. The Chargers will probably use some of their $28 million in cap space to find help immediate help at linebacker.
The offensive line is another area that needs to be addressed in the offseason. Left guard Dan Feeney allowed eight sacks and eight more hits, while right tackle Sam Tevi gave up eight sacks and 12 hits. The Chargers did run the ball well this season, led by pro bowl center Mike Pouncey. They had the 5th most yards before contact in the NFL.
The Rams led the league in this category, followed by the Saints, Patriots and Indianapolis Colts. The top five teams were all playoff teams, illustrating the importance of this statistical category. But when it came to pass protection, the Chargers really struggled with stunts.
Improving in these areas and re-signing their key free agents will be a good start towards getting back into playoff contention in the AFC in 2019. The Chargers will need to use the draft and free agency to find a backup quarterback for Philip Rivers and improve depth at all positions.
Coming off a successful 2018 season, winning the "Fight for LA" and winning the AFC West needs to be among the top priorities for the 2019 Chargers.