Righting the Chargers’ Ship

If Tom Telesco was called into service on 32nd Street, he wouldn’t do such a bad job in a pinch. Tasked with righting the lurching Chargers’ ship, Telesco battened down the hatches. He plugged the biggest holes first, then bailed out all of the unnecessary articles (cue the Jared Gaither jokes). Now comes the tough part: surveying the damage on deck.

Telesco ably filled the massive hole vacated by Gaither with veterans King Dunlap and Max Starks. Installing rookie DJ Fluker at right tackle while kicking Jeromey Clary inside looks like pure genius, if 60 minutes of game tape is any indication. An offensive attack focused on shorter passes certainly doesn’t hurt, either.

Telesco also jettisoned the Bolts’ underperforming cornerback duo of Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason, and recruited veteran Derek Cox. Turnover at the team’s weakest positions cannot hurt.

But the Bolts’ seven wins in 2012 belied what was a true Titanic of a wreck, and not just at tackle and cornerback. Recognizing his sheer luck in surviving the previous winter, AJ Smith threw guaranteed money at every aging veteran that looked the Chargers’ way. This from a GM who publicly balked at dipping much more than a toe in the free agent waters in seasons past.

AJ’s acts of desperation are Telesco’s burden now. Even the most passive Bolts fan knows that the Chargers remain on the hook for millions to Gaither – much of which counts against the team’s salary cap this year. Others in the free agent class of 2012 may soon see the door.* And this AJ-era dead money has prevented Telesco from any serious attempt to replenish the roster.

Due to a history of poor drafting, that roster is in serious need of work, from top to bottom. Witness the first preseason game of 2013:
• The defensive line did not instill confidence that it could make up for any deficiencies in the secondary. The team didn’t notch a sack all night.
• A thin linebacking corps got bad news in the form of Manti Te’o’s foot injury. Bront Bird will be pressed into service for the first team. (Hint: that’s a bad sign.)
• With Ryan Mathews limited to a handful of series and Danny Woodhead out of action, a crop of backup tailbacks led by Ronnie Brown got the chance to step up. No one has seized the opportunity yet.
• And God forbid something should happen to Philip Rivers, as the team’s backup quarterback may not be on the roster.
The offensive line now looks like a position of stability and depth compared to almost any other area of the roster.

As teams trim their rosters, look for the Chargers to bring in a few players to compete for spots in San Diego. The team is in desperate need. The damage to the Chargers’ ship has been severe, and the previous administration left Telesco very little funds with which to rebuild.

*Note: I praised AJ at the time for devoting money to Meachem and Royal in lieu of an outsized deal to Vincent Jackson. I stand by the judgment that cap flexibility (which AJ promptly spent elsewhere) was a necessary consideration — imagine how much trouble this team would be in were it spending $11 million per year on Jackson, on top of their massive outlays to the Jared Gaithers of the world. What we couldn’t see at the time was Meachem’s premature decline in health…

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