Back in San Diego, the San Diego Chargers' marketing team had probably already begun creating billboards depicting Phillip Rivers with a raised fist with the words, "Bolt Up For Playoffs" gloriously hanging in the background.
Dean Spanos, the team president, had likely bathed in red wine before the last game, because he thought he could rest easy. Mike McCoy probably already started devising a defensive strategy to contain Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team they were bound to face in the playoffs. And it wouldn't be surprising if the Chargers players had gone bowling or something right before warmups.
But there's one thing everybody in the Chargers organization, from the front office, to the coaching staff, down to the players seemed to forget in their last game versus the Kansas City Chiefs: they had to win to make playoffs. And there's one thing they didn't do: win the game.
The loss can be interpreted in two different ways.
A) The Chargers were so ill-prepared, and so over-confident in their chances to beat an Alex Smith-less Chiefs team with a worse record, that they simply blew it on the field.
B) It was a loss directly correlating to their lack of depth and talent. The way I see it, the reasons for the loss are the collective result of both. To fix the mentality of the team, and to re-structure the actual depth-chart, the team will need a big offseason of changes. The following is a structured list of fixes for general manager Tom Telesco during the long waiting period. To be a GM, you gotta think like one.
- Broncos' John Elway reveals why he let John Fox go
- Trent Richardson's career hits its lowest ebb
- Bill Belichick furious at cheating accusations
Releases and Keepers
Let everyone who is an unrestricted free agent loose, besides Brandon Flowers (played like a top-five corner, he is a must), Andrew Gachkar (played very well when he saw time, can move up the defensive depth chart), and Rich Ohrnberger (purely for center depth).
The rest, which includes names like Ryan Matthews, Dwight Freeney, Danny Woodhead and Michael Gilchrest - who can be replaced by the equally productive Jahleel Addae - amongst many others, can walk. This will free up a lot of cap space.
Ace the NFL Draft
The Chargers have a very satisfying pick in #18 overall, with a flurry of NFL-ready players available. The only players SD should be looking at are those who play on the offensive line. Four names stand out: La'el Collins, Cedric Ogbuehi, Andrus Peat, and T.J. Clemmings.
Each of those players were either right or left tackles at the college level, but all are physically capable of shifting to the left guard position, where there is a big hole right now.
Fix the current offensive line, piece by piece
To be a good general manager, you have to be efficient. If the reports are accurate, Telesco is planning to switch DJ Fluker from Right Tackle to Right Guard next season.
Despite his physical talent, he is relatively slow-footed which is why he was exploited by opposing defensive ends this past season. As a guard, though, he will be an absolute nightmare. Standing at 6"5, weighing 340 pounds and possessing hulk-type strength, no interior defensive lineman will be able to drive through him.
Next, King Dunlap should be re-signed for the minimum required. He was pro-bowl worthy at left tackle this past season. With a draftee at left guard, Fluker at right guard and Dunlap at left tackle, only right tackle and center are needed.
For center, I think the best option is to stick with Rich Ohrnberger or Trevor Robinson. Both are solid. For right tackle, the Chargers should splash out and sign Bryan Baluga, who was a top three tackle this season protecting Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. With only a few quick moves, this plan propels SD's offensive line from one of the worst, to one of the very best, with new additions installed and Fluker playing where he fits best.
Fire Frank Reich
Everyone in the organization should have cried when Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich wasn't hired for the Bills job. He is a predictable, conservative, unproductive play caller who rarely tricks the defense and relies on first-down runs far too often.
The offense faltered at times because Rivers would constantly have to try and bail out the offense on third-and sevens or third-and-eights. It doesn't matter who the team hires; it could be the ball boy. For the betterment of the team, replace Reich and find someone even remotely more inspired in the playcalling department.
Develop Manti Te'o, Melvin Ingram, and Jerry Attaochu
Teo showed remarkable signs of progress this season, as did Attaochu. Ingram was injured for most of the year, but when he returned to the field with a few games remaining, he looked absolutely phenomenal. All three are linebackers and all three have incredible potential. The coaches must use the inflated offseason to develop them. If they continue to progress as they did this season, the Chargers could boast one of the best linebacker crews in the NFL.
Let Mike McCoy have some time
This is really just a mentality thing, but it's important that the fan base and front office alike makes sure he feels secure in his leadership role. Despite his obvious shortcomings, including his noticeably poor clock-management skills, McCoy is a young coach on the rise and has led this Chargers squad to two straight winning seasons.
Though last year the Bolts made the playoffs and this year they failed to do so, he has definitely shown strides in his coaching ability, particularly in second-half adjustments. He also has strong bonds with the players that will continue to grow stronger the longer he stays. A long offseason to think and readjust his strategy is exactly what will benefit him and the team.
Sign a big name free agent
I'm specifically referring to Ndumakuh Suh, Justin Houston, or Greg Hardy. Each will seek a big, fat contract that will likely be north of fifteen million dollars for multiple years. The Chargers' main weakness this year was a rush of any kind. Ndamakuh Suh would instantly transform the Bolts from a modest run defense to an excellent one all by himself.
Suh and Corey Liuget - a very promising DT/DE who has the potential to be on Suh's current level - would be a fearsome tandem that could prevent the run for the next few seasons. Justin Houston would give the Chargers a different dynamic. He wouldn't necesarily help shut down the run, but he would apply pressure to the opposing quarterbacks, another element the Chargers were desperately missing.
Greg Hardy is surprisingly the quiet catch. Due to his pending legal issues and his missing last season, the Panthers may either decide to move on from him, or possibly undervalue him this offseason. The Chargers could pounce, as he would help in both areas of shutting down the run and getting to the quarterback. He is an elite, dynamic playmaker whose athleticism is really only rivaled by JJ Watt.
Or... Telesco could go the team-builder route
Instead of catching the big fish, he could opt to spread his money around on more than one fish, albeit slightly less fierce. He could go after Jason Pierre-Paul, an uber-athletic defensive end who could be as productive as any defensive player in the league. Telesco could then pair him with an outside linebacker such as Jabaal Sheard, a rising talent who marked his worth the past couple seasons in Cleveland. At that point it's doubtful there would be any money to spare, but it's possible, in which case a buy-low defensive tackle could be looked at, like Da'Quan Bowers.
Last, but not least, start thinking of an L.A. escape
With the Rams' move to LA in 2016 imminent, Telesco and the Spanos family should seriously consider pursuing relocating to Los Angeles as well. It would be a smart business move and popularity booster, with the Chargers ranking 26th in overall popularity and merchandise-selling. Even the news of the Bolts wanting to move to L.A. will be a step in the right direction because it will attract attention. With a team on the rise, a progressing head coach and a young, intelligent GM in Tom Telesco, moving to Los Angeles could truly turn the entire culture around on all fronts.