The state of the San Diego Chargers heading into the 2014 offseason looks promising.
The Bolts finished 9-7 in the regular season and managed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009 under first-year head coach Mike McCoy. As fate would have it, the Chargers were eliminated in the divisional round by an AFC West rival and the same team that would move on to the Super Bowl—the Denver Broncos.
Looking to make that next step, the Chargers will focus on the offseason and tend to the areas that ultimately ended their season. If all goes well, the Bolts could return to the playoffs in 2014 as a true threat in the AFC.
McCoy's team performed admirably in 2013, but it could have been better.
Losses against the Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans, Oakland Raiders, Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins were extremely frustrating. Four of those five games came down to the wire, and the Chargers failed to answer in the clutch.
Still, finishing the regular season on a four-game win streak with dramatic wins over the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs was good for the team's confidence. Add in a dominating playoff victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on the road and you have the makings of a contender in the AFC.
As far as individuals go, San Diego has plenty to look forward to in 2014. For one thing, Philip Rivers is back. The AP Comeback Player of the Year had one of his best seasons yet and looks ready to rejoin the elite ranks. Ryan Mathews had a comeback year of his own, surpassing career numbers while finishing his first 16-game season. Then there's Keenan Allen, who put together one of the greatest rookie seasons in Chargers history.
That trio alone has to make fans excited for what's in store next year.
Cap space in 2014 will be limited according to Eric D. Williams of ESPN. The Chargers finished with $120 million in cap space in 2013, but that number could jump up to about $129 million in 2014.
Such an increase would allow little room to re-sign players or explore the free-agent market. There are some options, however.
Williams writes that releasing Derek Cox, who performed below average in 2013, could save the team up to $1.65 million in cap space. Releasing veterans Jeromey Clary, Eddie Royal and Le'Ron McClain could free up another $11.55 million.
Tom Telesco isn't new to working restricted. This time last year, the Chargers were in a similar position with limited cap space, and Telesco made it work.
Offense: WR Seyi Ajirotutu, WR Danario Alexander, RB Ronnie Brown, WR Lavelle Hawkins, OL Rich Ohrnberger, OL Chad Rinehart.
Defense: LB Donald Butler, LB Larry English, CB Richard Marshall, SS Darrell Stuckey, DL Cam Thomas, LB Reggie Walker.
Of the 12 players set to become unrestricted free agents in the offseason, Butler jumps out as the most important. With limited cap space, all focus will likely go to re-signing Butler before anything else happens.
San Diego will also have to consider Marshall and Rinehart, who heavily contributed in 2013. Stuckey will be in the loop as well because he has consistently proven to be the Chargers' top special teams player while also contributing on defense.
At the end of the day, you'd like to keep this team intact as much as possible due to the success it had last year, but tough decisions will need to be made.
Ken Whisenhunt was one-and-done in San Diego. The former Chargers offensive coordinator was named head coach of the Tennessee Titans in January, per Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen of ESPN.
Tight ends coach Jason Michael followed Whisenhunt to the Titans to fill their open offensive coordinator position, leaving San Diego short two coaches. Frank Reich was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator while Pete Metzelaars was hired to replace Michael.
Shane Steichen was hired recently as offensive quality control, and the Chargers extended the contract of defensive coordinator John Pagano. For the most part, this coaching staff will stay the same with the exception of Whisenhunt and Michael.
The 2013 draft was an out-of-the-park home run by Telesco. Of the six players taken by San Diego, four started games at the next level and three really shined.
D.J. Fluker, Manti Te'o and Keenan Allen jumped right into starting roles for the Chargers and were instant impact players. The plan for the 2014 draft is to emulate what Telesco did the year prior and bring in players who will be ready to contribute immediately.
San Diego's top needs include cornerback, offensive guard and outside linebacker. Help in the secondary will likely be the top priority, given the Chargers' horrendous pass defense. The talent is definitely there with this class of players, but selecting the right fit will be the challenging task for Telesco and his staff.