It’s been a tumultuous offseason for the San Diego Chargers.
They’ve sparred with the city over a new stadium and angered fans by eyeing one in Los Angeles. The team’s franchise quarterback, Philip Rivers, doesn’t want to talk about a new contract, despite the team’s overtures. Their defensive captain, safety Eric Weddle, is now sitting out voluntary workouts to express his frustration with a lack of dialogue on a contract extension.
The team insists the sky isn’t falling. They allegedly aren’t talking to the Tennessee Titans about trading Rivers for the No. 2 overall pick, per Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego. Contract talks, general manager Tom Telesco insists, will start in May.
Everything will be fine if the Chargers can just get to the 2015 NFL draft without another conflict popping up. The team has open wounds, but they are nothing an infusion of young talent can’t heal.
To begin the healing process, the Chargers must win more games. To win more games, they need the kind of talent only the draft can provide.
We don’t know all the reasons Rivers doesn’t want to sign a contract extension with the team right now. Los Angeles is one factor he mentioned, but he was also hurt last year.
Rivers’ receivers change ever year and his offensive line seems to undergo an annual rebuilding process. Meanwhile, the running game is rarely productive enough to take the pressure off Rivers.
It’s certainly possible that Rivers could be worried about his ability to win with the Chargers going forward. He could particularly be worried about his ability to chase a ring with the team as it's currently constructed.
“I don't know if Philip (Rivers) wants to be there anymore,” said his former teammate LaDainian Tomlinson via NFL.com. “I think he has lost confidence in the organization. He's seen a lot of changes going on and the L.A. thing is valid.”
There is little the football staff can do about moving to Los Angeles, but they can give Rivers confidence with a good draft class. The Chargers have to make the change a good thing, because he hasn’t really seen it that way in the past.
When the Chargers lost running back Ryan Mathews in free agency, it opened up a need the Chargers must try to address in the draft. There are many quality running backs in this draft. Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon are the two top names that come to mind if the Chargers are willing to use their first-round selection on one.
Beyond that, the team needs to address the right side of its offensive line to protect Rivers from further injury. Right tackle D.J. Fluker would ideally slide inside to play right guard, which means the Chargers could be looking for a quality right tackle in the draft.
There are a gaggle of potential offensive linemen that could go in the first and second round. Andrus Peat, La’el Collins, T.J. Clemmings, D.J. Humphries and Cedric Ogbuehi are just a few names that will come off the board.
A more athletic tackle with quick feet is necessary, as the Chargers would otherwise just leave Fluker at right tackle and look for a guard. That seems less optimal, but it is certainly possible if the team doesn’t take a tackle early.
If the Chargers decide to go offensive line at No. 17, there are plenty of other running backs in the draft who will be available later. The quality of offensive linemen who can play right away drops off after the top few go off the board.
Strangely underrated running back prospects like T.J. Yeldon, Jay Ajayi and Ameer Abdullah could be available later than expected due to the depth of the running back position in this class. It’s certainly not a bad class to need one, as the Chargers definitely do.
Rivers will have no choice but to be impressed with the direction of the offense if the team is able to get a top-notch running back and right tackle in the draft. If the team can add a wide receiver with upside like Chris Conley from Georgia in the middle rounds, that would make it an even sweeter draft from Rivers’ perspective.
The Chargers have leaned on Rivers to make lemonade out of lemons on offense for far too long. It’s time they give him a little sugar so he can take the offense to the next level.
This plan ignores the defensive side of the ball to some extent, but the Chargers did draft for two defensive needs last season with their first two picks. Cornerback Jason Verrett and pass-rusher Jeremiah Attaochu should both play key roles in 2015.
If Telesco can get Rivers the help he deserves on the offensive side of the ball, it may go a long way in getting him to feel more comfortable signing with the organization for the long term. Los Angeles may not be optimal, but it’s probably something Rivers can deal if he has a chance at a ring within the next few seasons.
If Rivers doesn’t feel supported by the organization and they move to Los Angeles and try to get a discount on his contract, he is the type of player that might just call it quits early. That’s a risk the Chargers shouldn’t mess around with, which means it’s time to use some draft resources to show how committed they are to building around him.
If the Chargers put a product on the field that the fans can really get behind, it might aid in their quest for a new stadium. Time is running out, so Telesco may need to pull out all the stops in this draft.