Offseason Issues Demonstrating Major Crisis of Leadership for Chargers

Christopher Hansen@ChrisHansenNFLNFL AnalystJune 2, 2015

Leadership among many things Eric Weddle brings to the table.
Leadership among many things Eric Weddle brings to the table.Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Quarterback Philip Rivers has been reluctant to engage in long-term contract talks with the San Diego Chargers this offseason. At first, he didn’t want to talk at all, fueling trade speculation prior to the draft. The offensive captain is unsure if he wants to remain with the Chargers if they move to Los Angeles—at least that’s the story.

Now, the team won’t engage in contract talks with free safety Eric Weddle as he heads into the final year of his deal, per Kevin Acee of The San Diego Union-Tribune. The defensive captain wants to stay with the team, but he has stayed away from voluntary team activities, only for head coach Mike McCoy to call him out in front of the players that did attend.

In Acee’s words: "Prior to the first organized team activity last Monday, McCoy told the assembled players, in essence, to move on without Weddle, that a player unhappy with his contract shouldn’t bail on his team."

These offseason issues have demonstrated a major crisis of leadership for the Chargers. Maybe the recent management transition from Dean Spanos to his sons, A.G. and John, has something to do with it, but the front office and coaching staff remain intact.

The group has made a new contract for defensive end Corey Liuget a priority, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. Liuget is the same guy that just co-hosted a charity dodgeball event and hurled kickballs at injured rookie linebacker Denzel Perryman, who dodged, dipped, dived, ducked and dodged his way into a scolding by the team.

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It’s not supposed to be this way.

The team should reward the leaders, the best players and those that have made the most sacrifices for the team if they want to come back. More importantly, they should want to come back, no matter where the team plays home games. The fact that Rivers isn’t fully committed to the Chargers beyond this season is worrisome.

Spurning Weddle and making Liuget a priority might be one of the reasons why Rivers has his doubts. Defensive ends in a 3-4 defense that remain average despite immense talent who may have questionable leadership qualities should be at the end of the line.

Just about the only knock on Weddle at this point is his age.

Weddle graded out as the best safety in the league out of 59 safeties that played at least 50 percent of the time last year. It’s the second time in three years Weddle has been Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 safety. Liuget finished 16th out of 22 3-4 defensive ends to play 50 percent of the time.

Even projecting what they will be in the future, it simply makes no sense to prioritize Liuget and refuse to engage Weddle on a modest extension. That’s the definition of bad management.

Pro Football Focus Positional Rankings
Player4-Year Average2014 Rank2013 Rank2012 Rank2011 Rank
Liuget19/2516/2221/248/2229/32 (25% Play Time)
Pro Football Focus

By waiting until 2016, when he’s 31, all the Chargers are doing is costing themselves money or ensuring Weddle plays elsewhere. Weddle is the only top safety hitting the market in 2016 besides Eric Berry of the Kansas City Chiefs, who is still recovering from leukemia.

If the Chargers truly believe Weddle’s asking price will come down next year, they are mistaken. They don’t really know if it will come down, because they haven’t exchanged numbers with his agent, per Acee. The Chargers can’t make a financial decision on Weddle without even finding out what it would cost to keep him, which is a sign of incompetence as much as it is poor leadership.

“He will play his final 16 games as a Charger as a free safety – nothing else,” said Weddle’s agent David Canter, via Acee. “… His going above and beyond for them is why they won’t give him a contract extension.”

Maybe Weddle asks for too much, and Liuget will give the team a discount, but that’s no reason to approach things backwards. By alienating leaders like Weddle, the Chargers are setting a dangerous precedent for their young players. Coaches need people like him in the locker room, but the Chargers seem to want to turn him into a malcontent instead of a faithful lieutenant.

Weddle will still be that faithful lieutenant despite the actions of the organization—that’s just the type of person he is. He might not want to play special teams if the team continues to use wear and tear against him, but you can’t fault him for that. The only loser in this scenario is the Chargers.

Sure, Liuget is 25 and Weddle is 30, but one is an average player and the other is one of the best safeties in the league and plays on special teams. Even if the Chargers only want to pay for future performance, it makes a lot more sense to pay Weddle while he is 30 so more of the money can be in 2015.

It’s not as if the Chargers have to choose between Weddle, Rivers and Liuget. All of them will be free agents, but Rivers will get the franchise tag if no deal is in place, and the Chargers have more than enough cap room and cash to sign them all.  

Weddle stepped in when wide receiver Keenan Allen wore a Raiders hat as a rookie to make sure it didn’t happen again. If only the Chargers had someone like Weddle to set them straight when they make a boneheaded decision.

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics via Pro-Football-Reference or Pro Football Focus (subscription required).