COSTA MESA, Calif. — Los Angeles Chargers general manager Tom Telesco believes the team has a good foundation with quarterback Justin Herbert and coach Brandon Staley. He also recognizes that fans are frustrated that they didn’t make it to the postseason for the third year in a row.
The Chargers finished Staley’s first season 9-8 but missed the playoffs after losing three of their last four games. That included a 35-32 overtime loss to the Las Vegas Raiders in the final game of the regular season.
Under Telesco, the Chargers made the playoffs only twice during his nine-year tenure and finished with a winning record four times. The Chargers have been 71-78 since 2013 and rank 18th in the league with their .477 win percentage.
“I don’t think much about job security,” Telesco said during its season-ending press conference on Thursday. “I think there is a lot to be proud of with this football team and the way they play. I understand people want results now and they should have results now, but this team is different than the team a couple of years ago. I’m just focusing on 2021 and then getting better for 2022.”
Los Angeles started the season with wins in four of their first five games, but only won back-to-back games once after early October. While Staley’s fourth loss late in the season left many in doubt, Telesco likes the aggressive mentality the Chargers coach has brought with him.
“I love the identity we play with. I know that on the outside, not everyone might agree with how we play, but it’s who we are and I love it,” Telesco said. “This is us, and this is how we will play as we move forward. You know what you get with us; we’re going to play aggressively – it’s not reckless.
“All of these decisions, although made in real time, involve pre-game research.”
A big reason the Chargers haven’t advanced to the postseason is their defense. They struggled in their transition to Staley’s attacking 3-4 scheme. The Chargers hired Staley after he made the Rams the best defense of 2020.
The Chargers allowed 269 points after the halftime, the most since 1991 with the 2015 New Orleans Saints. The 138.9 yards per game allowed on the ground was the fourth-worst in the league and the worst by a Chargers defense since 2003
Offensives converted 49.5% of their third-down opportunities, the third-highest rate since 1991.
“It just didn’t come as fast as I thought it would on defense,” said Telesco. “We’ve had a lot of tracks this year where the players out there have been doing some pretty good things, but we’ve certainly not been consistent enough. We have to look at it carefully and we have to get better. there is no doubt about that.
“Part of that is alignment, task and technique. Some of that is personal and some of that is just in the first year of defense.”
Four of the Chargers’ key free agents are on the defensive side of the ball — tackles Justin Jones and Linval Joseph, along with linebackers Kyzir White and Uchenna Nwosu.
The Chargers’ biggest free agent will be wide receiver Mike Williams, who has career-high catches (76) and yards (1,146). Telesco gave no indication of a possible use of the franchise tag for Williams if the two sides cannot agree on an extension.
While most of the off-season priorities will be improving defense, Telesco will also take a look down the right side of the offensive line and continue to gain depth throughout the roster. Los Angeles is likely to enter the free hand with nearly $70 million in cap space, the second-highest in the league. Telesco will also look into signing safe Durwin James for an extension.
Imminent problems include filling vacancies on the coaching staff after special teams coordinator Darius Swinton II and assistant Mayur Chaudhari were sacked last Friday. Telesco also said that director of player personnel JoJo Wooden will be conducting an interview for the Chicago Bears’ GM opening.
The one area Telesco and Staley don’t have to worry about is the quarterback after Herbert became the first in franchise history to throw for at least 5,000 yards (5,014) and 38 touchdowns. However, Telesco has ruled out the notion that there was a competitive window because Herbert was on a rookie contract.
“You have to build it differently, but you can definitely do it. I don’t see that we only have a year or two with this quarterback’s contract. I don’t see it that way at all,” Telesco said. “We’re focused on 2022. What can we do in 2022 to win a championship? I don’t really care if the quarterback has a rookie deal or an Aaron Rodgers deal.
“Either way, we’ll make it.”