NFL

San Diego Chargers Suffer Through Toxic Offseason

on

San Diego Chargers fans are used to getting crapped on, but it usually doesn’t happen until late December or early January. This year, the white rain is coming early.

It started on Feb. 19, when the Chargers announced they were teaming up with their most hated on-field rivals, the Raiders, to build a shared stadium in Carson City.

The City of San Diego has kicked things into overdrive since, with the Stadium Task Force expediting its timeline for picking a location (Mission Valley) and financing plan for building a new stadium. The problem is the Chargers have little interest in staying in San Diego while another team moves to Los Angeles and soaks up all those big-market dollars. Stadium point-person Mark Fabiani is essentially walking up I-5 with his middle finger raised in the air.

The hits kept coming on March 17, when Philip Rivers told Kevin Acee of UT San Diego that he has no interest in signing an extension with the Chargers before his contract expires after the season. Rivers does not want to relocate his wife and seven children to Hollywood. Beyond that, he is skeptical of the Chargers’ commitment to building a championship-caliber roster.

“What I can control and all I know as of today, I am signed up for one more year,” Rivers said. “I guess things could change, but with all the uncertainty in many aspects, I don’t see it changing before camp gets here, and when camp gets here I’m even more certain to play it out.”

To his credit, Rivers reported to Chargers Park this week for the start of voluntary workouts. However, his refusal to commit to the Chargers long-term has turned the offseason into a madhouse.

The Chargers sent a huge contingent to Eugene, Ore., to watch Marcus Mariota work out. Now rumors are swirling that San Diego will ship Rivers to Tennessee — where he would be closer to his Southern roots and reunited with former offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt — to acquire the No. 2 overall pick and select Mariota.

The problem is that no matter Mariota’s massive potential, the Chargers without Rivers are like the New Orleans Pelicans without Anthony Davis. If No. 17 is shipped out of town, it signals the beginning of a massive rebuilding effort. Such a prospect is enough to rankle the team’s veterans, especially clubhouse leaders Antonio Gates and Eric Weddle.

Gates and Weddle, like Rivers, are entering contract seasons. And like Rivers, they have created headlines for the wrong reasons.

Gates, who averaged more than 49 snaps per game last season, recently told Sports Illustrated: “With injuries and whatnot, I played a little bit more than they expected me to play last season. I was playing the whole game. I’d like to come in on third-and-7s, red zones, those situations.” That is obviously not what you want to hear from a player who led his team in touchdowns (12) a season ago.

Weddle’s comments were more blunt. He spoke earlier this week with Acee, who has become the unofficial mouthpiece for disgruntled Chargers players. Weddle is upset that he and his agent, David Canter, have approached the Chargers each of the last two offseasons about getting an extension and have been turned away.

“We’ve come to them numerous times and said we want to be part of the team, we want to retire as a Charger,” Weddle said. “We’ve completely gotten pushed aside.”

It is tough to blame the Chargers for waiting on Weddle, who expects to be paid like a top-five safety despite the fact he has just three interceptions over the last two seasons and is an awful open-field tackler. The problem is Weddle is the quarterback of the secondary and the leader in the defensive meeting rooms. And when vocal leaders are miserable, they turn their surroundings into toxic environments.

The Chargers can’t handle any more toxic … they are already trying to build a new stadium on a former landfill, for crying out loud!

The worst part of this is that the Chargers — who won nine games each of the last two seasons — could have been serious contenders in the AFC West just by maintaining the status quo. The Broncos, who have won the last four AFC West titles, took some serious steps backwards this offseason by losing Julius Thomas, Terrance Knighton, Rahim Moore and Nate Irving. Denver even lost a couple of players to the Chargers (Orlando Franklin and Mitch Unrein), which could have closed the gap even more. But while the Broncos were dented, the Chargers are detonating.

It is a good time to be a Chiefs fan, to be sure.

It is too early to write off the Chargers entirely. There is still a chance the team retains Rivers’ services, maximizes Gates’ snaps and satisfies Weddle’s wishes, all while ignoring a stadium conversation that will grow louder and louder as the season progresses. There is also a chance Anne Hathaway will show up at my house in her Catwoman suit.

The more realistic reasons for hope in Chargersville center around the future. The team has a lot of young talent to be excited about, including both of GM Tom Telesco’s first-round picks: D.J. Fluker and Jason Verrett. There are other young core players, as well, including Corey Liuget, Melvin Ingram, Manti Te’o, Keenan Allen, Ladarius Green and Branden Oliver.

The future still appears bright for the Chargers (not in San Diego, of course). But the present seems destined to be muddied up by disgruntled veterans, misguided management and uncommitted ownership. It is a toxic combination, one that threatens to submarine all the good work San Diego’s new regime has done since coming aboard in 20113.

To all the disheartened Chargers fans reading this, I apologize for giving you little to look forward to in the 2015 season. And because I have a heart, I will wrap things up by reminding Bolts backers of the one offseason headline that really worked in their favor: the NFL dropped its blackout policy right in the nick of time.

Want to talk more about what lies ahead for the San Diego Chargers? Join Michael Lombardo for his weekly NFL Chat on Friday at 2pm EST. But you don’t have to wait until then … you can ask your question now!


About Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo has spent more than 10 years as a team expert at Scout.com, primarily covering the Chargers, Cardinals and Panthers. He has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and other venues.