For the first time since 2001, the LA Chargers are looking for a solution at the quarterback position. Having decided to move on from impending free-agent Philip Rivers, the Chargers face the prospect of filling the most important position in football.
With a roster that has nearly all the pieces for a decent playoff run, the Chargers are likely to address the situation from multiple angles. We look at three solutions to the Chargers QB vacancy, and the most likely road ahead.
Chargers slump in 2019 prompts change
Coming off of a divisional playoff loss to the Patriots in the 2018 season, the Chargers were looking to build on that successful campaign and make an even deeper run in 2019. However, after finishing 2018 with a 12-4 record, LA regressed to just 5-11 in 2019, finishing bottom of a division that featured the rebuilding Raiders and Broncos.
Philip Rivers posted the third-lowest quarterback rating of his starting career, his fewest touchdowns since 2007 (23), and his second-most interceptions (20). It was clear to all that his previously high level of play was no longer sustainable, and despite having a solid run-game to back him up, the Chargers could no longer win long-term with Rivers at the helm.
The holdout of veteran running-back Melvin Gordon didn’t help the Chargers preparations, but most of the down-swing lay at the feet of the aging Rivers. The Gordon situation looks set to potentially drag on into the early part of 2020, as the Chargers decide whether to offer him a long-term contract, or move the bulk of the carries on to Austin Ekeler, and Justin Johnson.
With the decision to move on from Rivers, the chances of Gordon re-upping in LA seem to have increased, assuming he doesn’t hold out for a top-end payday. Whilst a very good running back, the market for Melvin Gordon is softer than he would like, and this was borne out in his inability to find a suitable trade last season despite a lengthy holdout.
However, there may be better options out there for Gordon now that teams don’t have to trade for him, and this could send the Chargers into a full-out rebuild this offseason.
Veteran QB stop-gap options
This off-season sees one of the largest ever hauls of free-agent quarterback talent to hit the open market, with some proven Super Bowl-winning talent. While this is likely to create something of a bidding war, the Chargers have the ammunition of having a very competitive roster already in place. This will make them a prime landing spot for some of the more established names.
Those on the market this off-season include Drew Brees and Tom Brady,
California native Tom Brady is an intriguing prospect if he looks for one last run at the big game. While Brady may still re-sign with New England, the Chargers have a roster that would give him a decent shot at the AFC Championship game with him at the helm. It’s a long shot, but would be a good short-term option for LA.
The narrative of Drew Brees returning to the Chargers, the team that let him leave in free-agency all those years back is a romantic one, but also highly suspect. While the Chargers have a good roster, the Saints are stacked. If Brees returns to the NFL in 2020 it’s hard to see him going anywhere other than New Orleans.
In this scenario, the Chargers are a win-now team, and that stops them from building wholeheartedly through the draft, meaning the number six pick probably doesn’t go on a quarterback. Are the Chargers really going to continue down that road? Seems unlikely.
Chargers hit free agency for the long-term answer
The rest of the free-agency market is intriguing with the likes of Ryan Tannehill, Teddy Bridgwater, Dak Prescott, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, and Case Keenum.
Ryan Tannehill is an interesting option for the Chargers offense. Built-in much the same way as the Titans, LA could be looking to slot a QB in that maybe lacks the high-end skills of a quarterback who can put a team on his back and carry them. While Tannehill has shown his talents in Tennessee, it is unlikely that the Chargers will outbid the Titans for his services.
We can largely discount Mariota as he already was usurped in Tennessee and Teddy Bridgwater is almost certain to stay with the Saints as their long-term heir-apparent.
Dak Prescott offers an intriguing prospect as a younger quarterback who has shown the ability to win games in the regular season but has yet to show his worth properly in the play-offs. His 2019 season was a microcosm of his career, failing to win the biggest of the games, and ultimately missing the playoffs. However, his skill set would fit well with the Chargers.
All indications, however, are that the Cowboys are willing to pay Dak Prescott top echelon quarterback money despite the fact he has never quite reached that level to this point in his career.
Jameis Winston is another option that may not be too expensive. If the Buccs decide not to offload a dumpster truck’s worth of money on Winston, he could likely shop himself to the Chargers. Built-in the same mold as Rivers, Winston is an instinct passer who can make all the throws, nit sometimes lacks the proper decision-making matrix.
Replacing the gunslinger that is Philip Rivers with Jameis Winston certainly makes some sense for the Chargers, but likely doesn’t make them a better team. Unless they could get Winston on a prove-it contract, he is a massive gamble.
Chargers engage full rebuild mode
Possessing the number 6 pick in the NFL draft would allow the Chargers the opportunity to draft one of the top QB’s entering the draft. Joe Burrow is almost certainly the choice for the Bengals at the number 1 pick. But if LA wants to make a run at Tua Tagovailoa they would likely only have to jump the Dolphins at number 5.
The Redksins with the second pick and the Giants at number 4 are unlikely to select a QB this high for the second year in a row. However, Tua definitely grades out as a better prospect than both Haskins, and Jones, respectively. It would be a punchy move, but after the Cardinals taking Kyler Murray last season, you can never be certain.
The Lions at number three are a possible dark-horse in the QB sweepstakes. At 32 Matt Stafford has still not risen to that top echelon of quarterbacks, although his supporting cast has never been that supportive. The probability is that the Lions will stick with Stafford, and would certainly be amenable to trade down to number 6.
With Tyrod Taylor already in the building, the Chargers may see a trade up with the Lions, Redskins, or Giants as a reasonable gamble to take on Tua. The trade-up would likely cost them at least a second and third-rounder, with the third possible in 2021. It’s a high price to pay, and the problem with Tua is the injuries.
While it seems Tagovailoa’s hip has fully healed from the fracture suffered towards the end of the college season, it’s a massive risk to trade another two picks to move up for him. The drop off from Tagolvailoa to Justin Herbert is a massive one, however, and if the Chargers decide to go that route, expect them to trade back a few spots for taking the Oregon passer.
The best of both worlds?
In all likelihood, the Chargers will either stick at the number six spot in this year’s draft and reach for Justin Herbert, or trade back with their eyes on the same player, or Jordan Love, or Jacob Eason. The reins will be handed in the short-term to Tyrod Taylor and the Chargers will build for the future.
It allows them some cap flexibility to try and retain Melvin Gordon, and continue to build their roster out. If they are not fully sold on Taylor, they can always scoop up one of the lesser free-agents at a decent rate such as Mariota, or Keenum.
While this may sound like a conservative approach, you never know what you’re getting with a college QB. Neither Mahomes or Jackson were the first QB taken in their respective drafts, and we can’t be sure if Herbert, Fromm, Eason, or Love will end up being the QB that should have gone number one.
However, for the Chargers, this offseason is a pivotal one if they want to make a quick return to being competitive.
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