Five off-season fixes: Los Angeles Chargers

With Super Bowl LI over, it’s time to turn our attention to the off-season. In this series, I’ll take a look at each of the teams who finished at the bottom of their division and prescribe five off-season fixes that should get them back in the mix next season. This time we focus on the AFC West’s Los Angeles Chargers.

After losing several fourth quarter leads in heartbreaking fashion early in the season, the Chargers struggled with injuries and stumbled to a 5–11 finish. Mike McCoy was fired, and Buffalo offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn was hired to guide the team as they return to Los Angeles. Fighting for exposure in a city that is already re-adjusting to having the Rams in town, the Chargers have a strong roster and could be real contenders with these five off-season fixes:

  1. Draft a playmaking safety

After Eric Weddle left for Baltimore last off-season, the Chargers missed his presence. Drafting a player like Ohio State’s Malik Hooker or LSU’s Jamal Adams with the seventh overall pick would give them an ideal replacement for Weddle. Adding Hooker or Adams to a defensive backfield that already includes cornerbacks Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward would give the Chargers one of the best secondaries in the pass-happy AFC. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley made his name building the Legion of Boom, and drafting either Hooker or Adams would give him an Earl Thomas-like player who he can plan around.

2. Re-sign star linebackers

With just over $21,000,000 in cap space (per Sportrac), the Chargers are unlikely to pull off any big name signings. Instead, they should focus on re-signing linebackers Melvin Ingram and Manti Te’o. Both play key roles on the Chargers defense. Ingram was second on the team with eight sacks, and also led the team with four forced fumbles. Keeping Ingram and Te’o in Los Angeles along with fifth round steal Jatavis Brown, first round wrecking ball Joey Bosa, and veteran Brandon Mebane gives incoming defensive coordinator Gus Bradley some excellent players to work with.

3. Focus on Melvin Gordon

After a disappointing rookie campaign in 2015, Gordon had a breakout season in 2016, rushing for 997 yards and ten touchdowns before suffering season-ending hip and knee injuries that cost him the final three games of the year. With running guru Anthony Lynn taking over as head coach, Gordon should enjoy a dominant season. Lynn’s Bills averaged 164.4 yards per game in 2016, the most in the league. With Philip Rivers approaching the twilight of his career, focusing more on Gordon and the running game might be his best chance to win a championship before he retires.

4. Protect Philip Rivers

The Chargers could see an offensive shift this off-season with Lynn taking charge. Lynn will likely want to focus on Melvin Gordon and the running game, which should take pressure off Rivers. But unlike Peyton Manning’s final years in Denver, Rivers is still playing well, which could create a perfect storm on offense for the Chargers. Lynn needs to make sure the offensive line is capable of both protecting Rivers and opening holes for Gordon.

5. Find depth

Injuries have been the biggest problem for the Chargers over the last two seasons. When starters have gone down, the Chargers have struggled to replace them. While another injury to receiver Keenan Allen last season uncovered some good players down the depth chart, other positions aren’t so stocked. Finding some good rotational players in the draft and free agency should be a priority for general manager Tom Telesco. Finding a good backup running back in one of the later rounds would be an ideal insurance policy if Gordon gets injured again, and should be a draft priority for Telesco in Philadelphia.