Philip Rivers will need more help from his offensive line for the Chargers to remain a contender
The Los Angeles Chargers finished the 2018 regular season with a 12-4 record, tied with the Kansas City Chiefs for the best in the AFC. In addition, it was the team’s best win total since 2009 (13-3).
While that success didn’t grant Los Angeles a division title or first-round bye, it was enough to convince many that the Chargers were a serious threat to make it to the Super Bowl.
Four field goals in the first half of their wild-card game against the Baltimore Ravens had those same people wondering why Los Angeles’ high-powered offense couldn’t convert yardage success into scoring success. The second half didn’t yield much better results, but the Chargers did advance with a 23-17 victory.
The next round brought with it the New England Patriots, whose dynasty was believed to be on the verge of collapse. But if there’s one thing that we’ve learned over the years, it’s that the Patriots are not a team to take lightly. The result? A 35-7 halftime deficit for the Chargers and an eventual 41-28 loss, ending their season.
Now, it’s time to turn the attention towards fixing the few issues that plagued Los Angeles this season as the Chargers hope to contend once again in 2019.
3 Biggest Offseason Questions Facing the Chargers
1. Which pending free agents will be brought back?
When a team has the level of success that the Chargers did in 2018, it means wholesale changes aren’t even close to being necessary. In fact, the team would rather things stay relatively the same, which means that retaining top free agents will be a must.
The problem is that Los Angeles has some key players from this season hitting the open market, including wide receiver Tyrell Williams. As if that wasn’t enough, former defensive building blocks such as linebacker Denzel Perryman and cornerback Jason Verrett also will be free agents after suffering season-ending injuries.
Other notable free agents on the defensive side include Adrian Phillips, Darius Philon and Damion Square. There’s also the question surrounding long-time tight end Antonio Gates and his status with the team. Once Hunter Henry went down with a torn ACL prior to the season, the Chargers went out and re-signed Gates for a 16th season. He rewarded them with a few key plays, including an eight-yard touchdown catch against the Patriots on Sunday.
So, who will the Chargers bring back? Will they try to effectively swap Travis Benjamin with Williams? With Perryman only being available for 42 of a possible 64 regular-season games during his first four years in the league, is it worth trying to bring him back for another season?
These are all questions that need to be answered.
2. Time to groom a quarterback behind Rivers?
Geno Smith wasn’t asked to play a lot of snaps behind Rivers. On the season, the West Virginia product saw 32 total snaps. He didn’t do a lot with them either.
The hope has been that former Buffalo Bills’ fourth-round pick Cardale Jones would show the coaches and front office enough to view him as a potential successor to Rivers. He spent this past year on the practice squad after losing out to Smith for the backup job, and nothing he’s done since then has made anyone think he’ll be Rivers’ successor.
With the franchise quarterback recently finishing up his 15th season, it’s time to start thinking about a plan for the future.
The good news is that a replacement isn’t needed immediately. Despite his age, Rivers finished with one of the best statistical seasons of his career, which included a career-high 68.3 percent completion rate. He also threw for 4,308 yards (eighth in the NFL) and 32 touchdowns (tied for sixth).
It’s time to start looking for someone who can sit and learn behind Rivers for the next couple of years. Maybe a guy like Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham or NC State’s Ryan Finley would make sense in the middle rounds of the upcoming draft.
3. How will the offensive line be addressed?
There are still some holes along the offensive line that need to be addressed. Sure, the Chargers only surrendered 34 sacks this season, which tied them for the 10th-fewest in the league. But upgrades are still needed, especially at right tackle.
Sam Tevi is an adequate depth piece at this point in his career. The former sixth-round pick out of Utah is a solid run blocker, but his 44.0 pass block grade from Pro Football Focus was one of the worst in the NFL.
If you’re going to have a 37-year-old Rivers throwing it more than 500 times in a season, then more is going to be required from his protectors. Getting former second-round pick Forrest Lamp further from his season-ending ACL injury in 2017 should help, but there’s still no way of knowing if he can be a long-term starting option.
Los Angeles also needs more center Mike Pouncey (56.9 grade from PFF) and left guard Dan Feeney (45.6 overall grade).
— Written by Clint Lamb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ClintRLamb.