The Chargers must have had a sick feeling during the Super Bowl, and it would’ve had nothing to do with a poorly made seven-layer dip, too much dessert or a whole bunch of cocktails.
It would’ve, though, had everything to do with their 2017 season — one they began so poorly, losing four straight to start this voyage as the Los Angeles Chargers.
Make a few kicks here and tackle a little better there, and the Chargers easily could’ve won at least two more games. Those wins would’ve gotten them into the playoffs and, since they finished the season by winning nine of 12 games, the Chargers would have been a scary postseason opponent.
In the end, their seven losses were at least one too many to get into the playoffs, costing the Chargers a chance to compete for the organization’s first Super Bowl championship.
Two of those losses came against the teams competing in the big game — the eventual champion Philadelphia Eagles and the runner-up New England Patriots. Against those teams, the Chargers did not look overmatched.
Now headed into the offseason, you’d think their success down the stretch would impact decision making.
There already have been signs that the Chargers are, in part, content to stay the course in 2018. They were able to sign offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley to new contracts. And, despite the season-long kicking woes, the team also kept special teams coordinator George Stewart.
The turnover on the staff, to this point, has been minimal. And, there’s a decent chance the same will be said about the roster.
They’ll enter free agency with approximately $33 million in salary cap space, a hair below the league average. They could create more by shedding expensive contracts — cutting defensive tackles Brandon Mebane and Corey Liuget would offer big savings — but they also can’t afford to drop productive players.
While $33 million might seem like a sizable amount of cash to operate, a big chunk of it already is earmarked.
They’ll need some to re-sign their restricted free agents, a group that includes edge rusher Chris McCain (5.0 sacks), receiver Tyrell Williams (728 receiving yards) and safety Adrian Phillips (63 tackles, 2 interceptions).
They also could try to sign some of their 2019 free agents to contract extensions, something that could eat up some of that cap space. Casey Hayward, one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, is due for a raise. The team will have to make a decision on running back Melvin Gordon, who is entering the final year of his contract. Linebacker Denzel Perryman is also about to play in the final year of his deal.
The team has a handful of key unrestricted free agents this offseason, including safety Tre Boston, who the team signed for a bargain price after he was waived by Carolina. Boston should garner a big raise after a solid season, but it remains to be seen if the Chargers are the ones who’ll give it to him.
Tight end Antonio Gates, a surefire future Hall of Famer, has never played for another team, but it’s difficult to imagine the Chargers offering him a sizable deal to finish his career with the organization.
All of these factors point to the Chargers making more subtle changes during the upcoming offseason. The team could spend to upgrade the offensive line, something it did last year with left tackle Russell Okung. The Chargers could use some depth at linebacker.
But, continuity could be what the team values most.