Two days before the Chargers might use the NFL draft to bolster their defensive front in 2019, they used their negotiated rights to bolster their line in 2020.
The team officially exercised the fifth-year option of edge rusher Joey Bosa’s contract, securing his services for two more seasons.
“He’s a great player for us and does so many things,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “Not only on the field but what he brings to our whole unit — the expectations, the standard that he creates. We’re excited to get him back for another year.”
Bosa, 23, is entering his fourth season after the Chargers took him with the third overall pick in the 2016 draft. He has 28.5 sacks in 35 games but is coming off a season in which he missed the first seven weeks because of a foot injury.
General manager Tom Telesco has indicated that he anticipates extending the contracts of quarterback Philip Rivers and running back Melvin Gordon, both of whom are in the final years of their deals.
A potential extension for Bosa awaits on the horizon, though the price of pass rushers, in particular, continues to escalate. If Bosa can stay healthy for the next two years and match his early career productivity, his value could skyrocket.
One of the Chargers’ AFC West rivals, Kansas City, traded with Seattle on Tuesday for Frank Clark. The defensive end then agreed to a five-year contract worth up to $105.5 million, $63.5 million of which is guaranteed.
Clark, 25, was a full-time starter for the Seahawks the last two seasons, during which he had 22 sacks in 32 games.
The economics aside, Bradley called Bosa’s combination of long body type and deep skill set “unique” and suggested he’s a leader even before he steps on the field on Sundays.
“He knows what it looks like … and he won’t accept anything less,” Bradley said. “To have that type of mind-set in practice and in meetings and on the field every day just elevates his play. I think that’s a great message for all of our guys.”
The Chargers and Bosa have a rather thorny history when it comes to negotiations. He held out until late August of his rookie season in a contract dispute based on guaranteed money. He eventually signed a four-year, $25.8-million deal that included a $17-million signing bonus.
Wherever the Chargers go with their first pick — they select 28th in Round 1 — they’d love to add versatility, especially on defense, throughout the three days of the draft.
As last season unfolded, Bradley frequently employed more and more defensive backs in nickel and dime packages to combat passing attacks. The Chargers also encountered numerous injuries at linebacker, further forcing the use of smaller players to fill spots closer to the line of scrimmage.
Telesco said such schemes work only with players who have the flexibility to man different positions and with a coordinator such as Bradley, who’s willing to rely more on defensive backs.
“Plus, defensive backs that can tackle,” Telesco said. “When you take linebackers off the field, you’re taking off guys that are usually pretty good tacklers. So you have to have defensive backs that are willing to tackle.”
Specifically, he mentioned Desmond King, who emerged in 2018 to become a significant contributor on defense and special teams. King eventually was named a first-team All-Pro as a defensive back and second team as a punt returner.
Bradley said the versatility the Chargers displayed last season also was a testament to the position coaches. He pinpointed Richard Smith, who emphasized that linebackers learn each linebacker position.
“That was a little bit new to me,” Bradley said. “[Before] it was more like, ‘Hey, let’s lock ’em into one position. Let ’em get good at that.’ But it ended up paying off for us because we had to move some guys around [because of the injuries].
“A lot of that credit goes to position coaches creating some flexibility. At this stage, it’s about training them that way if an opportunity presents itself. If, all of a sudden, Week 10 we’re going in and making a change at least they’ve done it before.”
Bradley spoke after the Chargers completed a workout during the initial phase of their offseason program at their Costa Mesa facility.
Tuesday marked the first day Bradley addressed reporters since the team’s bitter 41-28 divisional round playoff loss in January to New England, a game the Chargers once trailed 38-7.
“I think you’re supposed to say as a coach, ‘You know, we’re past that. We’ve moved on from it,’” he said. “But it did sting, just because you work so hard and you get close like that and you have an opportunity … we just didn’t feel like we capitalized on it.”
The Chargers exercised the fifth-year option of edge rusher Joey Bosa’s contract, securing his services for two more seasons. More defensive reinforcements figure to be coming for the Chargers in the 2019 draft, which begins Thursday.