As Chargers shuffle along, Adrian Phillips plays for next contract
He made a play on the game’s initial third down, before teaming with Brandon Facyson on another early tackle and Derwin James on a third stop.
Then, late in the first half last week against Denver, Adrian Phillips closed on DaeSean Hamilton, lowered his shoulder and delivered a blow violent enough to nearly separate the Broncos receiver from the tattoos covering his arms.
“It felt great,” Phillips said later. “It’s been so long. Just being able to be out there and hit somebody again … I hadn’t hit anybody in awhile.”
Phillips returned in Week 13 after missing nine games because of a broken arm. He finished with four tackles, the highlight being his open-field crunching of Hamilton on a pass over the middle.
In the end, the bruising shot didn’t alter the result, as the Chargers lost again, 23-20, to fall to 4-8.
Not only do the Chargers believe there should not been a pass interference call in the Denver game, but also they can’t find solution for future.
Now, they face a Jacksonville team that has the identical record and same challenge: finding the motivation to properly finish a season going nowhere.
Phillips, though, has plenty of reasons to want to close on a positive note. Millions of reasons, in fact, all preceded by a dollar sign.
The veteran safety is unsigned for next season and is in line to become one of the Chargers’ unrestricted free agents.
“It definitely crosses your mind,” Phillips said. “You see what’s out there. It can add a little bit more pressure to the situation. But you still just have to go out there and perform.”
Having missed so much time, Phillips has four weeks remaining to prove he’s still the same versatile player who earned All-Pro honors a year ago on special teams.
He entered last offseason unsigned before agreeing to a one-year, $2-million deal in March with the only NFL team for which he has played, the Chargers, acquiring Phillips as an undrafted free agent out of Texas in 2014.
If Greg Zuerlein hadn’t missed a last-second field goal in a 30-29 loss to Seattle in October, the Rams might be in a different playoff position going into Sunday’s rematch.
“I could be behind the eight-ball a little bit,” Phillips said. “I’ve still got four games left to go out there and play, just have fun. It’s a business, but it’s a game. I really can’t worry about a contract. When I start worrying about that it’s going to turn bad.”
He isn’t alone in facing an uncertain future. Quarterback Philip Rivers and running back Melvin Gordon are the most talked-about Chargers unsigned beyond this season.
But the group also includes tight end Hunter Henry, right guard Michael Schofield, defensive lineman Damion Square, fullback Derek Watt, linebacker Jatavis Brown and defensive back Jaylen Watkins.
Among the Chargers entering restricted free agency are running back Austin Ekeler, cornerback Michael Davis and defensive lineman Isaac Rochell.
Each is looking to seize whatever opportunities might remain to cement his value for 2020 and beyond.
“All I can worry about now is doing the best job I can over these four games for the team,” Schofield said. “If you think too much about it, it will drive you crazy. It’s just an eyes-down kind of thing.”
While Domata Peko waited to see what would happen next with his NFL career, he joined Calabasas High as an assistant coach. Then, on Nov. 12, he signed with Ravens.
Claimed by the Chargers off waivers from Denver in September of 2017, Schofield was a free agent after that season. In March of 2018, he signed a two-year, $5-million contract to stay.
Since then, he has started all 30 games — including the postseason —that the Chargers have played. He and left guard Dan Feeney are the only members of the offensive line to start each of the 12 games this season.
“I feel like it’s been one of my better years, for sure,” Schofield said. “I’ve been healthy so far, which is a big thing. I think I’ve been playing consistent, which is another big thing for an offensive lineman.”
This game Sunday holds little intrigue for the rest of the league. Both the Chargers and Jaguars remain mathematically alive for a playoff berth, but the Chargers likely will be eliminated by Sunday night.
Instead, the significance is in the fine print, which indicates the Chargers need to do something to reestablish the notion that they’re capable of making winning plays.
Each of their losses has come by one score during a season that coach Anthony Lynn has described as “frustrating” probably a dozen times in the past week alone. They’re 2-8 overall in such games.
“We haven’t forgotten how to win,” Lynn said. “But we need to win because I do believe winning close games can become a habit and losing close games can become a habit … We have one more quarter (of the season) to figure that out. We’re going to try to win every single one of these suckers.”
And for players like Phillips, the clock is running down on chances to impress. In his return last week, he took a strong first step in showing he can close impressively, an excellent trait for any defensive back.
“Hopefully, I can dial it up a little more,” Phillips said. “That’s what this game is all about on the defensive side, hitting people hard. It felt good to know I can still take a punch … and give a punch.”
The Chargers ruled out linebacker Denzel Perryman and safety Roderic Teamer for Sunday for reasons not related to injury. Perryman played 15 defensive snaps last week against Denver, his season low when healthy. Teamer was inactive for the game.
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