Chargers could draft their future starting quarterback, but maybe not their next one
As the Chargers prepare for the NFL draft, The Times will examine their roster. Part 9 of 10: Quarterbacks.
Whenever the Chargers open the 2020 season — no matter the date, the opposition, the venue — something historic is guaranteed to happen.
A quarterback other than Philip Rivers will start, something that hasn’t occurred since Dec. 31, 2005.
That afternoon, Drew Brees made his final Chargers appearance in a 23-7 loss to Denver at Qualcomm Stadium. Late in the second quarter, Rivers replaced Brees and then started the next 235 consecutive games.
To understand how long ago that was, consider that Dick Vermeil still was coaching in the NFL. Bill Cowher, too. The Miami Dolphins were being coached by Nick Saban.
But the reality of a new post-Rivers era became official when the Chargers and Rivers opted to part ways in February.
The 2020 NFL draft is on Thursday, and NFL team beat writers have made their first-round picks in The Times’ annual reporters mock draft.
Tyrod Taylor, who backed up Rivers last year, is expected to be the Week 1 starter, with Easton Stick the only other quarterback on the roster. Stick was a fifth-round pick a year ago and never was active for a game.
Taylor, 30, is entering his 10th NFL season and started for three years in Buffalo, beginning in 2015. But, since Week 3 in 2018, he has attempted only seven passes.
“We’re really happy with Tyrod right now,” general manager Tom Telesco said Friday in a Zoom meeting with the media. “He’s an experienced quarterback. He’s taken a team to the playoffs before. He knows our offense. He knows our coaches. Our coaches know him. His teammates believe in him. We believe in him.”
Unlike Rivers, Taylor has the ability to make plays with his feet, a quality that appeals to coach Anthony Lynn and fits with the new era of quarterbacking in the NFL.
Taylor also has a history of protecting the football, another characteristic Lynn embraces. In each of his three seasons as a starter with the Bills, he never had more than six interceptions. Taylor has a career interception rate of only 1.5%.
With the sixth overall pick in the draft Thursday, the Chargers are expected to select a quarterback, though nothing is certain. After Joe Burrow, who is forecast to go to Cincinnati at No. 1, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert and Jordan Love are the top options.
Telesco praised the 2020 quarterback class but refused to address any in particular.
He also declined to comment on any speculation circulating, including the rumors concerning Tagovailoa’s stock. He is coming back from a season-ending hip injury at Alabama and remains the most interesting of the potential future Chargers.
“I don’t think any GM really tells anybody anything,” Telesco noted.
The Chargers have been linked to free agent Cam Newton, if for no other reason than they need help at quarterback. Signing Newton, however, remains unlikely.
Examining Chargers running backs ahead of the NFL draft: Austin Ekeler is poised to take over as the team’s unquestioned featured back.
There are concerns about his health, too, since Newton is rebounding from a foot injury that cost him all but two starts last year. He led Carolina to the Super Bowl after the 2015 season, when he also was named the NFL’s MVP.
But since, Newton has appeared in just one postseason game, the same number Taylor has played in that span.
Under contract for 2020: Taylor ($7.5 million), Stick ($744,655).
Free agents: The Chargers were a long shot to sign Tom Brady before the six-time Super Bowl winner decided to sign with Tampa Bay. Brady’s preference was to remain closer to the East Coast.
Draft: There is a chance the Chargers could trade up to draft the quarterback they really want or trade back if that quarterback is gone. Then again, they could veer and select someone such as dynamic Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons to go all-in on winning with defense.
Roster decisions: The Chargers drafted Stick because they liked his potential and his production at North Dakota State, where he won four national titles. As a later-round pick, he could develop into at least a dependable NFL backup, something the Chargers will give him an opportunity to do.
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