They have spent their last three years in football purgatory, mocked in the rare instances they weren’t ignored.
The fact that a jersey reveal marks the greatest moment in Los Angeles Chargers history is problematic, but a win is a win, especially for a franchise found to be less popular than the Sparks in a recent survey conducted by Loyola Marymount University.
And there could be more.
No joke, this could be an image-altering week for the Chargers, who hold the sixth pick in the NFL draft that opens Thursday. With some luck and a leap of faith, they could land the one player who would make them matter in a city that hasn’t cared for them: Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
Ignore for a moment the hip injury he sustained last year and associated health risks. A dynamic player with a dynamic personality, Tagovailoa would be more than the Chargers’ quarterback. He would instantly become the face of their franchise.
A new Chargers uniform adorned with Tagovailoa’s name and number would be one of the NFL’s best-selling jerseys. Imagine that. The team didn’t have a single player who ranked in the top 50 in sales of officially licensed products and merchandise last year, according to the players’ union.
Tagovailoa could do for the Chargers what Philip Rivers and Melvin Gordon couldn’t. Tom Brady was the only other player available this offseason who could have made a similar impact, and there was never any chance of him signing with them.
The Chargers finally could have their Los Angeles moment. The stage is entirely their own. No other sports are in session. The five teams ahead of them are all based in the Eastern time zone, and the Rams aren’t expected to select a player until Friday.
Joe Burrow will be the first player taken, but Tagovailoa promises to be the most talked-about player in this draft class. Whichever team selects Tagovailoa immediately will enjoy an elevated profile, as he will be in the select group of players who are followed closely on a national level. Everything from how he looks at training camp working his way back from a major hip operation to when he starts his first game will be a topic of widespread conversation.
Hall of Fame football reporter Sam Farmer made a compelling case that the Chargers shouldn’t choose a quarterback with their top pick. He mentioned how spending a high pick on a quarterback typically doesn’t work out for coaches without job security, pointing to how Jared Goff, Jameis Winston, Baker Mayfield and several others couldn’t rescue the coaches whose teams drafted them. Might as well draft an offensive tackle or a defensive player who could contribute immediately and help coach Anthony Lynn avoid another five-win season.
The argument makes perfect sense — from a football standpoint.
The problem here is winning isn’t enough. The Chargers won 12 games in 2018, tied with the Kansas City Chiefs for the most in the AFC. That didn’t create any buzz. Neither did winning a playoff game that season.
The Chargers entered last season as Super Bowl contenders. Still no buzz. They spent their final season at Dignity Health Sports Park as they did their previous two, akin to visitors in their home stadium.
Tagovailoa could be to the Chargers what Chris Paul and Blake Griffin were to the Clippers, the kind of figure capable of reaching fans beyond the team’s circle of die-hard supporters.
The Chargers are well-positioned to take a player with Tagovailoa’s disconcerting medical history, as they have a placeholder at quarterback with whom Lynn is comfortable in Tyrod Taylor. At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic figures to disrupt the NFL offseason schedule, Tagovailoa will be afforded to recover and learn at his pace.
And it’s not as if the Chargers are rebuilding. Their 5-11 record reflected their failure to win close games more than their ability.
Their status as a tenant at SoFi Stadium could work to their advantage in this troublesome economic climate. While the Rams are experiencing construction costs, the Chargers’ lack of exposure on the project could give them the financial flexibility necessary to offer the kind of guaranteed dollars required to attract top free agents.
The coronavirus outbreak has forced to the NFL to explore contingency plans that include playing games without fans. The Chargers are the only team for which this would be an improved home environment. Their fans practiced social distancing before the term became part of our vernacular.
A window of opportunity has opened for the Chargers. When this has happened in the past, they have often broken the window and dislodged the frame. They can’t do that again, not in this market, not where they stand.
This is their moment to become relevant. The new uniforms were a start.
Now they have to get their jersey on the right player.