Chargers’ long offseason to-do list is topped by the search for a head coach
He went through three coaching changes with his former team and, after only one season with the Chargers, is dealing with more turmoil at the top.
Chris Harris Jr. possesses the wisdom of a one-decade NFL veteran, the cornerback having experienced everything from a Super Bowl title to last place in the division.
So, with the Chargers searching for a new coach, Harris can share his knowledge with younger teammates.
“Everybody kind of gets a clean slate,” he said. “You try to do whatever you can in the offseason to be ready. You want to have a fast start.”
The Chargers began their offseason Monday by dismissing coach Anthony Lynn after four years, turning what already promised to be an active offseason into something closer to hyperactive.
This team has missed the playoffs in back-to-back years and six of the past seven seasons. There are issues along the offensive line, questions in the secondary, and what NFL team couldn’t use another pass rusher?
The Chargers announced an expected move Monday when they fired coach Anthony Lynn.
The direction the Chargers take over the next four months certainly will be impacted by the decision they make at head coach, the first domino in this line being the largest one.
They have requested interviews with at least seven NFL assistants, five of whom are preparing for the playoffs: Brandon Staley (Rams), Eric Bieniemy (Kansas City), Joe Brady (Carolina), Brian Daboll (Buffalo), Matt Eberflus (Indianapolis), Robert Saleh (San Francisco) and Arthur Smith (Tennessee).
They will meet with former longtime Dallas coach Jason Garrett, who just finished his first season as offensive coordinator with the New York Giants.
The Chargers also have been linked to Urban Meyer, who won three national titles in college and could be looking to return to the profession, this time in the NFL.
The new coach will inherit a roster in need of a retool more than a rebuild.
Offensively, the Chargers have upper-level talent at quarterback (Justin Herbert), running back (Austin Ekeler), wide receiver (Keenan Allen and Mike Williams) and tight end (Hunter Henry).
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert has impressed many during his rookie season, except himself. That’s why teammates believe he’s their future leader.
Henry will be a free agent and remains on track to receive an extension. Short of a multiyear deal, the Chargers could franchise tag him for a second consecutive season.
On defense, the Chargers boast proven stars in end Joey Bosa and safety Derwin James, and a potential standout in linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr., who just broke James’ franchise rookie record for tackles.
The only issues for Bosa and James involve health. Bosa missed the end of the season after suffering his second concussion in roughly six weeks. James sat out the year because of a knee injury.
After earning All-Pro honors as a rookie in 2018, James has appeared in five games. He has been healthy for only two of the past five seasons, going back to his time at Florida State.
James said this week that he should be 100% by early February. He also said he believes the Chargers are closer to winning than the past two seasons would suggest.
“We’re young,” he said. “We’re hungry. We have all the talent in the world. We just can’t wait to show it.”
The biggest issues for the Chargers are up front on offense, where center Dan Feeney, left guard Forrest Lamp and left tackle Sam Tevi are about to become free agents.
Because of his contract, right guard Trai Turner is a candidate to be cut, a move that would save $11.5 million toward the salary cap but also create another need.
Even with the talent he has assembled, general manager Tom Telesco has been unable to build an offensive line that can remain healthy enough or perform with consistency.
Telesco acquired Turner and right tackle Bryan Bulaga last offseason with the expectation that the two veterans would bring stability. Both, however, dealt with multiple injuries and missed extended time.
Two key defensive backs — safety Rayshawn Jenkins and cornerback Michael Davis — also will be free agents.
The Chargers are looking for a new coach after firing Anthony Lynn on Monday. The Kansas City Chiefs’ Eric Bieniemy is a top candidate.
Harris and fellow veteran cornerback Casey Hayward are other potential salary cap cuts in that they’d save $7.5 million and $9.75 million, respectively. But, like Turner, neither would be easy to replace, particularly in-house.
The Chargers’ other most prominent free agents are defensive end Melvin Ingram and linebacker Denzel Perryman. Ingram is likely to depart, while Perryman’s status is less certain.
In April, the Chargers have the No. 13 selection in the draft, a position high enough to secure a player who should contribute immediately. They were set to pick in the top five before a season-ending four-game win streak.
Where Telesco goes with that decision could determine plenty about the direction of 2021 Chargers.
But first, he and team ownership have to decide on a coach.
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