GM Tom Telesco surprised the Chargers’ defense wasn’t better

Derwin James Jr. hugs Lucius Jordan, assistant strength coach, as coach Brandon Staley and GM Tom Telesco look on.
Chargers safety Derwin James hugs Lucius Jordan, assistant strength coach, as coach Brandon Staley and general manager Tom Telesco look on. Telesco says the defense needs improvement.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The 2021 Chargers finished third in passing yards and fourth in total offense.

Of the eight teams that scored the most points this season, seven made the playoffs. The other team was the Chargers.

Yes, defense was their most glaring issue. And their most surprising, general manager Tom Telesco admitted Thursday.

“I thought the transition would be more seamless and quicker than it was,” he said. “I actually thought it would take much longer on offense than defense. But that’s kind of how it worked out.”


Meeting with the media for the first time since his team’s season ended with a Week 18 overtime loss in Las Vegas, Telesco said he takes responsibility for the defense failing to meet expectations.

Where do the Chargers go from here? They have some free agents, such as star receiver Mike Williams, to consider but really need to upgrade the defense.

Jan. 16, 2022

He repeatedly expressed his love for the scheme employed by head coach Brandon Staley and praised the work of defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill. He explained that another year of learning and development should help in 2022.

But Telesco said he “overestimated” how the Chargers would perform defensively, something that no doubt will impact how the roster is retooled over the next several months.

“I felt like at all three levels we had a playmaker or playmakers,” he said. “Plus, with high-football character, high-football intelligence, it should be pretty seamless. But I can’t argue with the numbers.”

The Chargers were a bottom-five defense against the run, in points allowed and on third down. Staley’s system is founded on all 11 players working in unison and too often there were breakdowns that led to big gains.

Arms extended, Chargers head coach Brandon Staley shows his frustration to officials from the sideline.
Chargers GM Tom Telesco was surprised the defense was behind the offense on the first season under coach Brandon Staley, above.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

With five defensive starters — tackles Linval Joseph and Justin Jones, edge rusher Uchenna Nwosu, linebacker Kyzir White and cornerback Chris Harris Jr. — set to become free agents, there will be personnel changes.

Of that group, Telesco was asked specifically about Nwosu, who progressed notably in 2021 and finished with a career-high five sacks and 17 quarterback hits. The finale against the Raiders was probably his best game in four NFL seasons.

“Our first priority is to reward our own.”

— Tom Telesco, Chargers general manager, on adjusting roster

“We’ll see how things play out,” Telesco said. “But, yeah, there’s really no part of his game that I don’t like. I love him as a person too. Those are the type of guys you build around.”

The Chargers have the 17th overall pick in the upcoming draft, and the early projections have them taking a tackle on defense or offense, where they need someone to man the right side opposite Pro Bowl rookie Rashawn Slater.

Their biggest-name pending free agent is wide receiver Mike Williams, who just established career-bests in receptions (76) and yards (1,146), while scoring nine touchdowns.


The Chargers are surprised they did not qualify for the playoffs, but they still have admiration for the job done by rookie head coach Brandon Staley.

Jan. 10, 2022

Signing Williams to an extension would mean committing significant money to a position where the team already has Keenan Allen locked long term. Franchise-tagging Williams would cost a projected $18.5 million.

The Chargers have the third-most cap space available in the league, according to, and a free-agency philosophy Telesco described this way, “Our first priority is to reward our own.”

But with so much uncertainty on defense entering the offseason, Williams’ future remains very much unsettled.

Telesco is beginning his 10th year with the Chargers, who are 69-76 with two playoff victories — following 2013 and 2018 — during his tenure. The team has missed the postseason seven times in the last eight seasons.

The Chargers have fired special teams coordinator Derius Swinton and assistant Mayur Chaudhari after one season.

Jan. 14, 2022

He said he understands the mounting fan frustration but called 2021 “a pretty big transformation,” noting the Chargers’ rise in popularity as spectators were allowed into SoFi Stadium after a year away because of the pandemic.

Telesco said he supports Staley and his aggressive decisions — particularly on fourth down — “100%.” He explained that “the future’s bright with where we are” before adding, “We got a lot of work to do, obviously.”


The Chargers left San Diego five years ago. They are 42-39 since relocating and now have one of the NFL’s top young quarterbacks in Justin Herbert. Herbert and five teammates — second-most in the league — were named to the Pro Bowl.

“Being here in Los Angeles, obviously our No. 1 goal is to win,” Telesco said. “OK, 1A is to entertain on the way to winning. If you watched us play this year, I think you’d be hard pressed to say that we’re not an exciting football team.”