The Los Angeles Chargers botched personnel decisions in 2018, and it may have cost them a chance at the Super Bowl.
The Chargers’ roster has much to flaunt: Seven Pro-Bowlers, three First Team All-Pros, and some of the best young talent in the league. However, one lingering problem tends to minimize what appears to be limitless potential, depth chart decisions. Specifically, knowing when to replace a current starter with another who is either cheaper, younger, or simply better.
It’s an issue that has had fans scratching their heads for years, an inexplicable pattern created by a number of reasons likely financial or personal. To further explore this issue, let’s glance at some recent roster misfires.
Caleb Sturgis, the team’s offseason training camp kicker battle “winner”, was brought in to stabilize the special teams unit. Through his six games played, Sturgis was 9-of-13 on field goals (69.2 percent), 9-of-15 on extra points (60 percent), and had an average kickoff return of 22.5 yards. He made all of his kicks in just one game, ending with what would be his “tour de force” in Seattle, in which he made just one out of four kicks and picked up a tripping penalty on a kickoff.
What happened in Seattle, however, never should have come to pass. On October 11th, prior to their clash with the Cleveland Browns, the team signed undrafted rookie kicker Michael Badgley, who had gone 5-for5 with the Indianapolis Colts in the preseason. Badgley, soon to be fan-named “Money Badger”, quickly impressed with a perfect 10-for-10 on kicks. His reward? Cut with the return of Sturgis. The returning kicker struggled immediately, however, and the Chargers opted to stick with Badgley for the rest of the season. It worked.
What convinced the coaching staff to not only stick with Sturgis after his rough start but even after they had found a kicker who clearly had the goods to perform? You could say that Anthony Lynn cut last year’s camp winner Younghoe Koo too early, so he practiced patience this season. Fine. But here’s a guy in Badgley who hadn’t missed a kick in the NFL with two teams, albeit in a smaller sample size. Fortunately, Sturgis did not cost the team any wins with a big miss.
Then you have what is likely many fans’ scapegoat of the year, safety Jahleel Addae. It’s important to remember this: Addae deserved to start the year, having come off of a 96-tackle season and easily his best yet. However, something was clearly wrong this year, so much so that he arguably cost the Chargers multiple games.
It wasn’t just being burned by Tyreek Hill; it was getting torched by Ravens tight end Mark Andrews in prime time or failing to get anywhere near a George Kittle touchdown. All of it, unfortunately, culminating in the undisputed worst play of the 2018 season:
— Benjamin King (@SirBenjaminKing) December 30, 2018
One quick thing to keep in mind: The coaching staff may have had a plan for free-agent acquisition, Jaylen Watkins, to take more snaps at safety, but unfortunately had to move on after he tore his ACL. We’ll never know how much he was expected to contribute this season. However, one thing remains true: The Chargers needed to (and need to now) move on from Addae. Was “team chemistry” their reason for keeping No. 37 on the field for almost all (98.94%) of the team’s defensive snaps?
It’s not as if the Chargers are afraid of making switches at key positions; just this past training camp, two rookies were named immediate starters. Safety Derwin James and linebacker Kyzir White. James is understandable, as he was a first-round selection with no clear competition.
White, however, stole the job as a fourth-round draft pick, beating out former Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate Jatavis Brown. If not for his early injury, White would have been the starter for all 16 games.
Is it financially motivated? Here are recent “paid” veterans who should have lost their jobs to younger or cheaper players (2018 contracts via Spotrac.com):
- Was: Right tackle Joe Barksdale, $4.61 million
- Should have been: Sam Tevi, $595,447
- Was: Wide receiver Travis Benjamin, $7.0 million
- Was: Safety Jahleel Addae, $5.5 million
- Should have been: Rayshawn Jenkins, $720,552
- Was: Kicker Caleb Sturgis, $1.75 million
- Should have been: Michael Badgley, $225,880
- Was: Punter Donnie Jones, $481,765
- Should have been: A slingshot, $7.99 on Amazon
- Was: Linebacker Kyle Emanuel, $1.96 million
- Should have been: Uchenna Nwosu, $1.05 million
The preceding jumble of players are now either cut, still a starter, or have been effectively replaced. The fact that some of them took as long as they did to be demoted is astounding.
The coaching staff often makes puzzling depth chart decisions with little to no information known publicly; nowhere is this more apparent than in our final example, the curious case of Forrest Lamp.
Projected to be one of the top offensive linemen entering the 2017 NFL Draft, Lamp was a second-round steal who tore his ACL in August of 2017. Since his injury, he’s taken all of 17 snaps in regular season games, none of them as a starter. Despite being fully healthy, albeit to only our public knowledge, Lamp watched from the sidelines as PFF’s 74th and 43rd ranked left guard and right guard, respectively, started ahead of him.
What defies all logic revolves around the single piece of public information fans aware of. He’s healthy, but (usually) a healthy scratch on game day. What’s going on? Does it all come back to “team chemistry”, which is likely most important along the offensive line? Because that same chemistry that allows Addae to be burned by no-name tight ends also lets Philip Rivers get hit on almost every play en route to a 35-7 halftime deficit to the New England Patriots.
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It’s potentially a massive problem moving forward, certainly with decisions on Benjamin, Addae, and defensive tackle Corey Liuget (all under contract in 2019) moving forward.
The Chargers were undeniably embarrassed by the Patriots a week ago, an organization now famous for moving on from players regardless of pay scale for the betterment of the team. If the Bolts want to compete, they cannot allow incompetence at multiple positions mar their postseason success in favor of playing their higher paid players, team chemistry, or fear of the unknown.
If that known commodity (ex: Sturgis) is struggling so much that any unknown addition could do a better job without trying, they have to go. It’s time for the coaching staff to not only be confident enough to make necessary changes but remain consistent with fielding the best talent from the roster at all times.