Most of the sports world has been thrown into chaos by the COVID-19 outbreak. The LA Chargers could be one of the NFL franchises most affected by possible delays and changes.
There’s a lot of uncertainty at the moment about how the NFL will end up dealing with the novel coronavirus. While there haven’t been significant delays yet, the draft has already been changed to deal with stay-at-home orders. There will be no players in attendance or public events around the draft. We’re probably getting the first-ever draft that’s run like a Zoom video conference.
In addition to that, free agency has been slowed this year and some players haven’t even signed their contracts because they are unable to get a physical. General managers have resorted to talking to free agents via FaceTime. The same is true of draft prospects who are unable to go visit teams in person.
The most noticeable way that the pandemic could affect the LA Chargers is the construction of SoFi Stadium. One of the workers tested positive for the novel coronavirus. While construction hasn’t been delayed as of now, it could be in the near future. Rams’ chief operating officer Kevin Demoff has said that there’s a possibility for a delay.
That brings up pretty serious questions about where the Chargers could play if construction isn’t complete. Do they go back to Dignity Health Sports Park for another season? Perhaps they play in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with the Rams? A lot is up in the air, but it’s possible the Chargers aren’t playing in SoFi Stadium to start 2020.
The novel coronavirus could affect who the Chargers take in the draft. While Tom Telesco and Anthony Lynn can meet with prospects via virtual meeting, there’s no chance of an in-person workout or meeting now. It may increase the importance of a good combine relative to other years. The draft will play out at least slightly different than if there would’ve been team visits and workouts.
The offseason program might be the most crucial change for the Chargers. Two weeks from now, the team was scheduled to start offseason workouts. Obviously, that isn’t happening. Per the NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, the league and NFLPA are still deciding on how to hold a virtual offseason:
The NFL and NFLPA are still hammering out details of “virtual” offseason, so Phase 1 — which would’ve begun today for teams with new head coaches — is delayed at least a week. For now, teams may send players iPads, tablets, etc., for voluntary use on their own away from facility.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) April 6, 2020
As of now, there’s a significant chance that the offseason workouts in April and the OTAs in May are affected or canceled. We’ll see exactly what the plan for the offseason is within the next week, but there probably is a lot lost in the ability for players to not physically be at offseason programs.
Young players like Jerry Tillery and Trey Pipkins are still developing heading into their second years. The Chargers are betting on both to have big years in 2020. It feels like rookies and second-year players have the most to lose by not having a proper offseason.
The Chargers also have a new starting quarterback in Tyrod Taylor. While Taylor is an experienced veteran who has started on other teams, he hasn’t been paired up with this offense yet. It takes time to build relationships with receivers, running backs, the offensive line, and coaches. The team is also used to the way Philip Rivers used to run the offense. An abbreviated offseason isn’t optimal for Taylor or the team.
Several new free agents like Chris Harris, Linval Joseph, Nick Vigil, and Bryan Bulaga were brought in. Speaking of Bulaga, the whole offensive line has a new coach in James Campen. Oh, and speaking of new coaches, this will be Shane Steichen’s first year as offensive coordinator.
A lot of the additions and changes the Chargers made this year were the right decisions but require time and development. The team may not have either.
It’s worth stating again that the whole league is ultimately affected by the novel coronavirus, not just the LA Chargers. However, the LA Chargers are coming into a year that is projected to have a lot of new changes. SoFi Stadium’s construction hangs in the balance. Telesco and Lynn will have to go through the draft process differently than they ever had before.
Players, especially rookies and second-year players, will have to adjust on the fly to the virtual offseason. Taylor starting at quarterback is a huge change the team will have to adapt to after having Rivers for so long. Free-agent acquisitions and newly hired coaches will have to do their best to adapt to a new environment with less than fair circumstances.