The end of the 2011 lockout gave us, the fans of the NFL, assurance we won’t have to suffer though this torture for another decade. What affect did it have on the teams? Players that would not get a shot normally got a chance to compete to start because rookies and veterans found themselves on the same uneven ground. The best example was the Russell Wilson story in Seattle. The Seahawks paid big for quarterback Matt Flynn but with a compressed camp and preseason Wilson outperformed the projected starter and led the Seahawks to the playoffs. Coaches that would have been fired got to stay on their respective teams. Players that would have been cut were kept just for the sake of continuity. The lockout forced a lot of hands with varying results. How did this affect the Chargers?
The Chargers chose to make a modest splash in the free agent pool by signing wide receiver Robert Meachem to a 4-year deal to compensate for Vincent Jackson, who defected to Tampa Bay. Meachem accounted for 14 receptions, 207 yards and 2 touchdowns, not in a game, for the SEASON. Meachem found himself in Norv Turner’s doghouse and didn’t play the last six games of the season. The peak of Meachem’s year came against his former team, New Orleans, where he scored both of his touchdowns. His 67 yards was the highest yardage total he would post all season. The valley of his season came when Meachem dropped a wide open pass against Cleveland that would have been the game winner. The Chargers lost that game 7-6.
Eddie Royal signed a 3-year deal to be brought in as a slot receiver and special teams returner. Royal had 23 receptions for 234 yards and one touchdown in ten games played. As a returner, 12 returns for 64 yards. Longest return, 11 yards.
Roscoe Parrish and Michael Spurlock were brought in to add spark to special teams and the receiving game. Parrish was released in preseason and ended up with Jackson in Tampa Bay. Spurlock played eight games, caught 9 balls for 79 yards. Spurlock did amass 188 yards on 11 punt returns and 257 yards on 10 kickoff returns.
By comparison, Vincent Jackson had 72 receptions for 1,384 yards and 8 touchdowns last year.
To shore up the running game, the Chargers brought in Jackie Battle from Kansas City, Ronnie Brown from Miami and Le’Ron McClain from Baltimore. McClain played in five games and had 14 attempts for 42 yards. Sure, he was brought in to be a blocking fullback but McClain was rarely on the field. Battle saw time as starter after Mathews suffered a collarbone injury in week one. His best game was in his week two start where he compiled 14 rushes for 69 yards and two touchdowns. For the season he had 95 rushes for 311 yards and three touchdowns. Battle also caught 15 balls for 108 yards and one touchdown. Brown was the most productive of the group with 46 carries for 220 yards and 49 catches for 371 yards but zero touchdowns for the year.
As for that needed offensive line help, the Chargers signed Rex Hadnot and left Philip Rivers blind side in the hands of an undrafted free agent, Mike Harris.
On defense, the Chargers signed safety Atari Bigby from Seattle and linebacker Jarrett Johnson from Baltimore. Bigby finished the season on injured reserve after accounting for 68 combined tackles (49 solo). Johnson had 40 combined tackles (27 solo) with 1.5 sacks and one forced fumble. The best of the Chargers defensive signings was linebacker Demorrio Williams. Williams had 51 tackles (40 solo), and two interceptions for 90 yards with both picks resulting in touchdowns. That’s right, Williams has more yardage than two of the three running backs the Chargers signed and the same amount of interceptions as starting cornerback Antoine Cason. Cornerback Corey Lynch played all 16 games and logged two interceptions and 46 tackles (39 solo) in coming over from Tampa Bay.
Former General manager AJ Smith thought improving the skill positions was a better idea than building up the offensive line to protect Philip Rivers. Ignoring the 20 interceptions Rivers threw in 2011, Smith seemed to be of the thinking that it wasn’t the offensive line, but the targets Rivers had to choose from. As a result, Rivers was left to run for his life, which we all know is a BAD thing. Aside from Williams and Brown, every signing either underachieved or proved to be woefully average at best.
The jewel of the season came in signing wide receiver Danario Alexander off the street in midseason when it was evident the Meachem project was failing. Alexander and Rivers formed an instant bond. Alexander started producing the minute he stepped onto the field. Signed in week six, Alexander played in eight games and scored touchdowns in five of them. Alexander became the go-to target and had 37 catches for 658 yards and seven touchdowns.
Injuries did derail the Chargers season. Again. Ryan Mathews broke his collarbone. Twice. Left tackle Jared Gaither garnered a ‘lazy’ tag from fans and teammates as he seemed unwilling to try to come back from various “injuries”. Emerging wide receiver Vincent Brown was lost for the season in preseason. Meachem and Royal were on the injured list almost every week with leg and ankle ailments. DT Antonio Garay was a healthy scratch for most of the season. Could any of this had been prevented with a full offseason? No. You can’t train your collarbone. Lazy isn’t a condition caused by a lockout, its a condition of a player resting on his own laurels. Brown’s injury was a risk of playing the game. At any time your season can end with one hit. Brown was playing hard and by the way, he scored the touchdown on the play he was injured.
The lockout wasn’t the issue. The gentlemen making the decisions and bringing in these pieces are to be held accountable. That is why owner Dean Spanos finally called it a day and relieved the frugal Smith and coach Norv Turner of their duties. In the end, the lockout was a good thing for the Chargers for that one reason. The players have to be accountable to themselves and each other, yes, but the brain trust has to know how to bring in the right ones. Now, with a new regime in place, diehard Chargers fans and new fans have a reason to be hopeful again and that’s worth more than any amount of money.