Tampa Bay Bucaneers
Having made great strides to retool on the offensive line, the Chargers now look to make the same significant upgrades on defense. Cornerback Brandon Flowers was locked in with a new four-year deal. Defensive End Ricardo Mathews was re-upped for one year. Defensive lineman Mitch Unrein was brought over from Denver. Secondary help was added with the signings of free agent cornerbacks Patrick Robinson and Jimmy Wilson. Now it’s time to look at the hole at the linebacker position.
An underrated name that is still on the free agent market is inside linebacker Mason Foster, formerly of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The 6’1, 240 lb. Foster was a third round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. In his first three seasons, Foster registered 381 combined tackles, 12 passes defensed, six sacks, five interceptions and two touchdowns.
Known for his versatility, natural football instincts and toughness the 26-year old had a down season in 2015 with 62 combined tackles. Keep in mind he missed six games last season with a separated shoulder and strained Achilles or those numbers would have been higher. After having to adjust to three new defensive schemes in the last three years, he is to be commended for being able to perform consistently on a high level despite all the turnover in Tampa Bay.
Last season saw the arrival of a new head coach in Tampa Bay. Lovie Smith was brought in to replace Greg Schiano and with him came his pet creation, the Tampa 2 defense. Foster was lost in the shuffle in the new defense and is looking to join another squad that utilizes a conventional base defense. Word is Foster is in contract talks with the Bears but according multiple reports are far apart in discussions.
Foster would be a great addition to a Chargers linebacking corps that has been besieged by injuries. Until last season he had only missed one game. Mantei Te’o has (seemingly) chronic foot issues. Melvin Ingram is still rounding back into form. Coupled with the departures of Jarrett Johnson and Dwight Freeney and the underwhelming season registered by Donald Butler, Foster is a playmaker that could raise the game of those around him.
The Chargers still have plenty of cap space and Foster makes the team better. GM Tom Telesco is in prime position to swoop in and do what the Bears won’t, pay the man. The Chargers defense finished in the bottom third (24th) of the league last season and has plenty of room to get better.
The Greg One
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is not certain where he’ll be playing in 2016 and not just because of the team’s shaky stadium situation in San Diego.
In case you missed it, Rivers talked with the U-T San Diego about his future with the team.
Basically said he’s committed to playing out his contract with the Bolts, which expires after the 2015 season, but is unsure whether he’ll sign a new contract or try to work out an extension before training camp starts in July.
One of the reasons is, of course, family. Philip and his wife Tiffany have built a family in San Diego and if a move is necessary they will likely try to make it back South (both are from Alabama) instead of Los Angeles.
Add that revelation to the fact the Chargers are bringing in Oregon QB Marcus Mariota for a workout in April, and all of a sudden you have grounds for some serious speculation on a major overhaul of the Chargers offense.
So, let’s remove the emotion from the situation and sort some of it out logically.
First and foremost, the Chargers want to keep Rivers in place. General Manager Tom Telesco came from Indianapolis. His first year there was 1998, when the Colts drafted Peyton Manning. His last year there was 2012, when they took Andrew Luck. If anybody understands the importance of having a franchise quarterback in place, it’s Telesco (You can hear for yourself how Tom feels about Rivers in the video attached to this story, which was recorded December 31, 2014).
Telesco says he thinks Rivers has a number of good years left in him. The recent signings of Stevie Johnson and Orlando Franklin would suggest the Bolts still consider Rivers the key to their offense. For now, at least. Telesco also said he’s committed to Rivers retiring as a Charger.
But, what if Rivers is not? Then what do the Chargers do?
Bolts fans don’t have to think too far back to see what happened the last time the team let a QB walk out of town while getting nothing in return. In about 10 years they’ll see it on the bust of Drew Brees in Canton, OH. Rivers blossoming into a star eased the pain of Brees’ success, but the odds of having three Pro Bowl (and possibly Hall of Fame) caliber passers in a row are astronomical.
Here’s where Mariota enters the mix.
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner is going to have a private workout for the Bolts’ brass. Mariota’s athletic skill set could not be more different than Rivers, but having him learn for a year under #17 (who has already spent time coaching the youngster before the NFL Combine) would not be a bad thing.
If Telesco gets the vibe he’s not going to be able to retain Rivers long-term, he needs to be looking out for his franchise, and he could certainly do worse than adding someone as talented as Mariota.
Of course, that opens the question of … how would the Chargers get their hands on Mariota? He’s projected to be long gone before the Bolts make their selection in this year’s Draft (and no, the irony of that pick being #17 has not been lost). So, the Chargers would have to make a trade up.
Assuming Tampa Bay selects Jameis Winston first overall (which they’ve said publicly they’re leaning towards), the next team up also has serious QB issues: Tennessee. The Titans are quite the interesting possibility.
Ken Whisenhunt is their head coach. In 2013, he had a tremendous relationship with Rivers while serving as San Diego’s offensive coordinator. He would love to get his hands on Philip. However, sources close to the Titans tell me they’d be “shocked” if Tennessee traded the second overall pick for Rivers.
The Titans have a bunch of holes to fill. They are not one QB away from being true contenders. So, if they do deal the number two pick, it will be to stockpile other picks, and the Chargers are not likely to make that kind of gamble when they have as many issues to address as they do (o-line, d-line, running back, linebacker, etc.).
Looking at the rest of the NFL Draft order, there aren’t many teams who will use a pick on a quarterback:
3) Jacksonville – took Blake Bortles last year
4) Oakland – took Derek Carr last year
5) Washington – still don’t know what to do with Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy
6) NY Jets – ABSOLUTELY NEED A QB
7) Chicago – Possibility here. Jay Cutler could be released in another year
8) Atlanta – Matt Ryan
9) NY Giants – Eli Manning
10) St. Louis – just traded for Nick Foles but still a possibility
11) Minnesota – took Teddy Bridgewater last year
12) Cleveland – took Johnny Manziel last year
13) New Orleans – Drew Brees
14) Miami – Ryan Tannehill, although it’s possible they’re not 100% sold on him
15) San Francisco – Colin Kaepernick, basically the same style as Mariota
16) Houston – definitely in the market for a QB
So, the Chargers might not have to deal Rivers to get their hands on Mariota. If he falls far enough in the first round, they could conceivably move up just a couple of spots and not sacrifice too much (of course, the Eagles are lurking at #20 and, despite what Chip Kelly says about Sam Bradford, he’d make a more for his former recruit).
So you see there are a lot of moving pieces in play that would have to line up for Marcus Mariota to land in San Diego.
The other part of this whole scenario is this: The Chargers offense is built around Philip Rivers. If he is shockingly dealt before this year, or allowed to leave after the 2015 season, a whole lot of guys will go with him.
Antonio Gates, also a free agent, will leave. Eric Weddle, also a free agent, will leave. Those guys are not going to wait around for a rebuild; they’ve been through enough already. The entire identity of the Chargers, the franchise as we know it, will cease to exist. It will signal a complete personality change for the franchise.
Now, you can crack your jokes about that being perfect for a team playing in a new city, but the fact is this is a defining moment in Chargers history, not just off the field, but on it, as well.
It has been over a decade since the Raiders visited San Diego to play Tampa Bay in Super Bowl XXXVII (That’s 37 for the non-Greek number readers). Most experts back then knew that the team’s success was because of what was left of Jon Gruden’s work, and as the years progress it has proved to be correct.
With the exception of two consecutive 8-8 seasons (2010 and 2011), the Raiders have been irrelevant, period. To me, I honestly can’t say who has had it worse these past ten years: Cleveland or Oakland. I mean if two teams had parallel histories, these two teams would win without a doubt. Both teams have burned through head coaches and quarterbacks, both teams have loyal fanbases who live off of past accomplishments and both look ridiculous on gameday. Also, both teams left town temporarily only to return. The difference: the Raiders returned to their old venue under strange circumstances, the Browns were resurrected through expansion and got a new stadium out of it . Of course, only Oakland appears likely to lose the Raiders a second time. Cleveland also won the AFC North in 2007 with a 10-6 record, another thing the Raiders can’t claim.
On November 16th, old acquaintances will be renewed when the Oakland Raiders and their “fans” invade the tranquility that is Qualcomm Stadium. O.C. Register Columnist Stephen Fryer laments the rules the Q’s management enforces whenever the Raiders come to town. In an email exchange we had, Fryer asks why does the stadium enforce such rules as one beer per person, no alcohol sales after halftime, and the most intense pat-down going through the turnstiles? Chargers fans have got to admit that 90% of Raiders fans back their team because of their color scheme of silver and black and not because of their on the field performance. Go ahead, ask a Raider fan who was their quarterback the last time they played in a Super Bowl let alone won the thing.
Depending on what I can find on Stubhub, I am debating whether or not I will attend the game or watch from the safety of my home. About ten years ago I went to a Chargers-Raiders game and encountered the zoo that was Raider fanbase. I told myself, “Never again.”. With the Raiders losing ways, a fan should wonder if Raider fans will be there to watch the game or just be there to start trouble. I’ll give you 5-2 odds it’s the latter.
With Qualcomm’s reputation, I predict a 60/40 ratio of Charger/Raider fans. Could be better or worse depending on who shows up. With the Raiders sitting at a horrendous 0-9 and the Chargers coming off a bye week after losing their last three games, I wonder who will be playing as if there’s nothing to lose.
Frankly, this game has lost some of its luster since the Raiders began their losing ways. Yes, I know, the October 12th game was too close for comfort, but Jason Verrett showed why he was a first round draft pick. If Brandon Oliver was able to do the damage he did to Oakland, I can only imagine the field day (no pun intended) Ryan Mathews will have against the Raiders. With the likely returns of several key defensive personell, I can safely assume we won’t be seeing anymore 37-0 embarrassments and maybe some QBs won’t have the time to throw accurate passes? If tomorrow’s game is a blowout, my advice is get out of Qualcomm because chances are the action will move into the stands. Of course, we’ll want the game to be close. . . And once the Raiders lose, expect their fans to remind Charger fans of their tarnished rings that were won when many of them were not even born.
Final score: Chargers 41, Raiders 24.
The San Diego Union-Tribune recently put up a paywall on their website so I don’t know how serious Nick Canepa was in regards to replacing Philips Rivers. My take: too soon, maybe in three to four seasons but longevity isn’t a problem these days.
Speaking of Canepa, he recently dumped gasoline on the continuing saga that is the Battle for Los Angeles. I mean, can we leave the subject alone until somebody officially announces that they’re taking their team to Venice Beach?
Finally, with the Raiders on November 16th and the Rams on November 23rd coming to San Diego, one could jokingly call these next two weeks the “Loser Gets Los Angeles” series. I think the Chargers will sweep so Dean Spanos and Mark Fabiani should think of ways to appease not the fans, but the taxpayers of San Diego. Think of it this way: not all taxpayers are San Diego Charger fans.