View Original Notice ? Chargers GM Tom Telesco asks for patience heading into 10th season
Chargers general manager Tom Telesco spoke to his players the day after they had their hearts broken in Las Vegas with the regular-season finale loss that kept them out of the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
Telesco told them to assess the 2021 season as Year One of a promising era with head coach Brandon Staley. He didn’t want his top veterans, such as Joey Bosa, Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler, to lose patience with the current regime by grouping this season’s failures with years past.
“This was Year One with this football team,” Telesco said Thursday during his end-of-season news conference. “Year One with Brandon Staley. Year One in a stadium full of our fans, not an empty stadium. We’re going to build on this year.”
Telesco had a similar approach when reporters asked about the lack of wins under his watch as GM, which will now include a 10th season. He didn’t want to look back at the previous eight years and he wasn’t ready to discuss the Chargers’ 2022 season, despite being nearly two weeks removed from the loss to the Raiders.
“I’m not so much concerned about what happened in years prior,” Telesco said. “I’m really just concerned on 2021. What happened, how it happened and how we get better next year? I see this more as a beginning than anything else.”
Telesco’s responses for why his team wasn’t competing in the postseason sounded similar to last year’s exit interview. The Chargers have only made the playoffs twice and have a 71-78 overall record during Telesco’s nine-year tenure.
But Telesco again said the future is bright for the Chargers after a 9-8 season because of star quarterback Justin Herbert, his talented supporting cast and the team’s salary cap health.
He also offered a progress report by saying the team played meaningful football after the middle of December and added that they found an identity under Staley, one that is aggressive on fourth down.
“(Staley) has definitely brought an identity to this football team, which is step number one as you come in as a new head coach,” Telesco said. “The future’s bright with where we are. We have a lot of work to do, obviously, but I think that he handled a lot of situations, not to mention everything that goes on with COVID, which is not really part of the head coach handbook. He handled things very, very well this year.”
The Chargers took steps forward during Telesco’s ninth season, but most GMs don’t have the luxury of running an NFL franchise at a marathon runner’s pace, and it appears owner Dean Spanos and his son, John, the president of football operations, will give Telesco an opportunity to pull away from the middle of the pack.
Whether Chargers fans like it or not, the Telesco era will stretch out to a decade with three different head coaches (Anthony Lynn, Mike McCoy), two franchise quarterbacks (Philip Rivers) and zero AFC West titles. The Chargers last won the division in 2009.
On Thursday, Telesco didn’t sound like a GM who was feeling the pressure of needing to produce at a quicker pace for job security.
“Yeah, I don’t think a lot about job security,” Telesco said. “But I’ll say this, I’m lucky and grateful to have this job. I love it. I love being a part of a team and leading a team at the highest level. … But we all know in this job nothing is guaranteed ever. That’s why there’s a sense of urgency every single day. So that’s just how we work. As far as how we get better for next year, it just means right now the focus is on 2021 on this particular team.”
He also disagreed with the narrative that he needed to strike now to capitalize on the few years he has left to operate with Herbert on his rookie deal before the massive bill of the second contract is due.
“It doesn’t really bother me whether the quarterback is on a rookie deal or on an Aaron Rodgers deal,” Telesco said, referencing the Green Bay Packers’ future Hall of Famer. “Either way, we’ll make it work. That’s what our job is.
“I don’t believe in windows, but we are in this to win it every year. If that’s the window, then that’s fine. I don’t know if making a trade will win a Super Bowl for us. If it’s there, and it will help, sure. I feel like we’ve been aggressive. It may not have been the aggressive that you think is there, but we’ve used free agency and we’ve been selective with it. Obviously, you guys kind of see where we are with that. I just don’t believe, no matter what cap space you have, you can’t build a team through free agency, but you can certainly supplement it.”
Telesco’s answers haven’t changed much since the team arrived in Los Angeles from San Diego five years ago. He rarely wants to discuss players’ contract situations, and Thursday was no different when asked about pending free-agent wide receiver Mike Williams and safety Derwin James, who is due for an extension.
But Telesco did offer something of substance for why it didn’t go right in 2021. He has spent the past few seasons investing heavily on the defense with high draft picks and veteran players in free agency.
Telesco sounded disappointed and surprised about the poor results from the defense during Year One with Staley, who turned the Rams into the NFL’s top-ranked unit when he was their defensive coordinator in 2020. Telesco assumed there was enough talent on the field to have a seamless transition from Gus Bradley’s 4-3 scheme to Staley’s complex 3-4 defense.
“As I looked at the defense, moving into this year, I certainly knew that it was going to be a different scheme, new system, new coaches, but I felt like at all three levels, we had a playmaker, or playmakers, at all three levels – plus, with high football character, high football intelligence – it should be pretty seamless,” Telesco said. “But I can’t argue with the numbers. We were bottom five in most points allowed, bottom five on third down and bottom five in red zone – those are pretty key categories
“Obviously, I overestimated where we may be with that because I love the scheme, I love the system and I love the coaching staff. If we had gotten a little bit more, we would probably still be playing.”
Telesco didn’t want to give his offseason cards away and made sure to say he’s going to tinker with all three phases of his team, but those comments sounded as if the defense could have a drastic makeover in 2022, especially with linebacker Kyzir White, edge rusher Uchenna Nwosu and defensive tackles Justin Jones and Linval Joseph scheduled to become free agents in March.
Last year, Telesco took the blame for their disastrous special teams, and now he’s doing it with the defense.
The Chargers improved on special teams, but they held interviews this week because they fired Derius Swinton II after one season as the special teams coordinator.
As for the offense, they flourished with Herbert and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, and Telesco finally got positive results from the offensive line with rookie left tackle Rashawn Slater and center Corey Linsley. But Telesco will need to improve the right side of the offensive line after receiving mixed results because of the injuries to Bryan Bulaga and Oday Aboushi.
Telesco will get a 10th season to address these issues. He hit on the quarterback and found a promising head coach to deliver an entertaining team. That’s all that matters, at least for now.
“Our number one goal is to win,” Telesco said. “1A is to entertain on the way to winning. If you watched us play this year, I think it’d be hard-pressed to say that we’re not an exciting football team.”