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5 Takeaways: Telesco on Free Agency, New-Look Offensive Line & the AFC West 

Telesco 5T 03.28

Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco met with reporters Monday evening at the 2023 Annual League Meeting in Phoenix.

Here are five takeaways from Telesco's media availability:

1. Recapping free agency

The first wave or two of free agency is done with, and Telesco was satisfied with how the Bolts operated.

The Chargers didn't have as much cap space as a year ago, and the past few weeks weren't as flashy as the 2022 offseason.

But Telesco said Monday evening that the Chargers were able to check off a few priorities such as bringing back their own guys.

"I liked how it came together because we were able to re-sign some of our own players, so that was good," Telesco said. "Certainly, the Trey Pipkins [III] situation, that was kind of a big deal for us, to keep him here.

"The whole process never goes perfect, but I think from where we were as a football team, cap space-wise, where our roster is, what our resources were, I think it went pretty well," Telesco added.

The Bolts retained Pipkins and also kept notable names such as Morgan Fox, JK Scott, Cameron Dicker, Donald Parham, Jr., and Easton Stick on the roster.

The lone outside addition was All-Pro linebacker Eric Kendricks, who spent the past eight seasons in Minnesota.

"Played against him for a long time," Telesco said of Kendricks. "There's two things he has: he has incredibly quick eyes, like he sees things so quickly. And then physically as an athlete, he's super quick and can run.

"So those two aspects of a linebacker are just really key to have," Telesco added. "And then his makeup as a leader is really, really good. He's excited about being here, it was a big part of it, so yeah, we're excited about him."

2. A new-look O-line

After Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley spoke to reporters Monday morning, he said the starting five along the offensive line was set.

Corey Linsley will man the middle, with Pipkins and Rashawn Slater on the outside. Zion Johnson and Jamaree Salyer would be at guard.

But Telesco provided even more detail in Phoenix as he revealed Johnson — who started all 17 games as a rookie on the right side — will move to left guard, where he played at Boston College.

Telesco explained why Johnson played right guard as a rookie and will switch sides.

"Because Matt Feiler was at left guard … [and] because Matt Feiler is not here right now," Telesco said of the veteran who was released this offseason. "We think Zion can be really good at left guard. It's what he played in college.

"We think Jamaree can be good on the right side," Telesco added. "It doesn't really matter in the end, they can play either side, but it's just what we're going to go with for right now."

Telesco was also asked about Pipkins, whom he described as an ascending player at right tackle.

"Usually when you sign a UFA [unrestricted free agent], typically at that point in their career, they've probably hitting where they're going to be," Telesco said. "We just think Trey's a little bit different. We still think there's still more there.

"He was a really good player for us last year at a premium position, and it's just nice when you can sign your own," Telesco added. "That position is really hard to find, there's not a lot of options out there. When one of your best options is in-house, that's the way to go if you can. I know he's happy about it, I know he wanted to stay."

There's still nearly six months until the 2023 season starts, but it appears the Bolts will be rolling with this line, from left to right, for now: Slater, Johnson, Linsley, Salyer and Pipkins.

"Get our best five at the spots we think they're best at," Telesco said.

3. Thoughts on Ekeler

Austin Ekeler and his contract remain a hot topic this offseason.

Staley said the team has the utmost respect for the running back, something Telesco echoed Monday evening.

"No public levels of concern. When it comes to contract, those are private discussions, not public discussions," Telesco said. "But you guys have seen, he's a dynamic player, he's a dynamic personality. We're lucky to have him.

"These situations happen at different positions, different players in different points in their careers," Telesco added. "I know it's a business, you try and go by the golden rule like, 'I want to treat people they way I'd want to be treated.' So, in this situation felt like we'll go down this path, but kind of see where it goes."

Telesco said the choice to let Ekeler and his representatives seek a possible trade was a showing a bit of good faith all around.

"I just felt like it was the right thing to do in this situation, not necessarily you would do it in every situation, but just thought in this situation it warranted it," Telesco said.

Overall, Telesco said things will just have to play out going forward.

"No predictions," Telesco said. "We'd like him, but no predictions on what happens. But we love having him."

4. Sizing up the AFC West

The Chargers finished second in the AFC West with a 10-7 record in 2022, earning a playoff berth for the first time since 2018.

As Telesco and the front office navigate the offseason, he said they have weighed trying to get atop the division while also focusing on the other teams on their schedule and around the league.

Telesco explained how the Bolts balance trying to topple the Chiefs while keeping an eye on the rest of the NFL.

"You talk about both, because you want to balance it," Telesco said. "You don't want to be a team that's just building to beat one other team and forget that we got to play the way we think we need to play to beat the other teams in the division and everybody else we play.

"You'd like to be a little more on the offensive and [say], 'Hey, this is how we're going to play, and this is how teams have to stop us'. But you can't help but to see the Super Bowl champions in our division and we have to beat them," Telesco said. "Those are really good discussions that we have putting the roster together whether it's free agency, trades, draft, that's all part of it."

The Chiefs have won seven straight AFC West crowns, with a pair of championships in that timespan, too.

5. Solid on special teams

As mentioned above, the Bolts kept a pair of key special teamers from 2022 in Scott and Dicker.

While those positions might not draw headlines, Telesco highlighted the importance of keeping valuable players on the roster.

"JK had a great year for us, that was important to bring him back," Telesco said. "[Chargers Special Teams Coordinator] Ryan Ficken is a big believer in him, we all are.

"JK did a great job for us. That's an important spot I mean, our punt team was excellent last year as far as flipping the field, not giving up any big plays," Telesco added. "That's a big part of the game so, that was important."

The Chargers ranked first in the NFL in 2022 with just 3.1 punt yards allowed per return.

As for the kicking situation, expect there to be a competition between Dicker and veteran Dustin Hopkins.

"Kicking-wise, if you want to win a championship, you have a championship kicker, and we have two really good kickers," Telesco said. "I've been here where the situation was not as stable, so having two guys that we really, really like is a good problem to have.

"We'll kind of see how it plays out from there," Telesco said.

Dicker and Hopkins combined to make 28 of 30 field goals in 2022.

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