As he does at the end of each season, General Manager Tom Telesco addressed the media on Thursday to deliver a state of the team address.
Telesco touched on several important topics including pending free agents, a look back at last year and much, much more
Here are some highlights from what he had to say:
Gates' Future Up in the Air
Antonio Gates' future with the Chargers is once again up in the air. Last year, the Bolts announced in April that they were moving on in another direction; however, Hunter Henry's ACL injury made them reverse course. Well, the future Hall of Famer showed he still had enough left in the tank, which is why he announced he'd like to come back for his 17th season next year at the age of 39. There's no doubt Gates can still play in the league, but there are many factors that come into play regarding whether he'll be back with the Bolts. Telesco explained how this is a decision that must be made with his head and heart but assured it will come earlier this offseason than it did a year ago. In addition, the GM stressed how he'll always be grateful for the manner in which Gates returned to the team in 2018:
"He already stopped (by) and we talked on Monday. He talked to Coach on Monday. I'll say the same thing that I said last year at this time — he can still play. He still has snaps in his body. He still has catches, he still has touchdowns in his body. I will be forever grateful (for him). Obviously, last year we decided to move on from him. The situation changed and we go back to Antonio. He could have said, 'You know what? I'm going to play, but I'll go play for somebody else.' He could have come back to play for us and be bitter about it. He was neither. He was an awesome teammate and great to be around. I'll never forget that. I'll be forever grateful for that. For next year, if you ask me now, my heart says, 'Yeah, he'll be back next year.' But, you put the GM hat on and you have to look at what the role is, what are the resources under the cap and how everything fits together. We will come to that conclusion a lot quicker than we did last year. We have some thought to do on that one. The short answer is, I don't know yet."
Badgley Sent from "the Football Gods"
Telesco was asked if the Chargers had finally found their answer at kicker. His answer shows just how much the Bolts were impressed by the job the rookie did, hopefully stabilizing the position for years to come. The story of how he initially joined the Chargers is also a good one:
"I think the football gods are finally smiling down on us. When you had as many at bats as we did you figure at some point, you're going to hit on one. He did tremendous. He was awesome. We had a list of kickers to bring in when Caleb (Sturgis) was hurt. We had some guys on there. (Director of Player Personnel) JoJo Wooden said, 'Hey, I think we should put Michael Badgley on the list. He had a good preseason with the Colts.' (Director of College Scouting) Kevin Kelly, one of our scouts who lives in Indianapolis actually, he saw him in preseason and liked him a lot. He'd seen his college reports, he was at the Senior Bowl last year. We brought him in, he had a great workout, but he also had a great mindset too. He came in and did a great job. We're really happy for him and happy for us that we have a guy that we feel great about to go out there and make some kicks. He made some big kicks for us, won some games for us."
Verrett's "Risk and High Reward"
Jason Verrett missed the entire 2018 campaign after tearing his Achilles during the team's conditioning test. It's been a tough few years for the former Pro Bowler, who is set to be a free agent this offseason. Telesco was asked about whether the team is interested in bringing "Feeva" back into the fold, and said it's a possibility they are looking into:
"There's risk involved and there's high reward involved (to bringing him back). The one thing is that we know him very well as a person. There are a lot of factors. He's had a rough last couple of years. Even this past year when he wasn't playing, he was still a pretty big part of the defense just being around and being a leader…. He's going to be a free agent. He's certainly a possibility (for returning). As far as I know — he's still around a bit — he is on track with that injury. It's a little bit of a longer injury, the Achilles tendon. The good news is, especially nowadays, even with defensive backs, they can come back from that and come back to where they were before. That's good news. Yes, that's certainly a possibility."
Philip Rivers may have just completed his 15th NFL season at the age of 37, but he shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, according to Telesco, he may very well be playing the best ball of his career:
"Tremendous. I mean, I can't rank his years, but I know he had an excellent year this year all the way through. A lot of that has to do with him and a lot of that has to do with the team that's built around him, both offense and defense. He's forever our leader and he had a tremendous year this year."
…But How Much Longer Will Philip Play?
At the same time, Rivers' contract is set to expire following the 2019 campaign. Telesco was asked how many more years the quarterback may have left, and while he said that is a question Rivers would have to answer, he also noted he believes there are a lot of good years ahead. The one thing Telesco does know is that number 17 isn't going anywhere:
"I can tell you he's not going anywhere. He's going to be here, but we'll talk at the right point as far as the moves we need to make in the offseason, the resources we have and kind of see how it all fits in. But yeah, he's not going anywhere…. You'll have to ask Philip (how much longer he wants to play). I don't know. I have to almost think year to year, but I know he has more than that but for planning purposes you're always looking just to make sure. I couldn't put a number on it but I haven't seen drop off in Philip since I arrived here six years ago. In the six years I've been here, he's even playing better now than when I first got here so I guess the sky's the limit, but for how long he wants to play, you'd have to ask him that but we're really lucky to have him."
Melvin Gordon enters the final year of his rookie contract in 2019, meaning he'll be a free agent in 2020. Well, there's a chance it doesn't get to that point as Telesco said the team will explore extending the two-time Pro Bowler:
"I think it's something that we'll definitely look at. I mean, he's a huge part of our offense. He's a warrior for us. He does all of the little things to be a great player that you don't see in this room — all of the little things you need. I love having him. We're happy to have him. It's probably something that we'll look at in the offseason. The good thing is that we have a lot of good, young talent. Trying to retain that core moving forward will take some work."
Lamp "in the Mix" in 2019
Forrest Lamp saw the field sparingly in 2018 after missing his entire rookie campaign with a knee injury. Well, he'll have every chance to earn a starting spot in the trenches next year, according to Telesco:
"Well he'll be right in the mix next season — I know that. As far as evaluating, it's really just watching practice this year. So at least we know he's back on the field, he's healthy and he's playing. That's good to know. He'll have the full offseason this year which he didn't have last year. Last year, he was rehabbing during the offseason program. So, with a full offseason program like in the way that Mike Williams got this past year and a full training camp, he'll be ready to go."
How Tyrell Avoided the "Kiss of Death"
Tyrell Williams is another player whose contract is up. The wideout has been an integral part of the Chargers for several years, and the fact that he's established himself in the league is a near miracle. Telesco opened up about Williams' career with the Chargers, explaining how he defied the odds to make the team as a rookie in 2015:
"He has earned his next contract, certainly. He came in here as a college free agent from a small school, Western Oregon. Since their school is on the quarters system…. he missed our whole offseason program, which for a college free agent is usually the kiss of death. It's hard to make the team that way. He did some phone calls and some FaceTime with Fred Graves, I think he was our receivers coach then, about learning the playbook. When he came back for training camp, he knew our playbook inside and out, which for a young guy that hadn't been here was really impressive. That was the first time I was like, 'This kid, he may have something to him.' That was really impressive that he could do that. Then, he just got progressively better and better. This past year, his game was already a really solid game and he kind of took it to the next level this year. He's earned his second contract. Those are discussions that we have to have. I just don't have really hard answers this soon after the season."
"A Heavy Focus" at Linebackers this Offseason
The Bolts' linebacker corps was hit hard by injuries as they lost Kyzir White, Denzel Perryman and Jatavis Brown throughout the season. In addition, several linebackers including Perryman and Kyle Emanuel will be free agents, meaning the Chargers will be looking at several different options at the position come the offseason:
"The good news is, overall, our injuries this year were well above the average. That was the good news. The bad news was that the guys that got hurt — that one position group got hit hard. Between Kyzir getting hurt early, Denzel Perryman, Jatavis Brown — we didn't quite recover from that. As far as having other players step up, we had players step up on special teams. Even Kyle Emanuel did a good job, but he's not an inside linebacker by trade. We had to do some different things in different games. We probably used more defensive backs. Gus (Bradley) did a great job. That position group, it just hurt that we had some guys hurt there. It's one group that we need to focus on pretty heavily in the offseason."
Trevor's Lost Year
The Chargers thought they dodged a bullet when Trevor Williams went down with a training camp injury that turned out to be a sprained ankle. The cornerback made it back for the season opener, but he really wasn't himself. Thus, he barely saw the field after the bye and was placed on IR shortly thereafter. However, the Bolts still believe in Williams' future, expecting him to be his usual self in 2019:
"I'm a big fan. He had a tough year, tough with the injury. He just never really got back to where he was, but he should be good to go for next year health-wise."
"Going to War" with Addae
Telesco gave Jahleel Addae a ton of credit for changing positions in 2018. After a standout 2017 campaign in which he led the team in tackles, the Bolts moved him back to free safety after selecting Derwin James. While it wasn't his natural position, Telesco praised the way Addae attacked the switch, explaining how he is the type of player you crave for your team:
"Jahleel, he's the heartbeat back there. He sets a tempo for us. Fully realizing he's probably better closer to the line of scrimmage. He played on there late in the year. He sets a tempo for us. He's a physical hitter, smart, gets the players lined up and I really appreciate what he does for us and how he handles the situation. We brought in Derwin James and Derwin can do a lot of different things. We wanted to play Derwin up closer to the line of scrimmage in different ways and that means Jahleel (had) to play different positions and Jahleel handled it really well. There's some plays I'm sure he'd like (to) have back, but there were some good plays, too. You want to go to war with guys like him. You want to go to war with him every day of the week."
A Cinderella Story
Eight times. Eight! That's how many times Telesco called Adrian Phillips into his office to tell him he's being cut. From a rookie camp tryout to All-Pro and Pro Bowler, it's been nothing short of a Cinderella story for the safety, which is why the general manager spoke at length about a player he called the "heart and soul" of the Bolts' defense:
"He has been a great story for what he has done and the way he came into the league. I'm sure most of you know the story. We brought him to rookie minicamp on a tryout — not even to sign him. He looked good, but it wasn't like, 'Alright, we have to sign him right away.' We sent him home and then we signed him like four weeks later. He wins a job and then — I literally have released him eight times. Eight times, he came into my office to let him go. He always handled it professionally. He just kept working and working. To see a player finally earn a job on the 53 (man active roster), then earn a role, then earn a starting role, then be an excellent special teamer, then be a big part of our defense and go to the Pro Bowl — it's a story that you can tell other kids for years and years about what he's done. He was kind of the heart and soul of the defense, too."
Anthony Lynn announced right off the bat that he wanted to change the culture when he was announced as the Bolts' new head coach nearly two years ago. Well, the Chargers have certainly taken on his identity as a gritty, tough as nails team that no one in the NFL wants to face. As such, Telesco offered the highest possible praise for Lynn, explaining why he'd get his vote for Coach of the Year:
"To me, he was the Coach of the Year this year with what he did. I know he doesn't want to hear that, but to me, he was. Certainly the last two years, but I know it's a yearly award. What he has done with this team – the vision he has brought, the toughness he has brought, the unique challenges that we have with building this team and building this fan base – I think he was just tremendous. Our players really believe in him. It's easy to see. I think you guys can see that. You're at practice, you deal with him on a daily basis. They really believe in him and he believes in the players. If you don't have that, you have nothing. We have our leader. That box is checked, I know that."