COSTA MESA — The Chargers’ next offensive coordinator must be a strong leader, a good teacher, an excellent communicator and relate well with quarterback Justin Herbert, general manager Tom Telesco said during a wide-ranging, season-ending news conference Thursday.
“The one thing we always talk about – and it has nothing to do with X’s and O’s – and that’s leadership,” Telesco said when asked what he and Chargers coach Brandon Staley covet in a replacement for Joe Lombardi, who was fired Tuesday after two seasons calling plays for a Herbert-led offense.
Also, Telesco said he never considered firing Staley despite plenty of outside chatter and scrutiny from fans and reporters, particularly in the wake of the Chargers’ 31-30 wild-card loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday, when they squandered a 27-point lead in the second quarter.
“That was probably more your (reporters’) discussion than ours,” Telesco said. “Our belief in Brandon hasn’t changed. He’s got our belief. The players believe in him. He’s a tremendous leader. He’s detail oriented. He’s a fighter. That’s the type of people I want to be with me going into competition.
“The season didn’t end quite the way we wanted, but he’s got our full support.”
Telesco acknowledged the disappointment of Chargers fans, and their desire for a better ending than the one they witnessed in Jacksonville. True, the Chargers improved their regular-season record from 9-8 in 2021 to 10-7 this past season, advancing to the playoffs for the first time since the 2018 season.
It was only the Chargers’ third playoff appearance in Telesco’s 10 years as GM.
In the end, the sour ending outweighed all the positives, for many inside and outside the franchise.
“Obviously, fanbase-wise, they’re dying for a championship just like we are,” he said of overcoming a possible wild-card loss hangover. “You have that feeling of letting people down, but I will say this, our current team of players and our coaches are really mentally tough people. That’s not by accident. That’s intentional. That’s the type of people we bring in here. It’s important to us to withstand these types of situations, especially leading into the offseason.
“That’s what we’re going to work on this offseason. We’re going to lick our wounds a little bit here and then rise and play again. We’ve got the whole offseason to figure out how to do that. Yeah, any playoff loss is tough, I’ve lost a Super Bowl before (while with the Indianapolis Colts in 2010). It feels awful. You think you have a chance to go and you just can’t get there.”
In the days and weeks to come, Telesco will formulate an offseason plan that he acknowledged will be different from last year’s, when the Chargers spent a great deal of time, effort and money to improve their roster. They’re not as likely to be as active in free agency because of salary-cap constraints, for example.
There will be plenty of work to be done, starting in a few weeks.
Herbert, for one, is eligible for a contract extension – a deal the Chargers have not started to discuss with his agents, according to Telesco. The offseason game plan will be to continue to build around Herbert, who could become an unrestricted free agent in 2024 if he’s not signed to an extension.
The Chargers have zero desire to see Herbert walk away. They anticipate that he’ll be a cornerstone of the franchise for years to come, and they’re willing to pay the sort of $40-million-per-year contracts that Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys and Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills signed in recent years.
“What does he mean to the organization?” Telesco asked, repeating a reporter’s question. “I mean, I sleep better at night knowing that we have a franchise quarterback, that’s number one. He’s done so much in his young career and yet we all know there’s still a lot there because of his commitment to the game.”
Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco speaks to the media Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, in Costa Mesa. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Running back Austin Ekeler is another Chargers player eligible for an extension.
Linebacker Drue Tranquill is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent.
Free agency begins March 15.
The draft will be held April 27-29.
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The Chargers’ roster that was formed during the last offseason is likely to look a great deal different from the one that will take shape in the months to come. It’s the nature of the business, and although there might not be as many changes as from 2021 to ‘22, there are bound to be plenty of them.
“We have a lot of puzzle pieces to kind of work on this year and try to figure out what the best makeup of our team is going into next year,” Telesco said. “Obviously, contracts and money are all part of it, so we’ll begin those discussions as we get into February and try to make it out.”