‘Shutdown Corner’ offseason TPS report: San Diego Chargers

Brian McIntyre
Shutdown Corner

Over the next few weeks, "Shutdown Corner" will pay homage to "Office Space" (TPS reports) as we take a quick look back at each team's 2012 season and a look at what lies ahead for the 2013 offseason. We continue in the AFC West with the San Diego Chargers.

2012 record: 7-9

What went wrong: Midway through a Monday Night Football game against the Denver Broncos on Oct. 15, the Chargers had a 24-0 lead and were cruising into their bye week with a 4-2 record and in the pole position in the AFC West. The Chargers would blow that lead, as the Broncos ticked off 35 unanswered points, including two touchdowns scored off turnovers. Following the bye after that heartbreaking loss, the Chargers would lose five of their next six games, sinking the team's playoff hopes and ultimately costing GM A.J. Smith and head coach Norv Turner their jobs.

The Chargers' problems in 2012 were primarily on the offensive side of the ball. The Chargers ranked 31st in total offense, averaging under 300 yards per game (297.3) and just 91.3 yards on the ground as injury-prone running back Ryan Mathews played in under 40 percent of the offensive snaps and averaging just 3.8 yards per carry behind a frequently shuffled offensive line that saw undrafted rookie Mike Harris take more snaps at left tackle than Jared Gaither, who the team re-signed to a four-year, $24.5 million contract last March. That offensive line allowed 49 sacks, fourth-most in the NFL, and a number that had the Chargers ranked 32nd in Football Outsiders' "Adjusted Sack Rate" statistic.

Though Philip Rivers would take every snap and pass for over 3,600 yards with 26 touchdowns, the veteran quarterback turned the ball over 22 times, including a few that went the other way for touchdowns. Including the two return touchdowns in the disastrous loss to the Broncos, Rivers cost the Chargers a chance to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when, with the Chargers trailing by three and in field goal range in the fourth quarter, he threw the ball right to Buccaneers rookie cornerback Leonard Johnson, who returned the interception 83 yards for a back-breaking touchdown.

Former GM Smith whiffed in free agency, letting another running back (Mike Tolbert, after failing to re-sign Darren Sproles after the lockout) walk and spent $15 million in 2013 cash, and $20 million in total guarantees, to sign wide receivers Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal after receiver Vincent Jackson left for greener (five-years, $55.555 million) pastures in Tampa Bay. Meachem and Royal combined for 37 receptions, 441 yards and three touchdowns. If you want a draft whiff, look no further than Jonas Mouton, a 2011 second-round pick who has one tackle, on special teams, in 16 career snaps (five on defense, 11 on special teams) over the last two seasons.

What went right: The Chargers defense finished in the Top 10 in total defense and were solid against the run, allowing 96.4 yards per game, which ranked sixth in the NFL, and 3.8 yards per rushing play, which ranked fifth. According to Football Outsiders, the Chargers ranked eighth in special teams DVOA as kickers Nate Kaeding and Nick Novak missed just two field goal attempts in 2012, both from beyond 50 yards.

Individually, wide receivers Malcom Floyd and Danario Alexander had solid seasons, combining for 93 receptions, 1,472 yards and 12 touchdowns as both were ranked in the Top 20 in Football Outsiders' receiving DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) metric. Alexander, a restricted free agent with a shaky injury history, ranked first in FO's DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) metric, while Floyd was third. Antonio Gates got through the season healthy and played in over 80 percent of the offensive snaps, though his production dipped to 49 receptions for 538 yards, but with seven touchdowns.

The Chargers defense did not place any players in the Pro Bowl, though safety Eric Weddle certainly deserved to go and was named second-team All-Pro. The Chargers received solid individual performances from defensive linemen Corey Liuget (seven sacks, nine passes defensed) and Kendall Reyes, a 2012 second-round pick who had 5.5 sacks in just over 50 percent playing-time.

Coaching/front office changes: With the Chargers set to miss the playoffs for the third straight season, reports out of San Diego in early December were that Dean Spanos had made the decision to part ways with general manager A.J. Smith and head coach Norv Turner. On the day after the regular season finale, Spanos made those changes and the search for a new GM led them to Tom Telesco, who was the director of football operations for the Indianapolis Colts. The Chargers were already believed to be interested in Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians to replace Turner, but the team raided their AFC West rival Denver Broncos to hire offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, who has retained John Pagano as defensive coordinator.

Estimated 2013 cap space: $6.7 million

Possible cap casualties: Last March, the Chargers re-signed nose tackle Antonio Garay to a back-loaded, two-year, $6.6 million contract. In the first year of that deal, Garay earned $1.6 million and, in just eight games, had 16 tackles and a sack. With Cam Thomas ready to take over at nose tackle, the Chargers could save $5 million in cash and cap space by releasing the 33-year-old Garay, who has a $1.5 million roster bonus due on March 16 and is scheduled to earn $3.5 million in base salary. Veteran inside linebacker Takeo Spikes had a reduced role in 2012 and is scheduled to earn $3 million in base salary in the final year of his contract. Considering the Chargers' lack of depth at inside linebacker, a restructure is more likely, but Spikes' $3.7 million cap number can be reduced to reflect his reduced role on defense.

Wide receiver Eddie Royal was a bit of a disaster, catching just 23 passes for 234 yards and a touchdown in the first season of a three-year, $13.5 million contract. Royal is due $3 million in non-guaranteed base salary and his release would save that cash and free up $1.5 million in cap space.

Unrestricted free agents

Antwan Barnes, LB
Jackie Battle, RB
Ronnie Brown, RB
Chris Carr, CB
Antoine Cason, CB
Brandyn Dombrowski, G/T
Aubrayo Franklin, NT
Tyronne Green, G
Gary Guyton, LB
Rex Hadnot, G
Quentin Jammer, CB
Corey Lynch, S
Vaughn Martin, DE
Nick Novak, K
Shaun Phillips, LB
Dante Rosario, TE
Michael Spurlock, WR/RS
Louis Vasquez, G
Reggie Wells, G
Demorrio Williams, LB

Restricted free agents

Seyi Ajiroututu, WR
Danario Alexander, WR
Curtis Brinkley, RB
Mike Windt, LS

RFA tender amounts in 2013 are:

• $1.323 million for right of first refusal and/or original draft round compensation

• $2.023 for right of first refusal and second round draft selection

• $2.879 for right of first refusal and first round draft selection

Franchise Tag candidates: The Chargers have two key free agents – guard Louis Vasquez and cornerback Antoine Cason – but neither are expected to receive the franchise tag. Vasquez has started 54 games over the last four seasons, including 16 games in 2012, but the cost of using the franchise tag on an offensive lineman next season is projected to cost $9.676 million, based on a projected league-wide cap number of $121.1 million. Cason, a first-round pick out of Arizona in 2008, has not missed a game during his five-year career and has been a full-time starter the last three seasons. To franchise the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Cason would cost the Chargers an estimated $10.686 million in 2013.

Previous installments of the "Offseason TPS Reports" series:

AFC East: New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills
AFC North: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns
AFC South: Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans
AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders

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