The season ended in disappointment, with the Chargers victims of a four-team tiebreaker that ignored their 54-24 win over the Bills — a team that did make the postseason tournament.
One win would’ve made the difference, and the Chargers could fixate on the factors that kept them from getting that “one win.” They could focus on how they managed not to finish off the Jaguars after intercepting two passes in the final two minutes while they had a lead. They could focus on the wide-right kicks that cost them against Miami.
And there’ll be time for that in the upcoming months.
But instead of stewing over what happened in 2017, Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, General Manager Tom Telesco and the rest of the front office have already begun trying to figure out ways to keep those problems from repeating in 2018.
While no final decisions need to be made in the immediate, here’s a look at some of the big questions that Chargers are facing moving forward:
How much of the roster will return?
There’s a sense around the team that the Chargers would like to keep as much of the current team around in 2018 as possible because of how close they were to the playoffs this season.
The biggest name free agent on the roster is tight end Antonio Gates, who will someday represent the Chargers in the Hall of Fame. Gates almost certainly will have a reduced role if he re-signs with the only team he’s ever played for. If the money is right, the Chargers would certainly want him back — especially after two strong games to end the year — but if the asking price is too high, the Chargers might move on.
If Gates is the biggest name free agent, safety Tre Boston might be the most in demand by other teams. Boston won the free safety job after being released by Carolina and became a mainstay. He’s a vocal leader, a playmaker who led the team with five interceptions and an improving tackler. The Chargers had to pay to re-sign safety Jahleel Addae last offseason, and they’ll probably have to open the checkbook again to keep Boston.
Starting guard Kenny Wiggins enters free agency for the first time coming off a season where he started all 16 games. Wiggins has said he wants to return to the Chargers, but the team invested a second-round pick in guard Forrest Lamp last year, and Lamp should be healthy after missing all season with a knee injury. Safety Adrian Phillips, who was an important performer on the defense, is also an unrestricted free agent.
If the team needs to create additional salary cap space, veterans Corey Liuget and Travis Benjamin have younger, cheaper players behind them on the depth chart.
What are they going to do about the kicking game?
Lynn said addressing the Chargers’ kicking situation is a top priority for the offseason, and how could it not be?
The Chargers used four different kickers this season, and all had serious shortcomings.
Younghoe Koo was supposed to be a long-term answer, but it seemed like a blocked game-tying kick in the opener at Denver shattered his confidence. One week later against the Dolphins, Koo missed a pair of important kicks including a potential game-winner. The Chargers moved on to Nick Novak, whose injury opened the door for Travis Coons, whose weak leg on kickoffs opened the door for Nick Rose, who missed two field goals and a point-after attempt in two games.
It’s unlikely any of them will be kicking for the Chargers next season.
The Chargers could look to free agency to try and find a kicker, but they have made it clear that they’re not in the market for a “Band-Aid.” They’re looking for a long-term solution.
Could the Chargers end up drafting a kicker? Will they scour the country for kickers who are out of work? Bringing in a rookie, maybe even using a draft pick on one, seems like the most likely scenario. Auburn’s Daniel Carlson and Florida’s Eddy Pineiro are two names to keep an eye on.
Will they keep their staff intact?
Maybe one of the biggest moves the Chargers can make this offseason is finding a way to keep defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.
Bradley, who will have opportunities elsewhere either as a defensive coordinator or possibly as a head coach, helped shape a young Chargers defense into one of the best in the league. As the season went along, the group got better and better as the players became experts in Bradley’s system.
His enthusiasm is infectious and probably impossible to replace.
Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and Lynn seemed to get into a better rhythm as the season went along, with the two coaches beginning to better integrate their philosophies into the Chargers offense. And special teams coach George Stewart, while presiding over the unit that had so many kicking issues, also oversaw improvement in the punting game.
Where do they need to get better?
Despite all the good things that happened in 2017, the Chargers still need upgrading.
The run defense would greatly benefit from added depth at linebacker. The secondary should be strong with cornerback Jason Verrett returning from a knee injury to join Casey Hayward, Trevor Williams and Desmond King.
The offensive line will have to replenish some depth with Matt Slauson and reserve tackle Michael Schofield headed to free agency.
The Chargers still aren’t fully prepared for life after Philip Rivers, and they’ll have options in a quarterback-rich draft.
If the team can address most of these questions, it’ll be in prime position to build on its 2017 season — even if it ended in a way it didn’t like.
Woike writes for the Los Angeles Times.