A week away from the Super Bowl, there’s not many interesting things going on for the 30 other teams and the fans not involved in the game. There’s the Pro Bowl, but most people treat it like the San Francisco 49ers and are staying away. It’s also Senior Bowl Week, where teams start to get their first extensive look-in at some players who will be entering the draft along with their official heights and weights. For most teams, this is the time when they start getting serious about their plans for the offseason — or for some teams, take a month to hire a head coach. For the San Diego Chargers, we focus on the Super Bowl and one of its participants.
As even non-football watchers know, Peyton Manning is the quarterback of the Denver Broncos. He also happens to be one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the NFL, regardless of how his postseason play has been viewed up until this point. Unfortunately for the Chargers, the Broncos also play in the AFC West. 2008 was the last time Manning quarterbacked a team that did not win its division. Before that, it happened in 2002, but his record in those two seasons was 12-4 and 10-6. Peyton Manning just being Peyton Manning gives the Chargers a problem in general. As long as Manning is the quarterback in Denver, the degree of difficulty for winning the AFC West would be the highest out of any division except the NFC West.
Peyton Manning, though, is 37 years old this season. There’s going to come a time in the not too distant future when Manning is no longer playing in the NFL. It’s going to be a huge loss for the league, but it can open some things up in the division. Now this isn’t a post suggesting the Chargers should just wait until Manning retires to try to win a Super Bowl, but it can lead to an interesting exercise on how San Diego’s front office will view roster construction this offseason.
Head coach Mike McCoy, along with now departed offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, were able to construct an offense capable of carrying the league’s worst defense to a 9-7 record, a playoff win and a one score loss in the divisional round. This team is headed in the right direction with reason to believe the defense should improve next season with minimal effort. Even a decline for a now 32-year-old Philip Rivers at quarterback can keep the offense well above average.
After possibly the best top to bottom draft class in 2013, the Chargers have a core of young players to build around. Dwight Freeney and Jarret Johnson were the only two players to play a snap on defense over the age of 30 this season. The leading receiver for the team was a 21-year-old rookie. For the first time in a very long time, San Diego has a roster that can be developed and improved upon in the next few seasons.
With a sudden influx of great young quarterbacks, teams in the NFC West and AFC South will have a difficult time stealing playoff berths away from those players. The Chargers don’t have an Andrew Luck to start an arms race against. Outside of Manning, the Kansas City Chiefs have Alex Smith as their starting quarterback and the Oakland Raiders could draft a dynamic young quarterback this year, but still need more work done on their roster. The current landscape of the AFC West gives San Diego an opportunity to take control of the division two to there years down the road. None of that means they have to sacrifice competing before that time — this year proved they can do that — but it should be more meaningful for the front office to think past the short term.
Under the old regime, the Chargers probably throw a two or three-year contract at a 33-year-old Anquan Boldin to improve an already good offense in hope to match the weapons on Denver’s offense, only for year two or three to come around and Boldin isn’t the receiver San Diego had hoped. Or they would have given money to cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who, even if you ignore that he’s already 30 years old, just isn’t very good. Vontae Davis is 25. So is Alterraun Verner. San Diego has the ability to be good now and in the future, but the future may be the more important part.
This may seem somewhat obvious, of course you always want to build for the future, but the Chargers have opened themselves a wide window and there’s little need to sacrifice the full opening in an attempt to jump through the first crack.
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The outlook at wide receiver for the Chargers in 2014.