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One of the best NFL talent acquisition off-seasons in several years has led the Chargers to be one of the favorites to win it all. But many are disbelievers and to them it is not even close. Figuring out why is a stumper.
Tim Daniel NFL Game Scout, Football Writer
LOS ANGELES, CA The Powder Blue Report
Could it be true? Might it be that the Los Angeles Chargers go to the Super Bowl and win it all?
Certain business transactions have transpired in Los Angeles over the last couple months. I feel compelled to re-write this or redo this old story. Who knows if that is allowed in Journalism 101.
They are events that have changed the football climate of the NFL. Maybe even the financial province of the league.
As a media representative, I am allowed to have a favorite team. To write this as a scout, and somewhat more of a fan than not, I could say this will be the year. Couldn’t it?
The fans and football pundits have the right to think so, and on paper, it looks like it could happen. On paper!
As a professional talent and game scout for 18 years, I can unequivocally say the Los Angeles Chargers are the most talented team in the NFL, and there is no disputing that.
A young head coach that many believe is part of the wunderkind of coaches taking the league by a southern California-style storm (it rarely storms in southern California.) But he is liked and bewildered all in the same sentence.
Brandon Staley is the football leader of an organization that has stars everywhere on the field, and he spearheaded this. But one unique issue. They are the most disrespected team in the league. More than the Jaguars.
Even the National Football League sees them as the stepchild with a certain color type of hair. You can watch the NFL Network all week long and wait three or four days until you hear something about the Chargers. And that is mainly about Justin Herbert, and rightfully so.
It is not just the league, there is an outside interest problem. The Chargers might have the smallest fan base in the league, and it is proven when you go to a home game at SoFi Stadium.
60 to 70 percent of the fans in that stadium for a Chargers game are visiting team fans. Is it a Chargers problem or is it a demographic issue? Los Angeles and Southern California as a whole, have problems with either loyalty or a fan base that sees the Chargers as a profit-making machine for the ticket holders.
There is no problem with fans buying season tickets, the problem is they sell those tickets to the visiting fans at sometimes double the price. One fan told me that she made her season ticket money back in four home games. That leaves the next four games as all profit.
Or maybe it is fans who just expect the worst from their Chargers and have better things to do with 365 days of great weather.
What will it take for the Chargers to turn it all around to be a feverish loyal fan base? Will winning the Super bowl change it all? Probably not. The Rams are the current world champions and in their opening game against the Buffalo Bills, half the stadium was Bills fans.
So, your team wins it all, and the excitement of dropping the Super Bowl champion banner is almost drowned out by boos from the fans of the opposing team. So apparently, being the best team in the world is not enough.
I truly recognized the magnitude of disrespect or lack of interest in it all even in San Diego. I can target my experience of seeing it all going back to standing on a high school football field in New Orleans, Louisiana.
I was four years into scouting and evaluating football talent for several NCAA football programs. Finding the big-name player was easy. It was finding that diamond in the rough.
The player I was scouting in NOLO was definitely no sleeper. He was the #1 rated quarterback in the country. I was doing a recruiting story on Cardinal-Newman high school quarterback, Eli Manning.
A quiet kid during our meeting, I thought throwing the ball around was a way to get him to open up. I asked the low-key quarterback what he felt was his best skill set. He did not answer with words. Eli threw a dart that went through my hands in what felt like a football impaling into my chest. I am an offensive lineman by craft so you cant attack me for not having hands. But the velocity of that ball was what 99% of high school QBs do not have. This quarterback did. That was his answer.
What I wouldn’t know is that some five years later, he would be the number one overall draft pick to the San Diego Chargers. His father Archie and Eli made it abundantly clear that he was not going to play for the San Diego Chargers.
They never directly came out and said exactly why, but they did have a concern with the market in San Diego. According to the Manning family, they felt that Eli would not be able to prosper or achieve at a very high level in a business and football climate like the of the San Diego Chargers.
Ultimately over the years, I was able to find out one of the real reasons why Eli refused to be a Charger, it was the ownership known as the Spanos family. For the record, that is not me saying that. But I believe it.
The history of the Chargers is unique, especially in San Diego. They have always had a little problem getting respect from the league and the media.
With a decent fan base in San Diego, Qualcomm Stadium was filled most of the time. About 30% of the away visiting team fans always gave it a great vibe. Los Angeles is different. A brand-new castle of football in SoFi is three-quarters filled and 60% of those fans belong to the visiting team.
The Los Angeles Chargers are a different can of worms. With very little respect going into the transition of the LA market, the National Football League sees the Chargers as an entity, not an organizational priority. Even with investment from the league to get them to LA, metaphorically, the Chargers are seen as a liability, as I see it.
Photo by Getty Images
The media and especially the football pundits, at no time in Charger history, San Diego, or LA, are they more ignored than now.
Being a part of the NFL media, of course, I follow all the national media groups and the social media presence of teams and players.
In posting some tags of the Chargers and the rest of the AFC West teams, almost half of those tags were a little less than half of the Chiefs, Raiders, and Broncos. In posting tags as a social media amateur, the Chargers had been tagged 760,000 times. The Chiefs were at 1.7 million. The Raiders and Broncos were at 1.4 and 1.2 million, respectively.
But finally, after 30-plus years, the Chargers are spending the money to get the Super Bowl-talent team. They have done an excellent job on the business side with their salary cap that has allowed them to get players that can lead them to play in February. Again, this year more than ever.
Listening to the big-name NFL authorities, I am a little surprised by their outlook and prediction. Many believe they are a wild card team in the AFC West at best. Some have them as a possible Super Bowl team and some have them as a third-place team in their division.
I am taking into consideration last year’s performance.
Even though there are new players, last year spoke to me from a player and coaching performance standpoint. How does last year speak for this upcoming season? Coaching speaks the loudest. Almost the same staff, head coach Brandon Staley struggled at some points of the game as a head coach.
It was evident what his philosophy was last year. He lacked considerable starting rotation talent in some of the position rooms both defensively and offensively. But he has a head coach persona and ability built in him to win a lot of games. And that comes from his personality as a players-coach. Most of the wunderkind coaches are just like that. With the lack of talent in some spots last year, being the defensive line, he had superior talent in other spots.
Were the Chargers a playoff-caliber team last year? Yes. Then why didn’t they make it?
I believe most of the world saw the same two things I did: Sparse in certain key spots defensively and on the offensive line. And some dubious coaching calls and decisions made by Staley that, not figuratively, cost them wins.
Who knows, maybe that is one of the reasons some are seeing the Chargers as a 10-7 type of team in 2022.
But I don't buy that.
I believe those concerns have been addressed in one of the most aggressive, high-level, off-season acquisitions a team has taken in a number of years.
Staley learned a lot last year and took a lot of fire from it. Secondly, and most importantly, they answered the holes in their defense, and they did it with fireworks.
Future Hall of Famer linebacker Khalil Mack was one of the best pick-ups in Charger franchise history. And no, he is not too old. His game has not faded. And he is just as productive as he was as a Raider.
One must answer those concerns with facts and common sense. A superior player on two different less-than franchises with substandard surrounding talent. Yet, he still was a Pro Bowler.
So, let us look at the team Mack inherited for this upcoming season and the team the NFL media brass are challenging as a real threat:
*Top four quarterback.
*Best multi-threat running back in the league.
*Top two receiver corps in the league.
*Best free safety in the league.
*Best center in the league.
*A top-two left tackle.
*Top two rush end tandem in the league.
*Top three defensive secondary in the league.
Of course, things like this are debatable but only by a fraction.
Why did super radio host Colin Cowherd, whom I respect and like, place the Chargers as the number three team in the AFC West behind the Broncos and Chiefs? The Chiefs I can understand. The off-season for Denver was good, but not great. Russell Wilson is not the be-all, change-all quarterback like Aaron Rogers or Tom Brady. At one point he was that top five guy., Now he is a top 10 quarterback. It is apples to oranges on the talent grab this off-season of the Broncos versus the Chargers. It is not even close.
Cowherd is just one example of either a lack of knowledge and understanding of talent or he sees what he saw last year and there are still concerns in decision making, coaching, or still the lack of starting talent in some key spots.
But the bottom line is the Los Angeles Chargers still have to play the game. They beat four playoff teams last year and soundly drubbed a Super Bowl participant.
There is a wild card for the Chargers season with that talent, it is Brandon Staley.
Will he learn from his big mistakes as a rookie head coach? He is one of the brightest coaches in the game, and he could become one of the best there is. However, decisions are everything and last year cost him and his team a playoff visit.
As an evaluator and scout, based on the skill set he has schematically for his defense and offense, I see Staley leading the Chargers to the AFC Championship against the Buffalo Bills
As I see it, on the talent acquired and the schedule, the Chargers finish at 12-5, splitting games against Kansas City. The Chargers will ultimately win the AFC West by a game. I see them upsetting the Bills in Buffalo in very cold weather for the AFC crown. They will then face the Green Bay Packers.
But how many Charger faithful will show up to Super Bowl LVI? It will be a sea of green. But it doesn't matter because I see them hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at the very end.
The profit for the 2023 Charger ticket holder ought to be impressive.