At long last, the Chargers officially ended the Brandon Staley experiment following a humiliating 63-21 loss to the Raiders on Thursday Night Football. It puts Los Angeles at a crossroads and sets them up for their most important offseason in decades. General Manager Tom Telesco followed Staley out the door, meaning the Chargers have to start fresh.
This is a team that has operated as a contender for several years, attempting to maximize Justin Herbert's rookie contract. However, the missteps by the front office and the coaching staff has turned this into a team teetering on the verge of a rebuild.
There is a lot to cover this offseason, so let's start with the first domino. Well, it is really the second in most cases, teams typically aim to hire general managers first, but we will skip ahead to the coaching search. Here are six coaches and a look at how the Chargers might attack their biggest needs in the 2024 NFL draft.
Ben Johnson, Offensive Coordinator, Detroit Lions
This is going to be one of, if not the most popular name you will see for any head-coaching opening this offseason. Johnson went through the interview process last year, ultimately deciding to return to Detroit as the offensive coordinator. While the Chargers are far from a perfect situation, the prospect of working with Herbert, Rashawn Slater, and Quentin Johnston, who still has plenty of potential despite disappointing as a rookie, has to be pretty enticing for an offensive-minded coach. Johnson has elevated Jared Goff's game and crafted one of the most exciting aerial attacks in the league. Plus, Detroit has had ample success running the ball behind an elite offensive line. Johnson will understand the value of building in the trenches and likely push for the front office to make the unit a priority via free agency and the draft.
Dan Quinn, Defensive Coordinator, Dallas Cowboys
While retread candidates are not always the most exciting, it is hard to deny what Quinn has accomplished in the past as a head coach and in his most recent stop with the Cowboys. Coaching candidates who have been to a Super Bowl are rare. The Chargers' defense has been one of the more disappointing and undisciplined units in the league this year. I can understand the hesitance to go with a defensive-minded candidate a second time in a row after Staley was such a flop, but I feel like Quinn's prior coaching experience and general track record as a motivator and culture builder would help him avoid the same pitfalls.
Frank Smith, Offensive Coordinator, Miami Dolphins
This would be a really interesting move seeing as Smith was part of the Chargers coaching staff in 2021 as their run game coordinator and offensive line coach. Los Angeles allowed the sixth-fewest sacks that year and had a decent run game. Smith has spent the two seasons as the offensive coordinator in Miami, where he and Mike McDaniel have built one of the most explosive offenses the league has ever seen. Yes, it helps to have playmakers like Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle and Raheem Mostert, but there is no question L.A. could use an infusion of speed on that side of the ball.
Brian Flores, Defensive Coordinator, Minnesota Vikings
Flores is in the unique position of currently coaching in the NFL while suing the league for discrimination. His demeanor has been criticized for how he handled Tua Tagovailoa and his hardline approach to coaching, but the Chargers could probably use some tough love right now. Flores has also orchestrated an incredible turnaround for a Vikings defense that ranked 31st in yards allowed and 30th in points allowed per game just one season ago. Minnesota is now 10th in yards allowed and 5th in points allowed. Flores went 24-25 in Miami and won four Super Bowls as an assistant in New England. A fresh start with no quarterback controversy could be the perfect opportunity for Flores to flourish.
Lincoln Riley, Head Coach, USC Trojans
This is definitely a wild card, but I don't know that we can fully rule it out. Riley has made a number of comments about envying the NFL coaching calendar. Riley has been successful in the collegiate ranks, but it feels like he may be starting to tire of the grind. if he does not want the unenviable task of replacing Caleb Williams, he could opt to work with Herbert in the pros. Obviously, this would require a lot of interest on Riley's part and a likely pretty sizable buyout from the Chargers, which goes against their approach. I don't expect it to happen, but it would be pretty interesting to see him move across the city.
Bill Belichick, Head Coach, New England Patriots
This would be the big fish to land. Rumors have circulated for weeks that Belichick is done in New England after the season. I won't believe it until I see it, but if Belichick wants a fresh start, Los Angeles could make a lot of sense. There would be no quarterback controversy and the defense has talent, it just needs some better coaching and leadership. I believe Belichick could find some exciting ways to deploy players like Derwin James, Asante Samuel Jr. and Joey Bosa. It would be wild to see the future Hall of Fame head coach donning anything other than Patriots colors, but if the Chargers are serious about finding a coach to turn them into a winner, it is hard to find anyone better than the man who has won six Super Bowls.
Team 3-round mock draft
With Herbert done for the season and Giff Smith now coaching the rest of the regular season following Staley's firing, the Chargers seem destined for a top-10 pick. Los Angeles will need more than just one draft class to get themselves back into the contender conversation, but it will be the best place to start given their cap situation heading into this offseason.
5. Joe Alt, OT, Notre Dame
37. Quinyon Mitchell, CB, Toledo
69. Braden Fiske, DT, Florida State
We have a long way to go when it comes to evaluating prospects and assessing team needs, but this felt like the best way to attack the draft board for Los Angeles at this point. Alt is a potential anchor on the offensive line. He is a powerful run block with fantastic size and tons of experience. Playing him opposite Slater would give L.A. two bookend tackles to protect Herbert moving forward after an injury-plagued season.
With their next two picks, I think turning the attention to the defense makes sense. The Chargers are allowing the fourth-most passing yards per game to opponents, the J.C. Jackson experiment was a bust and Michael Davis is a free agent. Mitchell is a ballhawk who excels at breaking up passes. He has the size and quickness to be an outside corner in the pros. Add in Fiske, who will be rising up draft boards in the coming months. He had a fantastic year at Florida State and could give L.A. some much-needed speed on the interior. He had six sacks and nine tackles for loss this year.
Los Angeles will still need reinforcements on offense along the interior of the line, at running back and at tight end. Gerald Everett, Austin Ekeler and Josh Kelley are all free agents this upcoming offseason. You cannot fill every need in a mock draft. There will be some value in this running back and tight end class on Day 3 as well. It is far from a total rebuild, but the Chargers desperately need to retool and avoid wasting Herbert's prime.