Find the latest breaking news and information on the top stories, science, business, entertainment, politics, and more.

NFL draft combine: What the Chargers might focus on this offseason

The off-season for the Chargers started earlier than they had hoped and certainly earlier than anyone expected on the night of January 14.

That Saturday, the North Florida Chargers opened up a 27–0 second quarter lead over Jacksonville in a wild card playoff game, before crumbling to a 31–30 loss.

Since then, coach Brandon Staley has shuffled his staff, with key actions being the hiring of new offensive and defensive coordinators. The team has not yet announced all coaching changes, but the rebuilding will be apparent.

And that’s just the beginning of the major changes coming for the 2023 season.

Here are five areas to watch for the Chargers as the combine approaches Indianapolis this week and launches every NFL team into offseason mode at full speed:

Hood creaked

Only three teams — Minnesota, New Orleans and Tampa Bay — are in worse financial shape than the Chargers, who are $20.5 million above the salary cap, according to overthecap.com.

Teams will need to be cap-compliant when the new league year begins on March 15, meaning the Chargers will need to take some serious steps in terms of dropping players and/or restructuring contracts.

From the outside, the three most obvious potential cap causes are wide receiver Keenan Allen, left guard Matt Feiler, and tight end Gerald Everett.

Pioneering rusher Khalil Mack would bring cap relief, but also further weaken an already thin position group.

Allen has been with the team for a decade, trailing only Antonio Gates in several of the franchise’s all-time records. His departure would reverberate among the fan base.

Feiler has started 33 of 34 regular season games since signing in March 2021. The Chargers appear to have a ready replacement at left guard in Jamaree Salyer.

Everett is statistically coming off the best of his six NFL seasons, but he did have a few costly mistakes.

Considerations on internal freedoms

Nine Chargers who made major contributions in 2022 will be unrestricted free agents.

The group includes four full-time starters: right tackle Trey Pipkins III, linebacker Drue Tranquill, cornerback Bryce Callahan and safety Nasir Adderley, who was benched for one game last season.

Defensive lineman Morgan Fox, linebacker Kyle Van Noy and wide receiver/kick returner DeAndre Carter all played key roles and will soon be considered signing elsewhere as well.

Punter PK Scott and linebacker Troy Reeder—both key players on special teams—complete the top tier of unrestricted free agents for the Chargers.

Pipkins looks the most likely of the group to re-sign after settling in 2022 and showing undeniable toughness playing through a knee injury.

Tranquill just led the Chargers in tackles and took on the responsibilities of passing the defensive signals during his breakaway season. But linebacker is not a prime position in Staley’s plan.

Considerations of External Liberties

Coach Brandon Staley and his staff might be looking for edge rusher Joey Bosa this offseason, especially if Khalil Mack doesn’t return to the team.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

A year ago, the Chargers were among the teams with the most salary headroom, and Staley and general manager Tom Telesco shopped accordingly.

They traded for the great Mack and spent freely replenishing the defense with players more in line with Staley’s preferences. That included adding linemen Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson and cornerback JC Jackson.

Those moves — along with several others — put the Chargers in their current cap position, making them more of a bargain hunt this offseason.

Help is still needed on the edge behind Mack and Joey Bosa. The Chargers have used a draft pick on an edge rusher only once in the past three years — Chris Rumph II in the fourth round in 2021.

This team also needs reinforcements along the inner defensive line, where stopping the run has become an annual adventure of inconsistency. Bigger, stronger and tougher appearance is a must.

Other top areas needed: wide receiver, tight end and – Staley will always argue – defensive backs.

Do drafting

The Chargers will arrive at the combine still armed with their original seven picks – one in each round – in the upcoming draft. Their first three selections are Nos. 21, 54 and 85.

In most mock drafts, they select a wide receiver – the popular predictions: Jalin Hyatt (Tennessee), Zay Flowers (Boston College) and Jaxon Smith-Njigba (Ohio State) – in the first round.

For the second straight year, speed on the outside is a clear need, something the Chargers failed to address last season. The lack of a burner at the receiver showed throughout 2022.

“I think there’s a big need for that,” said Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network, who is also an analyst with Chargers radio broadcasts. “They need to get faster and more dynamic and explosive.”

After Jalen Guyton suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 3, quarterback Justin Herbert’s only deep threat was Mike Williams, who uses size—not speed—to be a downfield target.

The four-plus games Williams sat out due to an ankle injury highlighted how much the Chargers lack someone who can run past defensive backs.

Showing QB the big money

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert drops back to pass.

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

For the first time this offseason, Herbert is eligible for a contract extension, one that should challenge the parameters of what NFL quarterbacks can make.

A new deal for Herbert would likely average around $50 million per season and include the kind of weighty guarantees that are now the norm in the sport’s premier position.

There are five quarterbacks with contracts that fully guarantee them at least $100 million, according to overthecap.com. Of that group, the two youngest are Arizona’s Kyler Murray ($103.3 million) and Buffalo’s Josh Allen ($100 million).

The most important number in NFL contracts is the money whole guaranteed. While average annual values ​​and total guarantees are also touted, the fully guaranteed figure is what teams are 100% committed to paying a player.

Herbert, who turns 25 in two weeks, opened his career with three seasons that are among the best in league history. He has shown himself to be a cornerstone of the franchise.

The X Factor: Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow, who was drafted five spots ahead of Herbert in 2020, is also eligible for his first overtime. The Bengals have expressed their desire to extend his contract in the coming months.

Waiting to see what Burrow receives might be Herbert’s more prudent financial approach.