Time for Chargers, with loaded D and young star QB, to shine

Justin Herbert

Justin Herbert
Photo: AP

The Los Angeles Chargers are officially in win-now mode after a big offseason that’s seemingly flown under the radar. LA made moves to bulk up their defense and spent big bucks to ensure they’ve at least got a shot at competing in the AFC over the next couple of years. But this two-to-three-year window they’re in is crucial because once Justin Herbert breaks the bank, it’ll be tough to keep this roster intact.

It’s become the norm in the NFL, and some would say the easiest way to win. Locate and draft your franchise quarterback, build a superb team around him, then do your best to win before his time to cash out. Not every team can execute this plan flawlessly, but it has been proven to work.

The Kansas City Chiefs did it with Patrick Mahomes before his big deal. They played in back-to-back Super Bowls, winning one. The Cincinnati Bengals, led by Joe Burrow, made it to the Super Bowl last season, having changed how many view the franchise. Before the Rams won a championship last year, they appeared in the big game a few years prior, with a young Jared Goff leading the offense.

Then, of course, everyone remembers the Seattle Seahawks of the mid-2010s and their back-to-back Super Bowl appearances with a young third-round pick running the offense in Russell Wilson. Having Wilson on such a team-friendly contract helped Seattle build and keep the Legion of Boom defense rolling.

This formula has proven successful if the organization plays it right. Even teams that followed and didn’t win it all, like the Bengals, are set up in a good position to make another run. Cincinnati hadn’t done much of anything since the late 80s. Although they fell in defeat to the Rams in Super Bowl LVI, I’m sure Bengals fans still cherish that magical season that only they could’ve imagined.

Now is the Chargers’ time to join this group. Everything is set up for them to be successful, even in a tough division like the AFC West. Herbert is a young gunslinger who could emerge as a top-five QB by the season’s end. He’s got a bonafide No. 1 threat on the outside in Keenan Allen, and they’ve even been tagged as one of the league’s top QB/WR duos.

In the offseason, their front office went out and sure up the defense by trading for All-Pro linebacker Khalil Mack. They locked up All-Pro safety Derwin James a few days ago, and All-Pro pass rusher Joey Bosa is also under a long-term contract. And they also signed Pro Bowler J.C. Jackson away from the Patriots. The Chargers start All-Pros at all three levels on defense. Combine that with a dynamic offense led by one of the best young passers in the game, and failure shouldn’t be an option.

But once you step back for a minute and realize who this franchise is, all that optimism can quickly disappear. After all, they are still the Chargers. Not the San Diego Chargers, but still the same organization that seems to find new and innovative ways to lose each year. For a long time now, I’ve called them the Dallas Cowboys of the AFC. Even when it seems there’s no way for them to lose, they’ll usually find a way.

Most people, especially Chargers fans, are counting on that changing with Herbert under center.

Herbert’s already passed for the most TDs in the first two years to start a career in NFL history. Over his first two seasons, Herbert has also passed for the most yards (9,350) in NFL history and is second behind Mahomes in yards per game (292.2).

If the Chargers can’t make a deep playoff run with all this talent, don’t be surprised when former Saints coach Sean Payton’s name is linked to LA. Payton already has been, but if Brandon Staley can’t get this group into the postseason, his stint in Inglewood could be short-lived. With a loaded roster like this, I expect at least a postseason appearance from the Chargers. But for some organizations, it’s hard to escape their past. 

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