The Chargers are again spending the postseason at home for a third straight year after finishing with a winning record, but falling short of a playoff berth.
That reality would typically inspire one of two sentiments from Chargers fans: optimism for the future, or frustration and a call for the leadership's job(s). General manager Tom Telesco has been in charge of the team's most important decisions on and off the field since 2013, and has seen two different head coaches lead his club to playoff berths. The only problem: those two coaches only did it once each, and his current coach didn't get it done in the most recent season.
Still, Telesco is looking ahead, and certainly not down at his seat.
"I don't think a lot about job security," Telesco said Thursday, via the Associated Press. "I think that there's a lot there to be proud of with this football team and how they play. I understand that people want results right now, and they should have results right now, but this team is different than the team a couple of years ago. I'm just focused on 2021 and then getting better for 2022."
Two playoff appearances in nine years isn't the most ideal, and the fashion in which the Chargers' 2021 season -- a campaign that once seemed destined for the postseason -- ended didn't make the outcome any easier to bear for Chargers fans. Los Angeles lost three of its final four games, including a win-and-in season finale that went to overtime in Las Vegas and left the Chargers out of the playoffs.
Los Angeles could have been worried about seeding, not qualifying, had it not been upset by the lowly Texans in Week 16. Instead, the team's GM is fielding at least one question about job security less than two calendar years after he struck gold in the draft.
Telesco's statement near the end of the above response is telling, because it's part of what makes the Chargers an enticing team even after they've repeatedly failed to follow through. Los Angeles has a star quarterback and face of its franchise in former sixth-overall pick Justin Herbert and his presence alone will make them a contender for years to come.
It will be up to Telesco to surround Herbert with talent -- and to shore up a defense that did not enjoy the turnaround most anticipated when Telesco hired former Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley. Such a process will include making decisions on key defenders headed to free agency (Uchenna Nwosu, for example), figuring out a way to keep receiver Mike Williams, and working on an extension for safety Derwin James. Telesco has steadily added playmakers to his team on both sides of the ball via the draft, with his latest triumph arriving in the form of tackle Rashawn Slater, but he'll again need to address the offensive line (specifically, the right side) to continue improving the unit responsible for protecting Herbert.
Telesco will also have to start considering how much the Chargers would like to pay Herbert after his rookie deal. With a fifth-year option considered, there are three years left on the contract, leaving the Chargers with some time to spend some cash elsewhere and attempt to make a run at a title.
A little over a month into this season, they appeared as if they were poised to do just that, rattling off four wins in their first five games.
Instead, they won just five of their final 12 games, leaving the Chargers with one less year to get the job done while Herbert is on a rookie deal. Telesco isn't feeling the pressure of a supposed title window, though.
"You have to build it differently, but certainly you can do it," Telesco said of chasing a championship with a highly paid quarterback. "I don't see that we only have a year or two window with this quarterback's contract. It's not how I look at it at all. We're focused on 2022. What can we do in 2022 to go win a championship?
"It doesn't really bother me whether the quarterback is on a rookie deal or on an Aaron Rodgers deal. Either way, we'll make it work."
Making it work would start with getting the Chargers to the playoffs, a place they haven't been since Philip Rivers was still the man under center. They've certainly shown flashes of potential and have the most important position figured out; now it's about taking a 71-78 overall record in Telesco's tenure, turning it toward the other side of .500, and riding the wave toward a title.