Los Angeles Chargers doomed to waste Justin Herbert's prime

Just like not being able to get more out of Philip Rivers' time as a member of the Bolts

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Brandon Staley and Justin Herbert
Brandon Staley and Justin Herbert
Image: AP

Here we go again with the Chargers. This franchise has what should be another life-changing, mega-talented quarterback in their building, and management’s response is to waste his prime. That’s where the situation seems to be heading in Los Angeles. Instead of showing Brandon Staley the door in favor of an HC who doesn’t coach like he’s playing Madden franchise mode online, the Chargers have chosen to make changes to the staff.

Sean Payton, who?

There had been rumors about Sean Payton potentially taking over the Chargers if Staley’s crew crashed and burned again. Well, they made the postseason for the first time in his tenure, but they still failed epically, losing a 27-point second-half lead to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Wild Card Saturday.

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Even after a 10-7 campaign in which the Chargers were the No. 5 seed in the playoffs, Staley’s style, and philosophy still, leave much to be desired. Although he’s cut back a bit, Staley would much rather go for it on fourth down and whatever more times than any fan should be comfortable with. He gambled with players’ health by suiting up starters and playing them deep into a meaningless Week 18 game when they had nothing to gain or lose from the outcome. Due to Staley’s hubris, wide receiver Mike Williams was on the field when he didn’t need to be and suffered an injury to his back that caused him to miss the playoff loss to Jacksonville. Despite all this, Staley’s job is safe for now.

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New city, same Chargers

Another promising year ends in disappointment for Justin Herbert, who at this point feels destined to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Philip Rivers. The former Charger was always pretty good and even had years where he was great, but it was never quite enough. And the franchise never quite felt like they were willing to do whatever it takes to get the team over the hump.

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Those Rivers-led Chargers squads were good but were always just a step or two behind the Patriots, Steelers, and Colts in the AFC. The Ravens even snuck in one year to win a Super Bowl during Rivers’ tenure with the Chargers. In 14 years as the starter for San Diego/LA, Rivers’ Chargers made it to one AFC title game. During that time, the Jets — of all franchises — played in back-to-back AFC championship games.

It feels like Herbert is about to suffer the same fate of getting close once or twice but never having enough support to finish the deal. In his first three years, Herbert has made the playoffs once and lost a game the Chargers had in the bag. We can’t blame Staley for all this, but his horrible decision-making for two years certainly comes into play. But if ownership was genuinely concerned with winning, they’d do whatever it took to bring in Payton.

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Staley’s style

Staley has a ceiling that his analytic/Madden-based coaching approach will force him to smash into every time. The Chargers have finished with a winning record both years under Staley, but they missed the playoffs last season and, this time, gave up what should’ve been an insurmountable lead in a Wild Card game. Sure, talent must perform, but coaches need to put them in positions to succeed. Staley often puts his players in unnecessarily tough spots more frequently than he should. Whether it’s playing guys when they could be resting or passing on points via field goal attempts to go for another fourth down.

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What it comes down to is cheap ownership. The Spanos family is known for being frugal by NFL standards. The mere fact that any of us believed the Chargers would seriously pursue Payton was wishful thinking. Their last three coaching hires (Staley, Anthony Lynn, and Mike McCoy) were all first-time head coaches. Some organizations are cursed and doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past repeatedly. That’s where the Chargers have always been. Just good enough but never willing to do enough to become a legit threat in the AFC.