The San Diego Chargers hired former Indianapolis Colts director of player personnel Tom Telesco to replace A.J. Smith as San Diego’s general manager after Smith’s 10 years with the team in this position. The Chargers experienced success with Smith because they had five playoff appearances in six years between 2004 and 2009, and were one of three teams that did not have a losing record in a season from 2004-2011.
Smith did not prepare for the possibility of replacing his best player, LaDainian Tomlinson, until it was too late. LT led the NFL in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in 2007, but he was 28-years old at the end of that season, and most of the great running backs’ primes last from mid to late 20’s.
Brett Favre was one of three quarterbacks to throw for 4,000 yards and 30 touchdown passes in 2004, but it did not stop the Green Bay Packers from choosing Aaron Rodgers in 2005 to groom him as the heir apparent. San Diego had the opportunity to do this with LT, but went another route in 2008.
The Chargers allowed 6.6 yards per pass attempt in 2007, which ranked eighth in the NFL, but instead of trading up three spots to select RB Chris Johnson in round one of the 2008 Draft, they chose CB Antoine Cason.
Jacob Hester was a running back in college and San Diego chose him in round three of the 2008 NFL Draft, but a team is more likely to add depth defensively than offensively after round one or two. San Diego could have waited to choose a cornerback until a later round that year.
Smith waited until Tomlinson was past his prime as opposed to towards the end when he chose the injury-prone and underachieving Ryan Mathews to replace Tomlinson in the 2010 NFL Draft.
Former Kansas City Chiefs left tackle Jared Gaither was injury prone, but Smith signed him to a four-year deal worth $24.6 million last year. Gaither missed 12 games with injuries in 2012 and was released this year.
Smith signed Robert Meachem to replace Vincent Jackson even though Meachem had knee surgery a few months before he signed with the Chargers, and posted career lows in receiving yards and TD receptions last year. Telesco could be looking to trade him, but his contract is a major issue.
Smith’s failures to replace Tomlinson, Jackson and left tackle Marcus McNeill are three reasons why San Diego is on a decline. Telesco brought in players to improve the offensive line as well as released veterans who were making too much money which added salary cap space. He started the rebuilding process through free agency and the draft, but time will tell if he is able to clean up the mess that Smith made.