Heading into 2020, there are a lot of teams who have played musical chairs with their starting quarterback. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers let NFL passing yards leader Jameis Winston leave so that they could sign Tom Brady, the Carolina Panthers waived Cam Newton to sign Teddy Bridgewater and the Los Angeles Chargers let Philip Rivers go and sign a one-year deal with the Indianapolis Colts. The Chargers were the runner-up in the Tom Brady sweepstakes, but after losing out of him, they have decided to use Tyrod Taylor as their starter and draft a rookie early on in this year’s NFL Draft. Does this move make sense?
Interestingly, I think this is the correct move for the long-term success of the franchise. Bringing in a quarterback like Cam Newton or Jameis Winston would cost the team upwards of $25-30 million per season, which would take up a large amount of salary cap space. Tyrod Taylor is in the second year of a two-year deal that he signed for just $11 million last offseason. Additionally, if they draft a quarterback in the first-round of this year’s draft they will have that player secured for five years at a reasonable rookie contract.
Teams like the Rams and Chiefs have shown in recent years that one of the key ways to make a Super Bowl run is to have a relatively inexpensive quarterback on a rookie deal (such as Jared Goff and Patrick Mahomes) and then spend the rest on the other needs of the team. Other teams, like the Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals, have shown that overpaying for mediocre quarterback play (Matt Stafford and Andy Dalton, respectively) is a recipe for missing the playoffs.
To that end, the Chargers have had one of the better free agent signing periods. They have used their resources to solidify their defense by bringing in DT Linval Joseph from the Vikings and CB Chris Harris from the Broncos. They also spent a ton of money to fortify their offensive line by signing OT Bryan Bulaga from the Green Bay Packers. These three moves will arguably help their team more than the addition of one salary-cap eating quarterback.
Many fantasy experts are surprised that the team is willing to go into the 2020 season with Taylor as the starter, but the Chargers seem firm in their resolve. Taylor is a very smart player whose TD/INT ratio is one of the best in the league. In Taylor’s three main years as the starter for the Buffalo Bills, he threw 51 TD passes with only 16 INTs. Rivers alone had 20 interceptions just last season.
Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn grew quite frustrated with Rivers’ mistakes by season’s end and admittedly thought about turning to Taylor during the season but felt that he could not do so with Rivers around. In 2020, look for Taylor to start at least the first eight games while the team grooms their rookie starter-to-be, even if Taylor isn't ready to declare himself the starter yet. Taylor’s solid presence allows the team to take their time and make sure that the player is ready as opposed to just throwing him out and hoping for the best.
As for who that player will be, I predict that it will either be Tua Tagovailoa from Alabama or Justin Herbert from Oregon. It is expected that the Bengals will take QB Joe Burrow with the first overall pick and Washington is expected to take Ohio State DE Chase Young with the second overall pick. The Lions pick third and it would behoove either Miami (who owns pick five) or Los Angeles (who owns pick six) to make a deal with either Detroit at pick three or the New York Giants at pick four to make sure they get their man. If the Chargers end up not getting either Tua or Herbert, they might be forced into re-evaluating their Taylor strategy.
Assuming Taylor starts, this does not bode well for the fantasy stats of many of the Chargers’ skill players. Running back Austin Ekeler will get about 16-18 touches per game, and backup RB Justin Jackson should see about 10-12 carries as well. In the conservative offense that the Chargers are expected to run, WR Keenan Allen should see a decent number of targets, but I do worry about the targets of TE Hunter Henry and WR Mike Williams. In particular, Williams could struggle as he is the Chargers’ main downfield threat and Taylor does not like to take too many chances downfield.
In fantasy football terms, Ekeler is likely a late-first, early-second-round player, Keenan Allen is a lock for Round 3, but Hunter Henry and Mike Williams both should see their fantasy stock drop off. I expect that Henry could slide somewhere from Round 6 in 2019 to Round 8 or 9 in 2020 and Mike Williams could slide from Round 4 in 2019 to Round 6 in 2020.
Lynn and the Chargers front office are counting on this plan working to help change the team’s fortunes. While this is certainly possible, I would feel much better about the whole situation if they trade up for one of those early draft picks to make sure they get their quarterback of the future.
MORE FROM SI: