San Diego Chargers general manager Tom Telesco talked with reporters in San Diego for about a half hour on Wednesday on a wide range of subjects as his team heads into the offseason. The following are some of the highlights from that interview session.
The need for speed: The Chargers head into the offseason with 12 pending unrestricted free agents and seven selections in this year's draft. Telesco was asked about his team's priorities in terms of improving the product on the field moving forward.
“Offensively, we probably like to infuse some speed,” Telesco said. “The more weapons we can give Philip [Rivers] the better, so I think that'd be one. Defensively, one thing we have to do better is get off the field on third down, create some turnovers, which we started to do later in the year but at the beginning of the year we had a hard time forcing turnovers, so that'd be a couple things.
“Special teams wise, it would be nice to add a return game with some dynamic ability there. We've got two guys here that we have pretty high hopes for with Kerwynn Williams and Tobais Palmer, which were two of the better returners in college last year when they came out, so we'll see what they have.”
Telesco added that improving the pass rush also will be a priority this offseason.
Talks with Donald Butler resume: On signing the team's own free agents, Telesco said that talks will resume, between the team and Butler's representation, in an effort to get the University of Washington product signed before the free agency period begins in March.
“We'll start working on that probably after the Super Bowl,” Telesco said. “We've been in contact with them, but I've enjoyed watching Donald play this year and I've enjoyed watching his growth.
“I remember just watching him, he played at Notre Dame his senior year with University of Washington, they lost in overtime. It was a great game and I came away from that game really liking a couple guys. He was one of them and I've been able to kind of follow his career from afar here and then now here this year. I've enjoyed watching him. He's a great guy to have around.”
Retooling, not rebuilding: Telesco was asked about the importance veteran players such as Rivers, Nick Hardwick, Antonio Gates and Eric Weddle serving as mentors for the team's younger players. Telesco said coach Mike McCoy never saw his job in San Diego as rebuilding, but retooling a roster around a group of talented veteran players.
“We want to keep the core of this team together,” Telesco said. “When I arrived last year, there was already a great core of players here that we inherited and that we were lucky to have. You have to have those guys to teach the rookies and young guys the right and wrong way to do things.
“We never really saw it as a rebuild,” added Telesco. “We just thought we could keep adding pieces to this and keep going. We knew we had a lot of work in front of us, and we still have a lot of work in front of us.
“It's nice to have some momentum from this past year going into next year, but in reality we have to go back out and earn it again. What happened this past year is gone. We have to get it back in the offseason and really earn our way back again.”
Salvaging Derek Cox: Telesco talked about Cox's struggles in his first season. The second year of cornerback Cox's four-year, $20 million salary is guaranteed for injury only. If Cox is on San Diego's roster on the third day of the new league year once it begins in March, his $4.25 million salary is guaranteed. But releasing Cox in February after the Super Bowl, the proration of Cox's $3.9 million signing bonus would accelerate into the 2014 salary cap for the Chargers. So San Diego would save $1.65 million in cap space and $4.25 million in cash by releasing Cox. Telesco said the plan for now is for Cox to be around in 2014.
“He worked just as hard in practice after he wasn't starting anymore as he did before,” Telesco said. “He helped us on special teams. We will see where it goes, but will continue to work with him.
“There are no absolutes but sometimes guys need some time. That's why free agency is so hard. You take someone out of one environment and put them into another, not all the time are they going to flourish right away, so we will continue to work with him. This isn't the first time we have ever seen a free agent go from one team to another and have some bumps in the road right off the bat."
Telesco said that he does not know at this point if receiver Malcom Floyd will return from a serious neck injury that cut short his 2013 season. However, the plan is for edge rusher Dwight Freeney to come back from a torn quad and play next season. Freeney is set to make $3.5 million in non-guaranteed salary in 2014.
Manti Te'o on the rise: Telesco said the organization liked the development of middle linebacker Te'o in his rookie year, and believes he will take another jump of play in his second season.
“We are very pleased with his development,” Telesco said. “Everyone knows he got set back a little with the foot injury. He got his feet wet, learned on the run and the great thing is we saw positive steps every week.
“I can't remember where it was during the season, but it got to the point where three or four weeks in a row, you saw bigger steps every week. He ended up playing maybe a little bit over 50 percent of the snaps this year and ended up with over 60 tackles. Do the math. That's pretty good. I think he is one guy, with the position he plays, in a full offseason, I think we will probably see a big jump from him from his freshman to his sophomore year here. I am pleased with his development.”