Winds of Change Ready to Blow

As the worst season in nearly a decade limps to a close, Chargers fans are left to look ahead to 2013 and wonder which significant players will be shown the door. Predictions are tricky, as San Diego's management team has yet to undergo its shake-up, but changes will be widespread and severe.

When evaluating San Diego's roster, one most begin with the player who has underperformed as much as anyone this season: Philip Rivers. While his leadership, pocket awareness and accuracy remain superb, his penchant for turnovers and late-game meltdowns is disturbing.

If the Chargers intend to give Rivers a chance to rediscover his form under a new coaching staff -- the most likely scenario -- more must be done to help him succeed. It starts on the offensive line, where starting guards Louis Vasquez and Tyronne Green will become free agents and starting tackles Jared Gaither and Jeromey Clary are strong candidates to be released. Of the four, Vasquez is the most likely to return.

The Chargers have some good prospects on board, including Johnnie Troutman and Steve Schilling, but this unit must be addressed multiple times via free agency and the draft. San Diego could look at Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel or Central Michigan's Eric Fisher.

WR Robert Meachem
Chuch Cook/USA Today Sports
There are also questions at wide receiver. Can Vincent Brown bounce back and become an impact player and potential starter? Will San Diego offer Danario Alexander a contract extension, or just extend him a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent? Also, will second chances be given out to Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal, who were total busts in their first seasons in lightning bolts?

On defense, the primary issues are in the secondary, where starting cornerbacks Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason are slated to hit free agency. Cason has played well enough to return so long as the price is right. He is not a No. 1 CB. Jammer could be back, but possibly at strong safety, a position that has been a disaster ever since Rodney Harrison left town.

Other noteworthy free agents on defense include Shaun Phillips, Vaughn Martin, Aubrayo Franklin and Antwan Barnes.

In all, the Chargers are likely to part ways with between six and 10 players who were starters this season.

Also, some recent high draft picks will be on short leashes, including Larry English, Jonas Mouton and Marcus Gilchrist. Those are A.J. Smith's guys, a label that will no longer protect them.

The same theory applies to Ryan Mathews, who Smith paid a steep price to acquire in 2010. The next general manager, be it Jimmy Raye or someone else, does not have to wait around for Mathews to finally justify that investment. Mathews will most likely be back for a fourth season, but his margin for error will be razor thin.

Will the Bolts finally shore up their offensive line? Discuss in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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