Bolts Notebook: Mixing the Good with the Bad

It has been a frustrating offseason for Chargers fans, with each piece of good news offset by a significant setback. That trend continued this week, as the signing of free agent Stevie Johnson was quickly followed by Philip Rivers going public with his hesitance to re-up in San Diego. We break down the latest on all fronts in this new Bolts Notebook.

UPDATE: Chargers Add Mitch Unrein

The Chargers signed another former Bronco on Wednesday, agreeing to terms with DL Mitch Unrein on a two-year deal. A former undrafted free agent from Wyoming, Unrein will be reunited with coach Mike McCoy after they spent the 2011-2012 seasons together in Denver.

Unrein (6'4, 306 lbs.) will primarily play defensive end in San Diego's three-man front. He played a only a small role for the Broncos last season, as Denver was loaded up front and spent a lot of time in its nickel defense, but he appeared in every game in 2012 and 2013. His has 49 tackles for his career, including 20 each in 2012 and 2013.

Stevie Johnson Picks the Chargers

The good news is that Stevie Johnson, who had narrowed his choices to the Chargers and Patriots after visiting with both teams, opted to come to San Diego. That is reassuring after big-name receivers Steve Smith and Andre Johnson rejected San Diego’s overtures the last two offseasons, despite the fact the Chargers offered more money than the Ravens and Colts, respectively.

“I’m very excited to join the Chargers,” Johnson told shortly after signing a three-year deal. “This is a squad that I wanted to play for, and we got things done. I’m proud to be a part of the family. It was good (to hear from them) because like I said, this was a team I wanted to play for. When I got the word they were interested in me, they shot up to my No. 1 choice. The visit only confirmed things, and here we are now.”

Johnson will fit in well with the Chargers, playing both outside and from the slot. He posted over 1,000 receiving yards every year from 2010-2012. Even in the last two seasons, during which he missed a combined seven games due to injury, he averaged over 500 yards and three touchdowns. He is a physical receiver who can convert contested passes, which is exactly the type of target Rivers prefers.

Johnson is not the only new veteran in San Diego’s receiving corps. Jacoby Jones will have a chance to contribute on offense, adding another deep threat, and veteran Austin Pettis will also be in the mix after joining the team shortly after last season ended. Those additions -- plus the development of Dontrelle Inman and the healthy returns of Danny Woodhead and Ladarius Green -- mean Rivers should have no shortage of quality targets in 2015.

The length of Johnson’s contract is also important. With Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd entering contract years, it was critical to get another receiver under contract beyond this season.

Will Rivers Run?

Chargers fans had less than 24 hours to enjoy the Johnson signing before Rivers went and ruined their day, telling UT San Diego’s Kevin Acee he will not sign a contract extension before the 2015 season, his contract year.

The Chargers still hope to lock up Rivers as soon as he is willing.

“We are committed to making sure Philip retires as a Charger and we will address that at the appropriate time,” Telesco said at the conclusion of last season.

Rivers cites the team’s possible move to Los Angeles as a reason for his indecision, as he does not want to move his wife and seven children to a new city that would clearly clash with their Southern-roots vibe. But he did say the Los Angeles factor is “part of” his indecision, meaning there are other factors as well.

Rivers was demoralized last season when the Chargers suffered consecutive decisive losses to the Patriots and Broncos. That made it clear to Rivers the Chargers were not ready to contend with upper-echelon teams. Adding to his frustration is that both of those teams were extremely aggressive in free agency, while the Chargers made only modest moves.

It is unlikely the additions of Jones, Johnson, Orlando Franklin and Jimmy Wilson move the needle much. Just as it is unlikely any honest evaluator can say the Chargers are better off now than after Year One of the Tom Telesco/Mike McCoy era.

That is why Rivers will wait before signing an extension. He wants to put pressure on Telesco to improve the roster. And he wants to put pressure on the Spanos family to keep the team in San Diego. Basically, he wants the same thing all Chargers fans want.

The only difference is Chargers fans want Rivers’ signature on a new contract as soon as possible. But unless circumstances change dramatically in a short amount of time, that will have to wait.

More Moves to Be Made

The Chargers are not done in free agency -- they can’t be after suffering so many losses. San Diego saw four starters sign with other teams: Ryan Mathews, Eddie Royal, Shareece Wright and Marcus Gilchrist. Andrew Gachkar, one of the team’s most valuable special teamers, is also gone. Add to the list of losses Nick Hardwick and Jeromey Clary, both of whom retired earlier this offseason.

Some of those roles have already been filled. Johnson replaces Royal as the third receiver, while Wilson takes over for Gilchrist at strong safety.

Jason Verrett will replace Wright in the starting lineup, but another cornerback is needed. Kyle Wilson (Jets) is still a free agent, although he and Verrett are both better playing the slot. Patrick Robinson (Saints) is another option. Wilson and Robinson are both former first-round picks who could benefit from a change of scenery.

A new starting running back may come as early as the No. 17 overall pick, with our latest mock draft having the Chargers selecting Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon.

More depth on the offensive line will come via the draft. The team will likely select a guard in the middle rounds, with A.J. Cann (South Carolina) and Laken Tomlinson (Duke) among the top targets. A developmental tackle such as Darrian Miller (Kentucky) could be added later.

But before all attention shifts to the draft, the Chargers will continue value shopping in free agency. The team could still upgrade a few positions before all the good talent is picked over. One possibility is strengthening the defensive line, as B.J. Raji (Packers) and Pat Sims (Raiders) are both still unsigned.

Is the Rivers era coming to an end? Join the discussion inside the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the team. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 18 years and covered the team since '03. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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