COSTA MESA, Calif. – On Friday, a day after the Los Angeles Chargers unceremoniously cut former first-round pick Jerry Tillery, Bolts coach Brandon Staley said it had grown increasingly apparent that the team and the defensive lineman were no longer compatible.
“There’s a point in relationships like this where you’ve got to move on and it’s best for both people to move on,” Staley said.
The Chargers are 5-3 and on pace to earn a playoff berth for the first time since 2018 as they prepare to play the 4-4 San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.
“It’s unfortunate,” All-Pro edge Khalil Mack said of Tillery’s release. “It’s something that I really don’t think I’ve been a part of that in the NFL, in the sense of the middle of the season, cut. It’s a weird situation … but at the same time he’s a talented player so whatever he chooses to do, he’s going to be able to ball out and do his thing.”
Quarterback Justin Herbert called it an “unfortunate circumstance.”
“He and I were good friends,” Herbert said. “But that’s a Coach Staley decision. Those guys in the front office make that decision.”
The no. 28 overall pick in 2019, the Chargers declined over the offseason to pick up the fifth-year option on Tillery’s rookie contract.
He appeared in seven games this season, but did not start. He recorded a sack and forced a fumble.
Multiple teams made offers for Tillery, 26, ahead of the trade deadline on Nov. 1, but none that intrigued the Chargers enough to entertain due to their hope that Tillery would provide needed reinforcement on the defensive line down the stretch.
However, over the past week, philosophical differences with the coaching staff and front office came to a head and Tillery’s friction with other players grew. The situation ultimately began to affect multiple areas of the organization and prompted the Bolts’ decision to move on.
“Competing visions for the role moving forward and it just became clear that it wasn’t going to be a fit anymore,” Staley said when asked what changed since the trade deadline. “Where we’re headed as a team wasn’t going to be compatible with Jerry and where he’s trying to go.”
Tillery appeared on the injury report with a back issue ahead of a Week 9 matchup against the Atlanta Falcons and was inactive for the game, during which defensive lineman Austin Johnson suffered a season-ending knee injury.
It appeared Tillery would be the solution to replace Johnson moving into Week 10, but that was not the case with coaches opting to open the role to competition.
“We felt we were going to give [Breiden Fehoko] and [Joe Gaziano] A chance to compete and where we’re at, trying to do with our team, our defensive line, our defense, our whole team, trying to create competition have guys earn their roles,” said Staley, who has emphasized competition among position groups. in his second season as coach. “And that’s what we want to be here, that’s what we want to do. When those things didn’t line up, we had to make a change.”
It’s unclear how the Chargers will atone for the loss of Johnson and Tillery by moving forward with five interior linemen currently on the roster, including Sebastian Joseph-Day, Morgan Fox, Christian Covington and Fehoko (both of whom have spent time this season on the practice squad) and rookie Otito Ogbonnia.
The Chargers’ defense ranks 30th in the NFL, allowing an average of 25.8 points per game and the unit has been particularly bad defending the run, allowing a league-worst 5.7 yards per carry.
Tillery was placed on waivers Friday and will be available for teams to claim Monday.
In 54 games, Tillery recorded 10.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.