The Los Angeles Chargers are 5-8 and sitting in third place in the AFC West. They remain three games back of the Kansas City Chiefs for the division lead and are the No. 12 seed in the AFC playoff picture. The rest of the season is now in question as starting quarterback Justin Herbert suffered a season-ending injury.
Herbert fractured his right index finger during the team’s Week 14 loss to the Denver Broncos. He is getting surgery, and head coach Brandon Staley said that the best move for Herbert’s future is to miss the remainder of the 2023 season. Los Angeles added him to injured reserve on December 12. He technically would be allowed to return if the Chargers make the playoffs, but he likely wouldn’t physically be ready.
Short-Term Injury Impact
In the short term, the team will turn to Easton Stick or another quarterback who comes in on short notice. Stick finished Week 14, going 13-of-24 for 179 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. The only other quarterback on the roster is rookie Max Duggan, who is currently on the practice squad. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them working out a free-agent quarterback or two, but for now, the best guess is that Stick starts on a short week in Week 15 against the Las Vegas Raiders.
Can the Chargers still make the playoffs?
Technically, yes, Los Angeles can still make the playoffs. They need a lot of help and don’t control their destiny. The Chargers will face the Raiders in Week 15 for Thursday Night Football, the Buffalo Bills, the Denver Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs. They will likely be the underdogs in the final three games of the year. Los Angeles needs to win out to have a chance and even then, will need certain results from teams in the AFC to sneak in as the No. 7 seed.
Fantasy Football Impact
The fantasy football playoffs are about to get underway. Herbert was considered a top quarterback draft pick behind guys like Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts and Joe Burrow. Whether it was due to injuries to his top wide receivers. or something with the offensive game plan, Herbert didn’t seem like himself throughout the season. Still, he went into Week 14 as the overall QB6 in fantasy football.
Herbert will finish the season with 3,134 yards and 20 touchdowns with seven interceptions. He ran the ball 52 times for 228 yards and three additional scores. Herbert should still be a top fantasy football quarterback heading into next season, barring the Chargers trading or cutting Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.
While it would make sense to just transition to Stick as your fantasy football quarterback the rest of the way, see if there is a better option. Matthew Stafford is rostered in 33.6% of ESPN leagues and would be worth checking out in Week 15 as he faces a Washington Commanders defense, allowing the second-most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks. Gardner Minshew is rostered in 17.4% of ESPN leagues, while Joe Flacco is rostered in just 4.4% of ESPN leagues, and they could be started depending on their matchup in a certain week.
Long-Term Injury Impact
Should the Chargers trade Herbert?
Before you instantly find me on Twitter and bash this idea, it wasn’t originally mine. This topic was covered in a recent episode of The Bill Simmons Podcast. On the one hand, we continue to say that the Chargers are wasting Herbert and that they aren’t doing enough around him to make him successful. If you take out the fact that he was just signed to a monster contract, the same narrative following Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields can be applied fairly well to Herbert, despite the latter being a more talented passer. With the Bears having the No. 1 overall pick nearly locked in, Fields is considered likely to be traded.
Herbert is under contract through the 2029 season, and trading him would incur a ton of dead cap. It isn’t likely to happen because a team has to be able to afford him to acquire him. Still, if Los Angeles saw how Herbert looked this season and decided they made a mistake in the extension, the only way out of it is to trade him. They would get a hefty cap penalty, but Herbert would command top-tier draft picks and a lot of them. Again, I don’t think this happens, but this is now four years in a row that the Chargers will be without a playoff win. Staley’s days as the head coach are likely numbered, and if the front office wants to complete a dramatic rebuild, what better way than to trade away your franchise quarterback for likely the greatest trade package return in history?