April 19, 2024

They make good, often great, money — some in the millions and millions — and their livelihood is playing a game.

But their futures typically are etched in sand, with the tide always threatening to rush in with little notice.

“It’s a strange life to live,” Chargers tight end Gerald Everett said. “It’s a strange career to have. Most people will never understand that. But that’s just the nature of our profession, the politics and everything else that goes into it.”

So here the Chargers are, with two games remaining in a season that has soured, a group originally built to last falling apart after just a few months.

In barely a week, all the brotherhood preached and practiced, all the bonds formed as the foundation for success will be pushed to the edge as the franchise readies for a reset that could be substantial.

“That’s the business we signed up for,” safety Alohi Gilman said. “It’s a little nuts, yeah, but we all know this is part of the deal. It’s a risky business, I guess you could say.”

Brandon Staley already has been fired as head coach and Tom Telesco as general manager. Everett and Gilman are among the team’s 20 pending unrestricted free agents.

Even the veterans signed beyond this year — including Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Eric Kendricks — face uncertainty as the Chargers’ new leadership must look for financial flexibility.

The team is projected to be nearly $35 million over the salary cap entering next season, according to the website overthecap. Only three teams — Miami, Buffalo and New Orleans — are in worse shape.

“We don’t even know what might happen tomorrow,” Everett said. “We just lost our head coach, so … All you can do is do your job, your job that day, whatever it is.”

Chargers tight end Gerald Everett (left) said he had a good relationship with now-fired coach Brandon Staley.

Chargers tight end Gerald Everett (left) said he had a good relationship with now-fired coach Brandon Staley.

(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Everett talked about being a Charger because of his relationship with Staley, the two having been together with the 2020 Rams. Then he referenced another former Ram, Sebastian Joseph-Day, who’s also already gone.

One day, the defensive lineman was a team captain and the next the nameplate above the locker he occupied for nearly two seasons was blank after the Chargers released Joseph-Day three days before Christmas.

“Something like that is always surprising to me,” Everett said. “But that’s what this business is about sometimes.”

The Chargers will travel to Denver for their final road game Sunday, matched against a Broncos team that just basically announced it no longer had interest in quarterback Russell Wilson.

That’s the same Wilson who interested Denver enough just 16 months ago for the sides to agree on a five-year extension, a deal that doesn’t technically start until next season, when Wilson almost certainly will be playing for someone else.

In a sport where fortunes can shift that rapidly at the most important position, an entire offseason of potential change can resonate through every corner of a locker room.

Chargers safety Alohi Gilman (32) yells to fans before a game against the Miami Dolphins.

Chargers safety Alohi Gilman says life in the NFL is “crazy sometimes.”

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“My parents always ask me about it,” Gilman said. “It’s like, ‘Why are you doing this?’ It is crazy sometimes.”

Players are in place, in pro sports, to be replaced. When the Chargers drafted Gilman in the sixth round in 2020, they had three established safeties on the roster and then signed a fourth in September.

Since Gilman arrived, they’ve drafted two more safeties and signed five others as free agents.

One of the most permanent fixtures on the Chargers’ defense over the last six years has been one of those safeties — Derwin James Jr. He remains the NFL’s highest paid at his position, his deal featuring an average annual value of $19 million.

Yet, in the Chargers’ Week 16 loss to Buffalo, James went from being a fixture to being a spectator during some crucial moments of the fourth quarter as the team subbed him out.

If there ever was a moment for all the Chargers not named Justin Herbert to contemplate their futures with the franchise, James’ first career benching had to be it.

“We all think about it, all the changes that come every year,” Everett said. “It’s inevitable. But, in most cases, it’s something you can’t really control.”

The Chargers are playing for an interim head coach in Giff Smith and for one another. There’s nothing else left.

Long-time backup Easton Stick will make his third career start in place of the injured Herbert. Stick is another one approaching unrestricted free agency.

He said he’s too focused on the next game to worry about anything as distant as even next week.

“Everybody has a situation like that,” Stick said. “Everybody’s playing for something. Everybody’s contract is different. I’m just trying to go out there and play really good football for Giff, for the organization and for the guys in the locker room.”

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