When Jerry Tillery had his fifth-year option declined back in May, the Chargers made it clear that they still saw the defensive lineman as part of their future. However, it sounds like Tillery could find himself on the roster bubble come preseason. Daniel Popper of The Athletic writes there is a “realistic scenario” where the Chargers look to move the former first-round pick in a trade toward the end of training camp.
Tillery had a standout career at Notre Dame, leading to him being the 28th pick by the Chargers in 2019. The defensive lineman found himself in and out of the starting lineup through his first two seasons in the NFL, but he firmly established himself as a starting defensive tackle in 2021.
In 16 games (15 start), Tillery set career-highs across the board, including tackles (51), sacks (4.5), tackles for loss (six), and QB hits (14). While the numbers were solid, ProFootballFocus didn’t grade him particularly well, ranking Tillery 96th among 106 eligible interior defensive lineman.
After the season, the Chargers decided they didn’t want to commit to Tillery’s $11.8MM cap hit for 2023, so they declined the player’s fifth-year option. When the news broke, we heard that the defensive lineman was still “firmly in [the Chargers’] long-term plans.” GM Tom Telesco also gave the player a vote of confidence, stating that the organization was expecting “an even bigger role” for the lineman in 2022.
Fast forward to today, and it’s tough to find a clear role for Tillery on the Chargers defense. As Popper writes, all of Sebastian Joseph-Day, Austin Johnson, Morgan Fox, Christian Covington, and Otito Ogbonnia appear to be locks to make the roster. That means Tillery would be fighting for the final defensive line spot, and there’s a chance that the Chargers could roster only five lineman like they did in 2021. Popper opines that Breiden Fehoko, Forrest Merrill, and Joe Gaziano could each bring more to that sixth role thanks to their run-stopping ability, and while Tillery is the superior pass rusher, his skills overlap too much with Fox. Ultimately, the writer decided to keep Tillery on his proposed 53-man roster, but he believes the organization could move on if they prefer to keep a run stopper.