How former first-round pick Jerry Tillery lost his Chargers job in a week

Allen J. Schaben  Los Angeles Times ROOKIE
As a first-round pick in 2019, Jerry Tillery had an encouraging start to his NFL career. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The relationship between the Chargers and former first-round pick Jerry Tillery dissolved so quickly and dramatically this week that he was suddenly waived Thursday night.

On Friday, coach Brandon Staley explained that the team and the player had “competing visions” of Tillery’s role, particularly after starting defensive lineman Austin Johnson was lost for the season Sunday.

Staley said the plan was to allow Breiden Fehoko and Joe Gaziano to compete with Tillery for playing time in Johnson’s spot.

Fehoko was signed to the active roster this week to replace Johnson, who suffered a knee injury against Atlanta, while Gaziano remains on the practice squad.

Since he became the Chargers’ head coach in January 2021, Staley has repeatedly talked about the importance of creating competition and making players earn their roles.

“That’s what we want to be here,” Staley said Friday. “That’s what we want to do. When those things didn’t line up, we had to make a change.”

Tillery, who was selected with the 28th overall pick in 2019, started 15 games a season ago. He lost his starting job in the offseason during the Chargers’ defensive rebuild that included signing Johnson and fellow free-agent defensive linemen Sebastian Joseph-Day and Morgan Fox.

The Chargers also declined to pick up the fifth-year option on Tillery’s rookie deal in May, a decision that further strained his relationship with the team.

This week, tensions escalated between Tillery and some of his teammates and members of the Chargers’ coaching staff.

“He probably expects more for himself,” Staley said. “Where we’re at as a team and what we see, there’s just two different places. That happens sometimes in the NFL. When you get to that point, you gotta do what’s best for the team and what’s best of the player. That’s what we did here.”

The situation between Tillery and the Chargers was much more tenable at the time of the NFL trade deadline early this month, which is why he wasn’t moved despite interest from other teams.

But things unraveled rapidly after the team returned from its road game in Atlanta. Tillery was unavailable against the Falcons because of a back injury.

“There’s a point in relationships like this [is] where you gotta move on and it’s best for both people to move on,” Staley said. “And that’s just what happened here. We wish Jerry luck moving forward in his career.”

The Chargers are expected to elevate Gaziano from the practice squad Saturday in advance of their game Sunday night at San Francisco.

Right tackle Trey Pipkins III was able to do some on-field work Friday as he continues to deal with a left knee strain. He is questionable for Sunday.

If Pipkins can’t play, the Chargers have swing tackle Storm Norton and practice-squad offensive lineman Foster Sarell as options. Sarell worked with the first team during the media-viewing portions of practice this week.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.