Sun Feb 17 9:40pm ET
By BERNIE WILSON
AP Sports Writer
SAN DIEGO (AP) Two years after the Chargers left their home of 56 seasons, pro football returned to San Diego on a cold, rainy winter Sunday, with a different dynamic mixed in with a beloved local tradition.
On the field at SDCCU Stadium, the San Diego Fleet of the new Alliance of American Football, coached by San Diegan Mike Martz, played their home opener against the Atlanta Legends on a field drenched by repeated downpours.
Out in the parking lot before the game, tailgaters of all persuasions - Chargers fans, ex-Chargers fans, Los Angeles Rams fans, Fleet fans - huddled under pop-up tents to drink beer, grill meat and enjoy loud music.
Members of the Chargers fan group Bolt Pride set up a tailgate next to the Rams World Order, many of whose members cheered for the Rams before they left for St. Louis after the 1994 season, and then welcomed them back in 2016.
''I'm from San Diego. I've got to represent my town, no matter what,'' said Bolt Pride member Jorge Santiesteban, 38. ''There's disappointment that the Chargers left. I hate the owner of the team, you know what I mean? There's nothing I can do. A lot of people stayed on board, a lot of people didn't. I did. I've still got my season tickets. I support them 100 percent.''
The Rams World Order fans were here to support Martz, who was with the Rams when they moved to St. Louis and was their offensive coordinator when ''The Greatest Show on Turf'' won the Super Bowl after the 1999 season, and receivers coach Az-Zahir Hakim, a former player with the Rams and San Diego State.
''It's all about football,'' said Michael Martinez of Lake Elsinore, president of Rams World Order. ''It's kind of sad with the San Diego Chargers leaving for L.A., but it's nice that San Diego has another football team. We're here to represent, we're here supporting Mike Martz, Az Hakim.
Fellow Rams World Order member Greg Hill of San Diego said he was living in Orange County when the Rams, who at the time played in Anaheim, left for St. Louis.
''We feel their pain,'' he said, referring to fans of the San Diego Chargers who have declined to support them in L.A. ''Our team left us before coming back.''
There has been plenty of angst in San Diego since the Chargers left, with some ex-fans hating on those who continue to support the Bolts.
There was no such angst in the parking lot Sunday as everyone's common goal was to try to stay dry and have fun.
Shawn P. Walchef, owner of the popular Cali Comfort barbecue restaurant in suburban Spring Valley who has remained a Chargers season-ticket holder, hosted a birthday tailgate for radio talk show host Scott Kaplan, who started the Chargers Hater Club when the team bailed.
''We're all here for the Fleet,'' Walchef said. ''We all love football, we all love pro sports, we all love tailgating. That's why we're here.''
Walchef understands the hate and the spite, and said San Diegans have the right to be upset with the way Chargers owner Dean Spanos left town. But he said he'd never tell anyone who they should cheer for.
''It's weird to see more anti-Chargers fans attacking Chargers fans than vice versa, than we ever used to fight with the Raiders, which is weird,'' he said. ''I can't believe there's a fan base that actually has 32 NFL teams cheering against them, because you have the former fans. It's not just 31 teams, it's 32.''
The rain probably kept many fans away. At the start of the game - the AAF did away with kickoffs - there might have roughly 9,000 fans in the 70,000-seat stadium, although there might have been more in the clubs and concourses.
Former Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman, who splits his time between San Diego and L.A., was at the game.
''You still have a ton of people down here who love football, even when the NFL is not going on,'' Merriman said. ''They're hungry for football. I was in San Antonio for the opening weekend and it was rocking. It shows you that people love to watch football all year long.''
The Alliance, co-founded by Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian and TV and film producer Charlie Ebersol, is the latest alternative league. While others failed, this one has strong NFL connections and is full of players who hope to get a shot at the big time.
The Chargers had a scout in the press box.
Free-agent wide receiver Demaryius Thomas was involved in a car crash near downtown Denver early Saturday, according to Denver police. Thomas' vehicle rolled over after he lost control. He and a male passenger suffered minor injuries and were taken to the hospital, while a female passenger sustained possible serious injuries that weren't life-threatening. The cause of the crash is being investigated, but it doesn't appear that drugs or alcohol played a role. Thomas was released by the Texans last Tuesday after his season ended prematurely due to a torn left Achilles. The 31-year-old had 59 catches for 677 yards and five touchdowns in 15 games with the Broncos and Texans in 2018. He's in danger of missing the start of the regular season and won't have a hot free-agent market for his services. As of now, it's looking like Thomas won't be one to draft in standard-sized leagues in 2019.
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski remains non-committal about his playing future, but he has shown up to Gillette Stadium multiple times over the last couple of weeks. Gronk might just be receiving treatment for his thigh, but ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss views it as the tight end being in a good place with how the season ended. Gronkowski will be 30 if he plays in 2019, and he remains a big injury risk that looked much slower in 2018. He'd still be a TE1 if he returns for another season, but Gronk is no longer elite at a very weak position.
The Detroit Lions released wide receiver Bruce Ellington, safety Glover Quinn and linebacker Nicholas Grigsby on Friday. Ellington signed with the Lions after they traded Golden Tate to the Eagles and became their slot receiver until he landed on Injured Reserve on Dec. 22. He had 23 catches for 132 yards in four games for Detroit. Ellington's best year came in 2017 with the Texans when he had 29 catches for 330 yards and two touchdowns. Wherever he signs, he'll battle for a roster spot in training camp.
The Buffalo Bills released tight end Charles Clay on Friday. Clay provided only 21 catches (36 targets) for 184 yards (career-low 8.8 yards per catch) and no touchdowns in 13 games for Buffalo in 2018. He was rarely in the game plan for the Bills the last two seasons and won't be a very popular target on the free-agent market. His best season came in 2013 with the Dolphins when he had 69 receptions (103 targets) for 759 yards and six scores over a full season. The days of Clay being on fantasy rosters is over.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles would "probably" be interested in playing for the New York Giants if they decide to move on from Eli Manning, according to one person with knowledge of Foles' thinking. Foles landing with the Giants would be less likely if the Eagles place the franchise tag on him, which is unlikely. The Jaguars are another team to watch out for, and there is mutual interest between them and Foles. After winning Super Bowl MVP two years ago and playing well as a starter again in 2018 when Carson Wentz was injured, Foles should earn a starting gig on the open market with several teams looking for a signal caller. While Foles has QB1 upside in the right matchups, his 2019 fantasy value will ultimately depend on where he winds up.
All indications are that the Pittsburgh Steelers plan to use the transition tag on running back Le'Veon Bell by the deadline on March 5. It's expected to have a value of $9.5 million to $14.5 million for one season and gives the Steelers a chance to match any offer he'd receive on the open market. Pittsburgh doesn't plan on matching any offer to retain Bell, but only to trade him. However, even if the Steelers find a taker in a trade, they'd need Bell to sign the transition tag first, which is highly unlikely. This situation continues to get uglier, but Bell won't be playing in Pittsburgh in 2019 no matter what. Despite having 1,229 rushing attempts in five seasons, Bell is in the prime of his career and has reached the 1,000-yard mark three times. He's one of the more versatile backs in the NFL and should remain an RB1 in his next home.
Arizona Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson will return to shadowing the top opposing wide receivers in 2019, according to defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.
Free-agent RB Mike Gillislee (Saints) worked out for the Detroit Lions Thursday, Feb. 14.
Miami Dolphins WR Danny Amendola could fill the slot receiver role for the Detroit Lions in 2019 because of his connection to head coach Matt Patricia, in the opinion of Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com.
Denver Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders (Achilles') said he is no longer wearing a walking boot but still has a 'slight limp' when walking around.
Fantasy Spin: After suffering an Achilles' injury late in the year, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Sanders miss time in 2019. He showed last year that he can be a WR2 as the top option in Denver's passing attack, but fantasy owners will need to be patient as he returns to form.
Arizona Cardinals WR Chad Williams caught 37 percent of the passes thrown his way in 2018 and had two catches or less in all but two games.
Minnesota Vikings WR Laquon Treadwell averaged 5.7 yards per target last year, the fourth-worst mark among receivers with at least 50 targets, and Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com expects Treadwell's fifth-year option to be declined.
Fantasy Spin: The former first-round pick has been a bust, and he didn't show any signs of righting the ship despite a bigger role in 2018. Even in dynasty formats, it may be time to give up on Treadwell.
Philadelphia Eagles impending free-agent WR Golden Tate and Washington Redskins impending free-agent WR Jamison Crowder are options to fill the need the Green Bay Packers have at slot receiver, according to Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com.
Fantasy Spin: The Packers need a dependable option to support Davante Adams, and both Tate and Crowder would quickly become potential WR3 options if Aaron Rodgers is throwing them the ball.
Atlanta Falcons SS Keanu Neal (knee) posted a video of himself going through agility drills without a brace on his injured left knee.
Washington Redskins QB Colt McCoy (leg) was seen without any braces or supports for his injured leg.
Los Angeles Chargers impending free-agent LB Denzel Perryman will be re-signed this offseason if the Chargers have their way, according to a source.
Updating a previous report, free-agent QB Colin Kaepernick (49ers) desired at least $20 million to play in the Alliance of American Football, according to a source.
Free-agent QB Nick Foles (Eagles) is expected to 'keep tabs on' the New York Giants this offseason, according to NJ.com's Zack Rosenblatt. A source with knowledge of Foles' thinking said the former Super Bowl MVP would 'probably' be interested in starting for the Giants if they were to release QB Eli Manning.
Fantasy Spin: There are many pieces that must fall in order for Foles to the Giants to work out. It's a sensible destination, though, with Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley leading one of the most talented offenses in the NFL. Foles could be the piece that makes them take a forward step. Were this signing to come to fruition, Foles would demand QB1 consideration given the pieces that would be around him.
Free-agent QB Nick Foles (Eagles) is not expected to return to the Philadelphia Eagles as the backup to Carson Wentz.
Fantasy Spin: Foles deserves a starting job. He won't want to play as a backup and make less money when there are teams willing to pay him to be their starter. He can be a part of the QB1 conversation if he lands in the right spot. Of course, when Wentz is healthy he too has QB1 appeal.
Free-agent QB Colin Kaepernick (49ers) and former NFL QB Tim Tebow were asked if they wanted to join the Alliance of American Football, according to league co-founder Bill Polian. Polian said he doesn't know what transpired with Kaepernick, but added that he spoke personally with Tebow, who declined.