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.
New York Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. was sought after by the New England Patriots ahead of the last season's trade deadline, according to NBC's Chris Simms, who reported New England was the team 'most aggressively pursuing' Beckham at that point of time.
Fantasy Spin: The Patriots obviously settled on Josh Gordon, but his status is such that Beckham could easily be a target of theirs again in 2019. While Gordon may be able to return again at some point in 2019, New England knows it can't count on him for any length of time. The Patriots' biggest need may be an outside receiver, and the prospect of playing the next two to three years with Tom Brady could be too tantalizing for the team to pass up if they are willing to pay the price to get Beckham.
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen was "OK" after being involved in a minor car accident in Los Angeles on Saturday, and no injuries were reported. In one of the worst offenses in football in his rookie year, Rosen looked pretty bad in his 14 games played. He completed 55.2 percent of his passes for 2,278 yards, 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. His terrible offensive line didn't make it easier on him, and he dealt with a lack of weapons around him. Arizona should look to bolster their playmakers around him this season, but Rosen probably won't improve drastically overnight. Until further notice he'll be a weak QB2 with upside.
Houston Texans impending free-agent LB Jadeveon Clowney is unlikely to receive a long-term deal, in the opinion of MMQB's Peter King, because he's not the worker bee that some others are on defense. He's likely to receive the franchise tag.
Indianapolis Colts impending free-agent WR Dontrelle Inman could be a fit for the Minnesota Vikings, according to Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com, and Barnwell believes Inman's size would add a different element to Minnesota's passing attack.
Green Bay Packers impending free-agent DL Muhammad Wilkerson (ankle) could receive another 'prove-it deal' to remain with the team, according to Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com.
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.
Washington Redskins senior vice president of football operations Doug Williams said QB Alex Smith (leg) hopefully will be able to play at some point in 2019.
Fantasy Spin: Smith suffered a serious leg injury and there is still not definite timetable for his return. The Redskins likely will add at least one more quarterback this season, but owners in all fantasy leagues probably should avoid the Redskins quarterback situation next season.
San Francisco 49ers restricted free-agent RB Raheem Mostert likely will receive a tender offer this offseason and could even receive a multi-year extension from the team.
San Francisco 49ers impending free-agent Alfred Morris is not expected to re-sign with the 49ers this offseason.
Buffalo Bills WR Zay Jones has the ability to be a slot receiver and played the position during his college career, in the opinion of BuffaloBills.com's Chris Brown.
Fantasy Spin: Jones is coming off a decent season with 652 yards and seven touchdowns. He likely will be a top-three receiver for the Bills next season and could be a late-round option in fantasy leagues.
New England Patriots impending free-agent TE Dwayne Allen could re-sign with the Patriots this offseason, but he would likely have to accept a pay cut, in the opinion of ESPN.com's Mike Reiss. Several people in the Patriots organization like Allen's professional approach, and he has been around Gillette Stadium over the last few weeks.
New York Jets impending free-agent CB Buster Skrine appears unlikely to re-sign with the Jets this offseason since the team has CB Parry Nickerson ready to replace him at cornerback, in the opinion of the New York Post's Brian Costello.
New York Jets impending free-agent DT Steve McLendon appears unlikely to re-sign with the Jets this offseason, in the opinion of the New York Post's Brian Costello.
Los Angeles Rams impending free-agent DE Dante Fowler, DT Ndamukong Suh and S Lamarcus Joyner likely will not receive the franchise tag this offseason, in the opinion of ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio.
San Francisco 49ers impending free-agent PK Robbie Gould could be an option for the franchise tag this offseason, in the opinion of ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio.
Buffalo Bills impending free-agent DT Jordan Phillips said he is having contract talks with the Bills.
New Orleans Saints impending free-agent RB Mark Ingram likely will not receive the franchise tag this offseason, in the opinion of ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio.
Fantasy Spin: The Saints likely will go with Alvin Kamara as their main running back next season and probably will be a No. 1 running back in most fantasy leagues. Ingram should receive interest from several teams during free agency and could be a No. 2 fantasy back depending on his situation.
Denver Broncos QB Joe Flacco also was coveted by the Washington Redskins, helping spark the Broncos to make the trade with the Baltimore Ravens on Wednesday, Feb. 13.
Fantasy Spin: Just as the QB he is replacing (Case Keenum) was in 2018, value Flacco as a mid-to-low-end QB2 next season in an offense that isn't expected to feature a high volume of passes.
Mark Geragos, the attorney for free-agent QB Colin Kaepernick (49ers) said Saturday, Feb. 16, that the quarterback 'absolutely' wants to resume his NFL career and projects that Kaepernick will receive an offer within the next two weeks.