Even if the Chargers (2-7) are going nowhere, it's important that players such as guard Orlando Franklin go somewhere in the final seven games.
Franklin, the most expensive outside free agent the Chargers signed last offseason, has gone down with a high ankle sprain and a knee sprain but may return to the lineup this Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.
If Franklin can begin to live up to the $16. 5 million in guaranteed money he received, the Chargers are more apt to untrack rookie back Melvin Gordon and solidify their blocking unit going into next year. At the least, a seven-game stretch would allow the team to find out what it has in Franklin, who has compiled only 228 snaps and so far looks like a classic buy-high addition.
"I've missed five games, and that's crazy," Franklin said this week. "I've missed one game in my career (before) I've been here. It's definitely been a frustrating year, and I definitely look forward to these next seven weeks and just being able to be consistent, being able to take every snap on offense."
A durable player with the Denver Broncos, who drafted him 46th in the 2011 draft, Franklin appeared in 67 of 68 games plus all seven postseason contests.
He looked fairly fit when the joined the Chargers last May, but once the pads came on this summer, he struggled to get into a flow.
Perhaps an omen came in the first padded practice, when Franklin and a linemate tangled feet, allowing Corey Liuget to shoot a gap and blast Gordon in the backfield.
A leg injury hampered the left guard for a few days in August, but he worked in the season opener and the first road game. Then he was carted out of the Week 3 game in Minnesota after getting hit from behind at the end of a play. When Franklin returned against Oakland in Week 7, he suffered an MCL sprain, leaving him at a loss to explain why he suddenly can't stay on the field.
"I don't think I could have done anything differently on those plays," he said. "I've been rolled up before, and I've had a high ankle before, and that's what I had. I never had an MCL injury before. But it's football. It's a 100 percent injury rate; unfortunately, guys are going to get hurt."
Even if the injuries clear up, Franklin's ability to help the Chargers is far from clear.
Long-armed Kenny Wiggins, his primary replacement, has looked as capable as a pass blocker. The more powerful run blocker is Franklin, who has strong hands and a mean streak, but as his games mounted in Denver, more stiffness was evident in his movements. Also, for all his NFL experience, Franklin is still learning to play guard, having spent his first three NFL year at right tackle. So, he's learning not only new linemates but the intricacies of a faster-paced position.
The way Franklin sees it, not only does he have a lot to gain between now and early January, so do the Chargers.
"We play five division games in these next seven weeks," he said. "Everybody knows that you win the division, you're in. And I feel like our division is a great division, but our division doesn't really have a leader right now, especially with Kansas City going up there, being able to do what they did to Denver (beating the Broncos on Sunday, 29-13).
"So I feel like we've got a big opportunity this next couple of weeks. We've just got to come together as a team."