As it stands now, the 2009 NFL cap is $127 million per team. The Chargers currently have ~$18 million of cap space based on their current contracts. Much has been said about the uncertainty after the 2009 season, with multiple pro-bowl free agents potentially leaving the team. Can the Chargers sign Rivers, Merriman, Jackson, McNeill, and Sproles to multi-year, multi-million dollar deals? A resounding "No" always follows this question. Will the CBA be renewed for 2010 and beyond? We can't see into the future, but we can make predictions based on historical information. Much more will be known by the time the final roster cuts are made this year, and even more if a new CBA is approved. Yet to continue to be competitive in the NFL, most believe the Chargers will need to sign at least two of these marquee players, with Rivers being an absolute must. Let's take a look at the 2009 cap space, and 5 San Diego free agents. Of course several assumptions will be made as we look to the future.
Assumption 1: Chargers cut ILB Matt Wilhelm providing [+$3.7 mil in cap space]
Assumption 2: Chargers do not re-sign WR Chris Chambers after the 2009 season [+$5.9 million in cap space]
Assumption 3: 2010 will be a capped year, with the total cap at $137 million - Based on the last 6 years, the average increase in the cap each year is ~9.3%. We'll take the median 4 year average and calculate the 2010 cap using an increase of 7.5%
NFL Cap by Year [million]
This gives the Chargers a total of $28 million in cap space for 2010. After the contracts to Wilhelm and Chambers come off the books, that number grows to $37.6 million for 2010 and beyond.
Assumption 4: The focus on free agent priority and assumed contract offer:
Philip Rivers [7 years for $100 mil] Average cap hit $14.3 mil Increase in 2008 cap hit $6.7 mil
Shawne Merriman [6 years for $70 mil] Average cap hit $11.7 mil Increase in 2008 cap hit $9.1 mil
Marcus McNeill [6 years for $60 mil] Average cap hit $10.0 mil Increase in 2008 cap hit $9.2 mil
Vincent Jackson [5 years for $40 mil] Average cap hit $8.0 mil Increase in2008 cap hit $7.2 mil
Darren Sproles [4 years for $16 mil] Average cap hit $4.0 mil Increase in 2008 cap hit $-2.6 mil
Total 2010 and beyond, increase in contract obligations from 2008 =$29.6 mil
Total 2010 cap space =$37.6 mil
Does this mean that the Chargers can fill all 5 bank accounts, and still come in at $8 million under the cap for 2010? The largest variable here is the 2010 CBA. However, the cap will continue to increase each year providing additional cap space, and LT will come off the books after 2011 freeing up about ~$8 million. So on the face of it, it does look like the Chargers can sign all 5 key components. But why do I keep hearing that this is impossible? Well, many of these contracts are back loaded, so I can only make assumptions based on 2008 cap numbers. The exact numbers will vary. We also have to account for incremental increases in other player salaries, increase in league minimums based on the 2010 CBA, and new rookie contracts, and we want to keep the ability to fill holes in the roster with a Kevin Burnett or other FA. However, any number of these new contracts can be back loaded as well, and the Chargers may never pay out the final years. The issue will be in guaranteed money. It will be very difficult to guarantee so much money across just a handful of players. What happens if they are injured? The Chargers with hardly any cap space will not be able to retain other talented players, and definitely will not be signing any free agents. Based on these numbers, the Chargers have the ability to offer a contract to any, or all of these players, but it may very well come with a huge risk to the future success of their organization, and I don't see AJ Smith writing that check.