There's no doubt the Chargers would like Jacob Hester to be a Charger for a while. However, complicating that desire is the fact he's going to become a free agent on March 13. Some may bring up the idea that the Chargers put the franchise tag on him given that fullbacks don't get paid very high salaries in today's modern NFL. Part of that statement is true. Fullbacks do not get paid comparably high salaries in the NFL. They really never have. Lorenzo Neal signed with the Chargers in 2003 having blocked for four 1,000 yard rushers and coming off a Pro Bowl season with the Cincinnati Bengals. He signed for 3 years, $4.5 million. He had also bounced around the NFL playing for 5 different teams in a 10 year career before arriving in San Diego.
The people chiming in and saying the team should slap the Franchise Tag on Hester assume his salary would be based on other fullbacks. This is not true, fullbacks count as running backs. And as we can recall from Darren Sproles' two years with the franchise designation, it can cost in the neighborhood of $8 million. The Chargers like Hester, but they don't like him 8 million dollar's-worth. Instead they'll have to compete for his services with the rest of the NFL.
What the Chargers like about Hester is his versatility. He may not be great at any one thing, but he does a lot of things well. He's developed into a steady lead blocker. You can trust him to catch a couple balls in the passing game. He can run the ball for a yard when you need a yard to get a 1st down. He can fill in at RB in a pinch. He can take charge on punt coverage units and play on his share of Special Teams units. Having one guy that takes on those different roles saves you roster space. Of course, the rest of the NFL knows this too.
So, what's it going to cost to keep him? Let's take a look at some current fullbacks' salaries after the jump.Not a lot of fullbacks both make it to free agency and get multiyear contracts, here are a few that did:
|Vonta Leach||Baltimore Ravens||3 years||$11 million|
|Leonard Weaver||Philadelphia Eagles||3 years||$11 million|
|Greg Jones||Jacksonville Jaguars||5 years||$17.4 million|
|Ovie Mughelli||Atlanta Falcons||6 years||$18 million|
|LeRon McClain||Kansas City Chiefs||1 years||$1.4 million|
|Madison Hedgecock||New York Giants||5 years||$5.5 million|
|Lawrence Vickers||Houston Texans||2 years||$3 million|
It should be noted that McClain has been year-to-year for a bit now and he did reach a high of $2.396 million in 2010. However, it seems to be that the going rate for top fullbacks is somewhere around $3 million per season. A couple got 3 year deals and two others — both are part of offenses that lean heavily on the run game — got 5ćć– and 6–year deals. I don't see Hester getting a contract that runs that long and I think he's a very different FB than Leach, Jones or Mughelli, but I do think you could make the case that he's similar to Weaver. If I'm his agent, I want that contract and maybe something extra to help him choose the Chargers over someone else.
However, even if the Chargers do want to keep Hester and value him enough to feel he's worth the money, the questions that linger are:
- Are there other teams that also value him that highly that drive his market up or down?
- Are there other higher priority signings the Chargers want to make that could eat the potentially $3 million per anum that it would take to keep Mr. Versatility?