The Dan Fouts Award is handed out annually to the most underpaid San Diego Charger player from the previous season. The nominees are chosen after comparing the performance of each player on the Chargers roster against his cap value for that season. The winner is chosen by the fans.
To avoid any controversy, let me lay this out as clearly as possible. We will only be dealing with non-rookie contracts, this is true for the players nominated as well as any comparisons. Most players (with the exception of QBs) are playing way under their value until it comes time to sign their first non-rookie deal.
Also, just like with the Ryan Leaf Award we will be using the 2008 Cap Value of each player. This is not his base salary, it is essentially what he was paid for the 2008 season after bonuses have been included. Each contract is different on how bonuses are laid out, so cap values change annually under the same contract. But since we are looking at 2008 in a vacuum, we will take whatever the player was paid in that season and compare it to his performance to find the best valued Charger player in 2008.
Stephen Cooper, ILB - Stephen Cooper is a great story. Coming out of the University of Maine, he was signed as an undrafted free-agent and worked his way up from the practice squad, to special teams, to backup linebacker and eventually taking over the starting Inside Linebacker spot with the departure of Randall Godfrey in 2006. After serving a four-game suspension to start the 2008 season, Cooper helped solidfy the defense and became an on-the-field leader during the transition in defensive coordinators. He ended the season with 98 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 6 passes defensed and 4 interceptions.
Cap Value: $1,833,012
Others at this position: Ray Lewis - $9,428,814, Karlos Dansby - $8,088,860, Julian Peterson - $7,301,800, Keith Bulluck - $7,862,388
Quentin Jammer, CB - Quentin Jammer has turned out to be everything Chargers fans wanted him to be when he was drafted in the first round of the 2002 draft. Not only is he a big, physical player who specialized in jamming receivers at the line as well as playing the run with strong tackling, but he has turned into a shutdown corner who plays with intelligence. For a few years there he had a problem with being too physical and picking up too many pass interference calls, but he learned from his mistakes and really couldn't be asked to be any better than what he is. 2008 was a difficult year for Jammer because it was a difficult year for our entire secondary. He rarely got help from Clinton Hart and spent most of the year playing man-to-man while the QB had all day to throw. With that being said, Jammer was still quite effective and still forced the ball to the other side of the field. He also landed a couple of big hits that seemed to changed the momentum of the game.
Cap Value: $3,404,200
Others at this position: Champ Bailey - $12,690,050, Chris McAlister - $10,907,322, Patrick Surtain - $8,380,000, Donald Strickland - $7,767,500
Jamal Williams, DT - The nose tackle is probably the single most important position in the 3-4 defense. Without it, you're going to have a hard time freeing up your linebackers and you'll get shredded by a good running team. In the 4-3 or the 3-4, Jamal Williams has consistently been one of the Chargers best players. Even now, with his knees constantly hurting due to carrying his huge frame and years of being chop-blocked by the Broncos offensive line, he may be slow to get going but how he effects the game is a large determining factor on how it will turn out. In 2008, at the age of 32, Williams put up one of his best seasons to date. He collected 1.5 sacks to go along with 56 tackles and 3 passes defensed (yes, really).
Cap Value: $2,903,840
Others at this position: Albert Haynesworth - $7,250,003, Kris Jenkins - $5,900,000, Casey Hampton - $5,378,043, Rock Bernard - $5,066,626
Igor Olshansky, DE - I know not everyone is going to agree with this, but the hear me out. First, understand that Igor showed no tremendous progress throughout his five years with the Chargers but what just signed to a 4-year deal with the Cowboys worth $18 million dollars. Let's not get too complicated in trying to figure out the deal and let's just assume that's split evenly over the 4 years. That means Igor is now making $4.5 million dollars a year as a decent run-stopping 3-4 DE. Right? A look at Igor's stats back me up. In his rookie year Igor started all 16 games and came away with 1 sack and 39 tackles. In 2007, when the defense excelled all around him, Igor put up his best numbers: 3.5 sacks, 1 interception, 48 tackles. In 2008, during a contract year, Igor managed only 2 sacks and 28 tackles. So there probably isn't much difference between 2008 Igor and 2009 Igor, except that teams around the league are valuing 3-4 Defensive Ends higher than they once did. Cap Value: $1,579,320 Others at this position: Luis Castillo - $6,989,380, Richard Seymour - $6,836,720, Shaun Ellis - $5,302,059, Trevor Pryce - $5,250,240
One caveat that I'd like to add on here before we get to the voting. Luis Castillo was in the running for the Ryan Leaf Award in 2008, but I highly doubt he will be for 2009. In 2008 his cap value was thrown off by his $6,150,000 signing bonus. In reality, Castillo's contract appears to be structured with an extremely low base salary and lots of bonuses to be achieved. So if Luis doesn't produce, Luis doesn't get paid (after the signing bonus anyways). Castillo was also paid another $4 million or so in 2008 in other bonuses, most likely dealing with his health and ability to stay on the field.