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Chargers Free Agency: A.J. Smith Avoids Temptation

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With his back to the wall, it would be easy for AJ Smith to act in his own short term best interest, and use salary cap gimmicks to go 'all in' this season. Why not obligate the team to future financial burdens to ensure future employment? The best case is that he gets to work through those obligations after keeping his job; the worst case is that those future obligations aren't his problem. I suspected AJ of this kind of thinking while watching the free agency contracts fly by last week. It seemed like there were lots of super 2012-friendly three and four year contracts with big money going to a lot of old guys. Even though NFL contracts are not guaranteed, heavily back-loaded contracts can leave the team having to choose between overpaying, or having a lot of holes. In order to determine if AJ was diverging from his usual disciplined approach and changing his financial style, I compiled all the salary cap numbers (prorated bonus plus salary) on the 2012 free agent signings.

Disclaimer: Not all contract terms have been released. Where only years, total $$ and guaranteed $$ was available, I used the model of guaranteed $$ being the signing bonus, a $1million first year salary, and the rest distributed through the remaining years with slight raises.

2012 Charger FA Contract Salary Cap Numbers in Millions of Dollars

Player Age 2012 2013 2014 2015
Robert Meachem 27 3.375 6.875 6.875 7.875
Jared Gaither 26 3 6.5 7 8
Jarret Johnson 30 2.5 4.5 5.5 6.5
Nick Hardwick 30 4.5 4.5 4.5
Le'Ron McClain 27 2 3 3.25
Eddie Royal 25 3 5 5.5
Atari Bigby 30 1 1.5
Charlie Whitehurst 29 1.5 2.5
Randy McMichael 32 0.8 0.8
Dante Rosario 27 0.5
Demorrio Williams 31 0.5
Kory Sperry 26 0.5

It turns out that there were only three 4 year contracts. Two of these are likely to be kept on the books and are manageable, if the players continue to improve through their late 20's (Meachem and Gaither). These contracts' increasing values could also be potentially offset by Quentin Jammer and Shaun Phillips coming off the books in 2014. The third 4 year contract belongs to Johnson, and is not likely to survive to the 2014 season. In 2014, Johnson will be 33 and count for $5.5M against the cap. This is the same team that had to debate keeping Takeo Spikes at 35 for only $2.5M.

There were also three 3 year contracts, which are all likely to see their full terms. McClain(cheap) and Royal (young) are fairly young and cheap, while Hardwick would be a hard cut to sell to the fans unless his football skills rapidly declined.

The remaining free agent signings were all one or two year deals at much smaller salary numbers.

So there you have it, despite the big contract terms and multiple free agent signings, AJ maintaining his usual balanced approach to financial terms.