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What should the Chargers do in the offseason?

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The Chargers 2016 season is virtually over, but a strong offseason could keep their chances of a SuperBowl run alive. Jamie Sewell puts on his GM cap to talk about how he'd approach the offseason.

NFL: Combine Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s the deal, Tom Telesco: I think you've done a good job as the San Diego Chargers GM. Things haven't exactly gone to plan, but you've assembled a team with a fair amount of talent. The only problem is, this is a team with an ever-closing window. When you have Philip Rivers at QB, you should be gearing up for a deep playoff run, not a top-10 draft pick two years in a row.

Now, I don't think it's your fault that the Chargers are failing to be competitive, but I think that you could use some help. Luckily, I'm here, and I'm willing to donate a wealth of experience (I've been a fan of the NFL for 3 whole years!), knowledge (my IQ is as high as number of players the Chargers have placed on IR this year), and talent (fine, 2 out of 3 isn't bad).

As a GM, the offseason is where you make your money. I like money. I also like winning. This is what I'd do in the offseason if I were GM. I know you've been involved with the NFL since before I was born, but I figure that you can't possibly turn down the invaluable insight of a British teenager who lives over 5,000 miles away from the team.

I'm basing all contract information off of Spotrac.com, so if anything is incorrect, go and shout at them. (Don't actually. They're great). Here we go!

Cuts:

Unfortunately, being an NFL GM isn't easy. I'm glad I'm only having to pretend to release players, rather than call them and tell them in real life, because that makes this a lot easier. Just like all good GMs, I can take emotion out of the equation.

Just quickly, there are two types of 'cut' in the NFL - either one made before June 1st or one made/designated after June 1st. If a cut is done before June 1st, the team is eating all the dead cap for that player in the season about to come. If the cut is done after June 1st, however, the team can push that cap hit to the following year, and instead only suffer in the current season’s worth of the signing bonus that player was set to make for that year. You can cut two players before June 1st but designate them as post-June 1st cuts, getting them off the books but still allowing the players to hit the market whilst teams have money left to spend.

Here are the players I'd release in the offseason:

  • Brandon Flowers - If I had done this two weeks ago, Flowers wouldn't be here. Unfortunately, as well as he's played this season, I just can't justify keeping around a 31-year-old who's had four concussions in the last three years at a position where, unless you're Terrence Newman, age quickly catches up to you.

Savings: I'll use Flowers as an example to talk about post-June 1st cuts.

Flowers is set to make $11m next year. He has $2m owed to him in 2017 as a signing bonus, and another $2m signing bonus in 2018. If the Chargers were to cut him before June 1st, they'd suffer a cap penalty in 2017 of Flowers’ entire signing bonus he's still owed - which is $4m in total. However, if the Chargers designate him as a post-June 1st cut, all the Chargers have to pay this year is the $2m that Flowers would count for being on the roster, with the rest of the penalty being enforced in the 2018 season.

Now, that would mean the Chargers would suffer a $2m cap hit this year, rather than a $4m one, but they'd also then have to account for $2m further in 2018 to completely get him off the books - if they cut Flowers pre-June 1st, they'd account for the $4m straight up this year and not have to forfeit any more money in 2018.

This is a team who's low on money, and it makes far more sense to spread this cap hit out over two years. I'm cutting Flowers after June 1st. That means the Chargers are held accountable for $2m this year - but as Flowers was due to make $11m, that means a total saving of $9m this year to cut him.

It does leave a big hole to fill, but it's an easy enough decision at that price.

  • Orlando Franklin - Franklin has been a complete bust since he's joined the Chargers. If designated as a cut after June 1st, the Chargers will have a dead cap hit of $1.6m - but his contract would take up $7.6m in cap space.

Savings: We're cutting Franklin, and saving $6m for doing it.

  • Antonio Gates - Sorry, Antonio. I love you, but you're clearly not the same player you used to be. It's Hunter Henry's time. I could see Gates retiring in real life, but if not, then I'm going to have to let him go.

Savings: It's a $5m total saving to do this. It has to be done.

  • King Dunlap - I think Dunlap is somewhat adequate at LT, but he'll be 32 with a lengthy injury history by the time the season starts. I think that money could be put to better use elsewhere.

Savings: Cutting Dunlap saves the Chargers $5.1m.

  • Stevie Johnson - the Chargers are fairly deep at WR, and there's no need to pay a 31-year-old with 10 games played over the last two seasons.

Savings: Johnson only has a $1m penalty, so that's a nice $3.5m saved.

  • D.J. Fluker - Fluker is a great locker room presence, but he's been a disappointment since he was drafted #11 overall in 2013.

Savings: You will never see a cut this easy. None of the 5th year option is guaranteed as long as he is cut before the beginning of the next league year, which means no cap penalty. The Chargers save $8.8m by cutting Fluker.

  • Darrell Stuckey - Sorry, Stuckey. You offer no defensive value, and your Special Team’s play hasn't been as good as usual this year.

Savings: I'm quite surprised by how much money this nets the Chargers because cutting Stuckey frees up $2.9m.

  • Chris Hairston - We've seen that Hairston isn't capable of being a starting tackle in the NFL. Why pay a backup who won't be able to do the job when needed?

Savings: Roughly $1.5m.

  • Nick Dzubnar - This one isn't for cap purposes. I just don't think Dzubnar is good enough.
  • Savings: $600k.

Total Savings: $42.4m. That's not bad at all.

Resignings:

I wish all that money could go on to shiny new talent for Mike McCoy to misuse, but that's not how the NFL works. The Chargers have some FAs to bring back. Remember that I'm not a contracts expert, so every offer here is just going to be my estimate of what it would cost to bring them back. With that in mind, here's how I'd do things:

  • Danny Woodhead - If Woodhead wants to come back to San Diego, there's a place on my team for him. Bearing in mind he's a specialist player, coming off a season-ending injury and going to be 32 years old, I'm not breaking the bank for him, but I have a feeling he'd take a deal that works for both him and the Chargers. His last deal was 2 years and $5.5m, so:

Offer: 2 years, $5m, with $2.5m in each year. $3m of that ($2.5m in the first and $500k in the second) is guaranteed.

  • Jahleel Addae - The Chargers have no capable safeties on the roster if Addae walks. He's not fantastic, but he's good enough to bring back at a decent price.

Offer: I think this one would be fair for both sides. 3 years, $8.5m in total. That's going to be $2.5m in 2017, $3m in 2018 and $3m in 2019. I don't trust Addae to play adequately or stay healthy for three years, though, so there's no guaranteed money being given in 2019. 2017 will be fully guaranteed, and $2m will be guaranteed in 2018.

  • Melvin Ingram - This is the big one. Ingram is a good player, but I don't think he's worth as much as he'll ask for. The Chargers have 0 other competent OLBs if they continue to freeze out Jerry Attaochu, though, so I'm going to bring Ingram back. Ingram is not someone I trust to produce at a consistently high level, though, and I want a way to get out of the contract relatively easily. Ingram also seems like the kind of player to back himself to produce. With that in mind...

Offer: I'm making this a 5-year deal, but only the first two years of the contract are actually guaranteed. The last three years of this deal are an option, rather than part of the main contract. Ingram plays for two years, and then the team has the option to pick up the option for another three years. If they don't take the option, he becomes an FA with zero cap hit, because he was never technically signed for those years.

The original two-year contract is going to be 2 years, $22m. That's $11m a year for Ingram, which is roughly where I think his market value is at. We're going to keep it balanced so as not to hurt us in 2018 - $11m in both years. The first year is fully guaranteed, and $7m of the second year will be, too - I don't think he'd sign without having that guaranteed money.

The Chargers option is then 3 years, $39m. This is going to be simple, and just $13m per year. With the way the cap increases year by year, the Chargers would likely take this option up if Ingram manages to keep up his level of play. I'm sceptical he can, though, which is the reason for the option.

  • Mike Windt - I know nothing about Long Snappers, except that NFL teams need one. It makes sense to bring back Windt who's been reliable and has experience with Lambo and Kaser. Give him 2 years, $1.6m, which is roughly what he's been earning up to now. That's $800k per year. He's only getting $300k guaranteed, though - Long snappers don't have the luxury of job security.
  • Jeff Cumberland - Jeff Cumberland is a bit of an interesting case. As a veteran with 7 credited seasons in the NFL, the minimum salary that can be given to Cumberland next year is $900k. However, the NFL want to make sure that teams resign their veterans, rather than go for younger, cheaper players, and so have a rule to help this. While the Chargers will need to pay Cumberland at least $900k, they only have to count $615k against the cap, as if Cumberland only had 2 credited seasons in the NFL (presuming that Cumberland's signing bonus is no more than $80k - which it won't be with this offer). So, Cumberland is going to get paid $900k for a one year deal with $80k guaranteed - but for salary cap purposes, we can count this as a one year, $615k deal. Nice.
  • Damion Square - Presuming that Square doesn't play too terribly in the six games remaining this season, I'd like to bring him back as a backup DE. My first offer would be 2 years, $1.4m, but I feel like he may want more - this is meant to be a realistic simulation, so we'll hand Square a 2 year deal for $1.6m, with $800k per year. He's going to have to prove himself, though - he's only getting $200k guaranteed in the first year, and nothing in the second.
  • Dontrelle Inman - Inman is a RFA, which complicates things. We're going to stick a Right of First Refusal tender on Inman, which would pay him about $1.6m for a year. I'm not sure if another team would try to sign Inman - I suspect they might - but I don't think the Chargers would have to pay a whole load more to keep him (they get the chance to do so, hence the name 'Right of First Refusal'), and so we're going to keep this simple and say that doesn't happen. One year, $1.6m for Inman.
  • Korey Toomer - This is hard because Toomer's market value is pretty much unknown. He was on the Raiders Practice Squad two months ago - presumably, not earning very much at all. The Chargers have to bring back such a productive player, but I'd want to front-load this in case he's somewhat of a 'one year wonder':

Offer: Toomer is getting a 3 year, $10.5m offer from me. That's $3m in 2017, $3.5m in 2018 and $4m in 2019. 2017 is fully guaranteed, $1.5m is guaranteed in 2018 and nothing is guaranteed in 2019. I think this is a deal that works for both parties.

  • Trevor Williams - This is easy. Williams is an Exclusive Rights Free Agent - I can't believe this is allowed, to be honest. He can't go anywhere but the Chargers, who only have to pay him something called a 'minimum qualifying offer'. Because he'll only have one accrued season in the NFL, the Chargers only have to give Williams $540k for a one year deal.
  • Jeremy Butler - Same thing - but because Butler has three credited seasons, it's a one year, $690k deal.
  • Geremy Davis - Davis would have two credited seasons. One year, $615k.
  • Sean McGrath - McGrath has three credited seasons. One year, $690k.
  • Chris Landrum - Landrum, just like Trevor Williams, has one credited season. One year, $540k.
  • Tenny Palepoi - I really like Palepoi. Luckily, he's an RFA. I don't think any other team would come in for him, so he's getting the same as Inman - one year, $1.6m.
  • Branden Oliver - I also really like Oliver, who's also an RFA. I'm giving Oliver the same offer. Would he be targeted by another team? I can't tell, but for fairness sake, I'll just say yes and bump that offer up to $2m. It's expensive for a #3 RB, but I think Oliver has a lot to offer this team - especially if Melvin Gordon were to go down.

Total spent on re-signings in 2017: $29m

How much cap space does that leave the Chargers with?

Well, if my estimations are correct, the Chargers will have nearly exactly $30m in cap space once those cuts and re-signings have taken effect. That's really not good. I'm going to be optimistic, and say the Chargers pick around #13 in the 2017 NFL draft (it's a sad state of affairs having that considered optimistic...). That means that, in total, the Chargers draft picks will cost the team about $5m in 2017 cap space.

That's not the only money the Chargers have to account for, though. Each year, NFL teams offer incentive bonuses in contracts. If a player doesn't complete a manageable roster bonus, the team get some extra cap for the year after. If a player does complete a bonus the team deemed unlikely, however, the team then forfeits that bonus against the cap in the following year. The Chargers are almost always negative here, according to Spotrac, so I'm going to assume that's the case again and deduct $500k from their cap space.

However, there's one more important change to take into account - the change in the NFL Salary Cap from year to year. There's no good way to accurately predict this, but recently, it seems that it's been going up roughly $10m from year to year - so I'm adding on another $10m to the 2017 NFL salary cap.

That leaves the Chargers with $30.4m in Free Agency. That's not huge money, but we can make it work. First of all, though, let's examine what the Chargers depth chart will look like after those moves:

Chargers 2017 Depth Chart (before FA):

QB: Philip Rivers

HB: Melvin Gordon, Danny Woodhead, Branden Oliver, Kenneth Farrow

FB: Derek Watt

WR: Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin, Tyrell Williams, Dontrelle Inman, Jeremy Butler, Geremy Davis, Dom Williams

TE: Hunter Henry, Jeff Cumberland, Sean McGrath

LT:

LG: Spencer Pulley, Donavon Clark

C: Max Tuerk

RG: Matt Slauson, Donavon Clark

RT: Joe Barksdale

LE: Corey Liuget, Tenny Palepoi, Darius Philon

RE: Joey Bosa, Caraun Reid, Damion Square

NT: Brandon Mebane

LOLB: Jerry Attaochu, Chris Landrum

ROLB: Melvin Ingram, Kyle Emanuel

ILB: Denzel Perryman, Jatavis Brown, Korey Toomer, Joshua Perry

CB: Jason Verrett, Casey Hayward, Craig Mager, Trevor Williams

FS: Dwight Lowery, Adrian McDonald

SS: Jahleel Addae, Dexter McCoil

K: Josh Lambo

P: Drew Kaser

LS: Mike Windt

KR/PR:

Remaining Needs:

I'm going to talk positions, rather than players here. There are a few reasons for this. First of all - there is no good way to accurately predict Free Agency this early in the season. Unexpected players get cut, a large majority of impending free agents get resigned, and a good/bad last 6 games this season could hugely impact a player's market value.

In terms of the draft - the draft board changes a huge amount from now until April. Players fluctuate like they belong on Wall Street. Even if that wasn't the case, I'm not the man to give accurate draft predictions. Because I live in England, that means having any semblance of a sleep schedule (he says as he writes this at 2:30 AM...) comes at the cost of not being able to follow the NCAA. At all. I know a few players here and there, but I don't properly evaluate anyone until after the NFL season has ended. So, we're going with what positions - and for roughly how much money/what position in the draft - the Chargers need to fix, rather than specific players who could fill a void.

Remember, this is all hypothetical. There may not be a suitable FA when the time comes, or there may be no-one worth drafting at that position in that round. For now, I'm not letting that concern me.

In order, here are the biggest needs for the Chargers in this offseason scenario:

1: Starting LT. I mean, this is pretty obvious. I've released the Chargers only two LT's.

2: Starting LG. I like Spencer Pulley, but that doesn't mean I'm comfortable going into the season with him as a starter.

3: Starting S. The Chargers are desperate for safety help. I don't feel comfortable having two new safeties starting next to each other, though, so I'm only looking to bring in one starter. I'm confident enough in Jahleel Addae to remain a starter next to someone new. I don't care if it's an FS or SS that's bought in because Addae can fill either role.

4: Backup RT. This may end up being a starter. Joe Barksdale has been terrible this season, and I want someone who can come in and compete with him for that job.

5: Starting(?) OLB. I have no idea why the Chargers hate Jerry Attaochu, but they do. Kyle Emanuel is not the answer. The Chargers definitely need some OLB help, but whether this new addition is a starter or role player depends on whether Attaochu can escape the doghouse.

6: Role player CB. Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward as the top two CBs is great. The only other two on the roster are Craig Mager and Trevor Williams, however. I want at least one more capable body here. I'm looking to bring someone in that can compete with Mager for the #3 CB job.

7: Backup NT. Damion Square is not an NT in the defense the Chargers run - he's just not the right size. I've moved him to DE on this depth chart, which means Brandon Mebane is the only NT on the roster. Give me someone new, please.

8: Backup QB. I've cut ties with Kellen Clemens, which means Rivers is the only QB on the roster. I need someone in the film room with him. Preferably this is someone who can hold a clipboard, as well as the football on STs.

9: Backup WR. I'm not sure what the J/Geremys can offer, and I want to find someone who can fill that #5 WR role.

10: PR/KR. The Chargers still don't have a reliable one.

11: Backup TE. I'm not sure how much I trust McGrath.

There are some other depth spots that need to be filled, so let's say the Chargers spend another $3m in cap space doing that. I now have just $27.4m to fix this team, along with the draft picks.

LT: This is the most important position to be filled. I need a dependable veteran, rather than a rookie because the Chargers are capable of making a SuperBowl run with the right help - help that starts up front. We're pulling out all the stops here. I'm thinking of paying someone about $8m a year to come and start at LT - which means we're already down to just $19.4m.

LG: Another free agent here, I think. This one can be a little cheaper, though, because we do have some more help behind him if this goes badly. We're going to aim to spend about $6.5m a year on this guy - just $12.9m left!

S: Right, this one's a rookie. I know that Tom Telesco doesn't value safeties, but this isn't a team with many holes on the starting 22. Compare the difference between Eric Weddle and Dwight Lowery, and you'll understand why this is where I'm using my 1st round pick.

RT: I do want to use a draft pick on a lineman rather than pick up three in FA, but I think that this will have to do because I plan to use my draft picks elsewhere. This may be a backup in name, but if Joe Barksdale continues his slump, the starting job will go to this man. I want someone who can genuinely play the position adequately, so I'm happy to spend $5m on someone here. Down to $7.9m to fix the rest of the holes, but I'm happy with spending a combined $19.5m this year on new offensive linemen. I think it needs to be done.

OLB: Even if Attaochu does get out of the doghouse, you can never have too many pass rushers. Alternatively, you could get someone to help you stop the run here. Either way, I want talent, so this is where my 2nd round pick is being spent.

CB: The last CB the Chargers picked in the 3rd round was Craig Mager. Let's try that one again. I'm spending a 3rd round pick on someone here.

NT: This is a job you can find in FA. I'll pick up a veteran for about $1m. $6.9m left to spend.

QB: This is going to be a rookie. Give me the highest upside guy that there still is in the 4th round and let him learn under Philip Rivers. It may pan out, or it may not, but it's worth the risk here.

WR: Considering what the Chargers already have at WR, I want a no nonsense, possession WR. That sounds like a veteran to me - maybe a slightly younger James Jones? Either way, I'll stump up another $800k for this guy, which puts us down to $6.1m cap space.

KR/PR: This can only be a young guy. We're using our 5th round pick on him because ST's are important and the Chargers are terrible at them. Hopefully, he can also contribute a little bit at his position, too.

TE: I think you could comfortably replace McGrath's production with a 6th round pick.

So, that's the 11 major needs I identified all being filled - and the Chargers still have $6.1m in cap space and a 7th round draft pick to use, as well as any compensatory picks they receive. It's a lot less than it sounds.

Not only are there still going to be holes to fill, but the draft very much depends on the 'Best Player Available' - it's unlikely that the perfect OLB and CB will be there when the Chargers pick in the second and third round, which means the Chargers may want to bring in a FA for decent money there, giving them more flexibility in the draft. This uncertainty is why I've left $6.1m in the bank - I know things aren't going to work out exactly as I've described here, but that money should be able to cover for most eventualities.

Here's what the updated depth chart would look like after FA and the draft:

Chargers 2017 Depth Chart (after FA):

QB: Philip Rivers, 4th round rookie

HB: Melvin Gordon, Danny Woodhead, Branden Oliver, Kenneth Farrow

FB: Derek Watt

WR: Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin, Tyrell Williams, Dontrelle Inman, $800k FA, Jeremy Butler, Geremy Davis

TE: Hunter Henry, Jeff Cumberland, 6th round rookie/Sean McGrath

LT: $8m p/y FA

LG: $6.5m p/y FA, Spencer Pulley, Donavon Clark

C: Max Tuerk, Spencer Pulley

RG: Matt Slauson, Spencer Pulley, Donavon Clark

RT: Joe Barksdale, $5m p/y FA

LE: Corey Liuget, Tenny Palepoi, Darius Philon

RE: Joey Bosa, Caraun Reid, Damion Square

NT: Brandon Mebane, $1m FA

LOLB: 2nd round rookie, Jerry Attaochu, Chris Landrum

ROLB: Melvin Ingram, Kyle Emanuel

ILB: Denzel Perryman, Jatavis Brown, Korey Toomer, Joshua Perry

CB: Jason Verrett, Casey Hayward, 3rd round rookie, Craig Mager, Trevor Williams

FS: 1st round rookie, Dwight Lowery, Adrian McDonald

SS: Jahleel Addae, Dexter McCoil

K: Josh Lambo

P: Drew Kaser

LS: Mike Windt

KR/PR: 5th round rookie

What do you think, Chargers fans? Did I do a decent job of patching up the team’s holes on a limited budget? Would you feel confident of a team like that making a deep playoff run? Most importantly, what would you have done differently?