It’s February, which means fans everywhere are eagerly looking at the list of pending free agents in anticipation of who their teams might sign. This, of course, is no different for Chargers fans with maybe one exception (stop me if you’ve heard this before) – the now Los Angeles Chargers of Costa Mesa in San Diego by way of Carson have several holes to fill and very little money with which to work.
That’s right, with a current cap number of $155.4M and a projected salary cap of $168M in 2017; the Chargers have roughly $12.6M to work with. As you might imagine, this is a problem for a team with needs on both lines, in the secondary and at wide receiver; which is why they’re certain to be faced with several financially motivated cuts in the coming weeks.
The good news is, the majority of the dead money from cutting players like Donald Butler, Donald Brown, and Jacoby Jones came off the books after 2016, which means the team is only carrying roughly $150,000 in dead cap money into 2017. This will make it considerably easier to swallow what will seem like substantial dead bonus money in the interest of trimming some fatty base salaries from the ledger.
Here is who I think might be cut, why they might be cut, how that impacts the salary cap, whether I would cut them, and the odds of the Chargers cutting them…
This should be one of the easier decisions facing Tom Telesco this off-season. Simply put, D.J. Fluker is not a good football player. In fact, he’s downright terrible. The initial first-round pick of the Tom Telesco era has demonstrated some alarming athletic deficiencies, seems to have a hard time grasping his assignments, and is a major concussion risk; but that’s just the beginning.
The warrior is owed $8.821M in 2017, all of which is comprised of base salary – as long as the team cuts him before March 1. If he isn’t cut before March 1 his entire salary becomes guaranteed, which is a big problem. That’s why this should be an easy decision for a responsible, analytical front office…oh, wait…
2017 Cap Number: $8.821M
Dead Money: $0
Cap Savings: $8.821M
New Cap Space: 21.5M
Odds of being cut: 3/2
Brandon Flowers has been a bit of an enigma during his time in San Diego. He was outstanding in 2014, struggled with his play and with injuries after receiving a big contract in 2015, and generally played well amidst a series of concussions in 2016. Unfortunately for Brandon, the concussions are not only becoming more frequent, but they appear to be the result of increasingly innocuous contact. While I suspect the team hopes Flowers will retire, someone has to make a tough decision in his best interest and continuing to play football shouldn’t be in the cards.
There are two ways the Chargers could go with this cut, either pre-June 1 or post-June 1. They would save $7M against the cap with a pre-June 1cut, which is the difference between Flowers’ $11M cap number and the $4M in bonus money remaining on the deal. They would technically save $9M with a post-June 1 cut ($11M cap number - $2M bonus due in 2018), but there is a pretty significant catch.
The upside of a post-June 1 cut is the team is allowed to spread out the remaining bonus money over the next league year, the downside is that the post-June 1 designation is treated as if the player is cut after the beginning of the league year, which means the team is not able to spend the money “saved” during the free agency period because the player hasn’t technically been cut. This is why I suspect the Chargers will cut Flowers pre-June 1 in the interest of realizing the $7M in savings.
Cap Number: $11M
Dead Money: $4.0M
Cap Savings: $7.0M
New Cap Space: $28.5M
Odds of being cut: 3/2
The massive left tackle resurrected his career with the Chargers in 2013, played well enough to earn a massive contract extension in 2014, and was promptly overcome by a series of concussions and knee injuries the last two seasons. Much like Brandon Flowers, Dunlap is suffering concussions at an alarming rate and has to be concerned with how easily and frequently he is afflicted with these frightening ailments. Also like Flowers, it’s time to take a look at his long-term health.
King’s $8.375M cap number in 2017 consists of $5.25M in base salary, $1.625M in pro-rated bonus money and $1.5M in roster bonus money, but cutting him would immediately save the team the roster bonus. A post-June 1 cut could theoretically be on the table, but like with Flowers, you might as well benefit from the savings right away, which is why I would expect a pre-June 1 cut. There is also the possibility he decides to retire.
Cap Number: $8.375M
Dead Money: $3.250M
Cap Savings: $5.125M
New Cap Space: $33.625
Odds of being cut: 3/2
Let’s see, where shall I begin? Johnson will be 31 when the season begins, has appeared in a total of 10 games in two years, and was surpassed on the depth chart by not one, but two young Chargers (Inman and Williams). This is a free agent signing that simply didn’t work out and, given his age and price tag, there simply isn’t any justification for keeping Stevie around.
Johnson is owed $4.5M in 2017, which is made up of $3.5M in base salary and an additional $1M in pro-rated bonus money. There is just no reason to continue paying Johnson when eating a measly $1M saves the team $3.5M against the cap. This alien is on his way out the door.
Cap Number: $4.5M
Dead Money: $1.0M
Cap Savings: $3.5M
New Cap Space $37.125M
Odds of being cut: 3-2
How long can a team hang onto a soon-to-be 30-year old safety who is viewed strictly as a special teams contributor? Sure, special teams standouts have value in this league, but Stuckey’s value to the team has been somewhat reduced thanks to the arrival of several young players on special teams (Dexter McCoil, Derek Watt, Josh Perry and Jatavis Brown) and he’s due $3,333,750 in 2017.
Stuckey’s $3,333,750 includes a mere $433,750 in pro-rated bonus money, which means cutting him will save the team a cool $2.9M. This doesn’t mean Stuckey hasn’t been an important part of this team; it just means the team can’t afford the luxury of a one-dimensional $3.3M special teams players with so many young players capable of filling the void.
Cap Number: $3,333,750
Dead Money: $433,750
Cap Savings: $2.9M
New Cap Space: $40M
Odds of being cut: 2/1
There is no doubt that a compelling case can be made for cutting Franklin, who has been a massive disappointment since coming to San Diego in 2015. He’s blown assignments, struggled to stay on his feet and had more than his share of injuries. You aren’t going to like this part, but I don’t think Orlando gets the ax this off-season.
As disappointing as Franklin has been, I just don’t think it’s reasonable for the Chargers to go into the off-season needing to replace 60% of their offensive line. When you also take into account the fact that they’d have to eat a whopping $4.8M to save $6M and this is one cap casualty that doesn’t quite add up for me. I think the Big O will avoid the ax for at least one more off-season.
Cap number: $7.6M
Dead Money: $4.8M
Cap Savings: $6.0M
New Cap Space: $46M
Odds of being cut: 6/1
There you have it; I think the Chargers ultimately cut DJ Fluker, Brandon Flowers, King Dunlap, Stevie Johnson and Darrell Stuckey. I don’t expect any of these players to be designated as post-June1 cuts and, unless I’m way off, I’d be fairly surprised to see the Chargers cut Orlando Franklin. This should give them plenty of room to address a handful of their internal free agents while giving them an opportunity to fill a few holes before the draft.
You know what I think, tell me what you think…