The Atlanta Falcons did their best San Diego (soon to be Los Angeles) Chargers impression this past weekend as they imploded in the fourth quarter to hand Tom Brady and the New England Patriots their fifth Super Bowl title. And while the Falcons did ultimately succumb to the evil empire known as the Patriots; they did provide hope to all fans who root for mediocre teams.
Two years ago, the Atlanta Falcons finished second in the NFC South with an 8-8 record. In the offseason, they made some subtle, but savvy acquisitions (Alex Mack, Mohamed Sanu) to help improve their roster. Still, even with these moves, no one could have forecasted the type of season they were about to have in 2016. So as the 2016 NFL season concludes, and the 2017 NFL offseason officially starts; experts are now predicting which teams are a move or two away to become the next Atlanta Falcons. This is where Los Angeles Chargers fans say, “Hey, why not us?” And I am here to tell you, why not the Chargers.
Those two subtle, savvy moves mentioned above, were very expensive. The Falcons signed Mohamed Sanu to a 5 year, $32 million deal to give Matt Ryan another weapon and to take the pressure off of Julio Jones. Alex Mack signed a 5 year, $45 million contract with Atlanta and immediately upgraded the Falcons offensive line. Mack provided much-needed stability to Atlanta’s line and aided in the resurgence of their ground game.
With the help of a successful draft to help fill their needs, and the addition of these impactful players to their roster; the Falcons were able to turn their team into an immediate contender. So why can’t the Chargers follow suit and replicate this blueprint?
So, let’s start with the obvious; the Chargers have salary cap restrictions. Los Angeles is towards the bottom of the league with only $20 million dollars in cap space and while that number sounds big, please remember the Chargers have a big impending free agent to lock up (Melvin Ingram) who will command $11-$14 million per year. Yes, Tom Telesco can make some roster moves to help free up some space, but that still will not help.
The Chargers could have the most salary cap space in the league and they will still have a difficult time attracting top-notch free agents for numerous reasons. California is not the most friendly state when it comes to state income taxes. Players are taxed for every individual game they play in. So, if a player plays half of his games in Los Angeles, he is subjected to a California state income tax rate, which is 13.3%, the highest among any other states that host NFL teams. So in order for the Chargers to go after a free agent, they might be forced to overpay to be competitive and compensate for that obstacle. And in case fans forgot, Spanos is not in the business of opening up his wallet; hence the motto, “Build through the draft.”
Even if Dean and John found their wallets to make a big splash, they would still be challenged to get a top-notch free agent or two to sign with the Chargers. Players are going to be hesitant to join Los Angeles because of all the uncertainty and negativity surrounding the franchise. How enthused would Alshon Jeffrey be to play in a stadium that holds 30,000 fans? Or will Eric Berry be wanting to play for a franchise that will play second fiddle to the Rams, and have no fan base to even fill up the StubHub Center? And how confident could an incoming free agent be with Chargers management after the whole debacle that resulted in a half-assed move to Los Angeles and multiple public relations blunders (logos, fake fans at a news conference, etc.).
Fans get excited during the NFL offseason because it means everyone is back in first place with a 0-0 record. It is basically the equivalent of hitting the reset button. Analysts start making their free agent predictions, while fans start making their wish lists. The offseason is the great unknown which means anything is possible. Parody is the NFL’s biggest asset; any team can win it all any year. But Chargers fans need to temper their expectations. Management will be forced to building through the draft and hiring bargain free agents because frankly, that is all they are capable of. Without the help of a big free agent or two, it is foolish to think the Chargers can immediately turn it around, and become the next Atlanta Falcons.