By now, everyone is aware of the four-year, $66,000,000 contract (with $42,000,000 guaranteed) Melvin Ingram signed with the Los Angeles Chargers. It is a deal that has inspired much debate about who Melvin is as a player, whether he’s consistent enough to be counted upon, and whether or not the Chargers went overboard in retaining their edge rusher.
While I seem to be in the minority, I happen to think this was a good and prudent deal for the Chargers. Why? Well, for starters, it keeps Ingram paired up with Joey Bosa for what’s left of the former’s physical prime without extending too far into any potential age-related declines. But more to the point, the contract was structured in such a way that makes it both a smart business decision and a good football decision, and any claims to the contrary are more rooted in personal bias toward #54 than an understanding of how these deals work.
In other words, I think an honest look at the terms of the contract will reveal a pact that enabled the Chargers to retain half of the most productive pass rushing duo in the NFL in 2016 without overcommitting in terms of contract length, total value, or guaranteed money. And, as an added bonus, we all know Tom Telesco built in his typical “eject button” after either year two or three (probably year two) just in case things don’t go as planned.
NFL contracts are the ultimate in modern day caste systems. Everything about them from the length of the contract, to the total value, to the guaranteed money is designed to clearly rank, or classify, players at every position based on where they slot in among their peers at their position. It is no different with edge rushers, whose contracts are tiered as follows:
Edge Rusher Tiers:
First Tier: 6 years, $100 - $114M, $60M - $70M total GTD – Von Miller, JJ Watt, Justin Houston
Second Tier: 5 years, $75M - $85M, $50M - $55M total GTD – Muhammad Wilkerson, Chandler Jones, Olivier Vernon
Third Tier: 4 years, $55M - $66M, $35M - $42M GTD – Robert Quinn, Jason Pierre Paul, Melvin Ingram, etc
By signing Ingram for four years, the Chargers clearly identified him as a third tier pass rusher. The length of his contract is in line with what guys like Robert Quinn and Jason Pierre Paul received over the last few years, placing him in the upper echelon of the third tier of edge rushers. More importantly, it also tells me they were being conservative with the 27-year old, not wanting to tie themselves to him too far into his 30’s. This easily could have gotten into the second tier of contracts with a fifth year simply because it likely would have had he become a free agent and Tom Telesco still managed to get him for four. This is a win.
Likewise, at $66,000,000, the total value of the contract, suggests the Chargers drove a fairly hard bargain in terms of how they valued him. While it may not look that way based on his $16.5M average annual salary, many projections had him landing upwards of $80M on the open market, which would have placed him squarely in the second tier of pass rushers. It was also believed his starting point in negotiations was somewhere in the $75M range. In short, Tom Telesco probably signed his man for a minimum of $10M less than what he would have received as an unrestricted free agent. Again, this feels like a win to me.
Then we get to the guaranteed money. At $42,000,000 guaranteed, the Chargers essentially saved themselves $8M - $10M in guaranteed money for a player who, again, was expected to reach the second tier of contracts as a free agent. Granted, Melvin’s deal guaranteed him more money than anyone else in the third tier, but that is generally more a function of being the most recent player to sign a contract than a reflection of actually being the best at his position. And even then, his guarantee is almost identical to what Robert Quinn got ($41M GTD) when he signed in 2014, and the $40M Jason Pierre Paul got from the Giants this offseason. Again, this tells me the Chargers valued Ingram appropriately and never deviated out of desperation or eagerness. Yet another win.
And now for the added bonus - the eject button. While the fine print in the contract is not yet available to the public, we can bank on this contract having the patented Tom Telesco eject button. In other words, after either the second or third year there will be an opportunity for the Chargers to save a large chunk of money by eating the whatever remains of the prorated signing bonus (likely $4M - $8M) if things don’t pan out. It’s something Telesco always builds into his agreements and it’s a nice little hedge against every bet he makes- large or small.
I think this is also a good time to remind people that Melvin Ingram is not Corey Liuget or Donald Butler. Unlike the Corey and Donald, who consistently battled nagging injuries in the two years leading up to their big contracts, Ingram has been exceedingly durable for the last two and a half years (39 consecutive starts dating back to November 2014). Also unlike his predecessors, who saw their on-field production bottom out prior to their deals, Melvin has been very productive over the previous two and a half years (21.5 sacks, 125+ pressures since November 2014). So bang on Tommy for those two deals all you want (I’ll help you), but Ingram does not have the same warning signs those two had in the two years leading up to their deals.
Is Melvin a superstar? Absolutely not. But he is an increasingly durable and productive 27-year old pass rusher with a knack for affecting the quarterback, which, aside from playing quarterback, is the most sought-after skill in the NFL today. In other words, he isn’t the type of player you just let walk for nothing - at least not if you want to win, and especially not if you can lock him up for third tier pass rusher money. Granted, an argument could have been made for trading him at some point before he reached free agency, but that ship sailed long ago.
The Chargers ultimately reached an agreement with Melvin Ingram that was not only prudent; it was smart from both a football and a business perspective. He isn’t a superstar, but he also didn’t receive the contract of a superstar. Nothing about that contract - from the length, to the total value, to the guaranteed money - suggests he’s a superstar and anyone who says otherwise either can’t see beyond their personal dislike for Melvin or doesn’t understand how these deals work. Any questions?