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Chargers Offseason Plan: Exclusive Rights and Restricted Free Agent

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Oakland Raiders Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Chargers are primed for a busy offseason defined by a number of internal personnel decisions. Some of those decisions will be easy, while others could prove to be exceedingly difficult for a variety of reasons. Either way, they have to make all of these decisions between February 4th and the beginning of free agency on March 13th.

Los Angeles has one restricted free agent (RFA) and three exclusive rights free agents (ERFA) this offseason. For those who don’t know, the “restricted free agent” classification generally applies to undrafted free agents or late-round draftees who have accrued three seasons of service time, while “exclusive rights free agents” have been in the league for one or two seasons.

This is the second installment of my offseason plan series, in which I will cover all of the offseason moves I would make leading up to the draft. We already discussed the cuts, restructures and extensions I would pursue, so let’s dive into the restricted and exclusive rights free agents. We’ll talk about the season they had in 2018, what I expect the team to do, and what their contracts will look like.

Let’s get started…

Exclusive Rights Free Agents

Think of an ERFA like a team option year. In other words, if their original team decides to tender them a contract, they’re staying put. They can’t decline, negotiate, or test the market. If the team decides not to tender them an offer, they become a free agent. Because an exclusive rights free agent tender is a one-year deal for somewhere between $700K and $800K, that “option” is almost always exercised.

Isaac Rochell

After struggling early on as the starting base defensive end, Isaac Rochell really blossomed as a versatile interior pass rusher through the second half of the season. Rochell finished with 29 tackles, five sacks, six tackles for loss, a pass defensed, one game-winning interception (thank you very much, Derwin James), and proved to be a consistent source of interior pressure playing alongside Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa.

This is simple for me - the team will tender him an offer, and he will be back. The brass could consider extending him, rather than going through the exclusive rights and restricted free agent song-and-dance the next two off seasons, but I think they opt to control their costs with a tender offer.

Tender: 1 year, $750,000

Odds of retaining: 100%

Artavis Scott

Artavis Scott was well on his way to making the initial 53-man roster, and possibly even returning kicks and punts, before injuring his right ankle in the preseason finale. There is no question the team will keep him. And, with the possibility that the Chargers could part ways with Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin this offseason, it wouldn’t shock me at all to see Scott get a look as either the third or fourth receiver in training camp.

Tender: 1 year, $750,000

Odds of being retained: 100%

Cole Toner

Cole Toner saw a fair amount of action in the preseason and wound up getting signed to the Chargers practice squad. He’s 25, has played tackle, guard and center, and could get a long look as a utility offensive lineman in camp this year. With Dan Feeney struggling, Forrest Lamp having a hard time earning snaps, and Mike Pouncey set to hit free agency after 2019, he could force his way into the team’s plans for their interior line with a strong camp this year.

Tender: 1 year, $750,000

Odds of being retained: 100%

Restricted Free Agents

A restricted free agent tender is quite a bit different from an exclusive rights free agent tender. The team has the option of tendering the player with a first round, second round, or right of first refusal qualifying offer sheet, while the RFA has the freedom to test the open market. RFA contracts are fully guaranteed for one year and, as you might have guessed, are tied to draft pick compensation if the player signs elsewhere. The table below outlines the salary and compensation based upon the tender offered by the player’s original team:

Type of Tender Length and Salary Pick Compensation
First Round 1 year, $4.449M 1st rd pick to original team
Second Round 1 year, $3.124M 2nd rd pick to original team
Right of first refusal 1 year, $2.045M none

Trevor Williams

It’s fair to say Trevor Williams was a disappointment in 2018 after a breakout 2017 season. He got hurt early in training camp, missed the preseason, and battled nagging injuries throughout the first half of the regular season before hitting the injured reserve. Trevor just wasn’t very good and it’s hard to say whether he was exposed, or simply tried to play through too many injuries.

I fully expect the Chargers to give Trevor Williams a right of first refusal tender offer, which means they reserve the right to either match any offer sheet he signs with another team, or rescind their tender and let him sign elsewhere. You could make a compelling argument for a second round tender in the interest of restricting his market before it develops, but that might not be necessary.

Tender: Right of first refusal, 1 year, $2.045M fully guaranteed

Odds of returning: 75/25

Note: Despite some online sources listing Michael Davis as a restricted free agent, he is under contract for the 2019 season, and will not become an RFA until 2020.

There are probably only two real variables in how this plays out. The first whether the team will protect Trevor Williams with a second round tender, or a right of first refusal tender. While I don’t think its necessary to use a second round tender, I would understand if they went that route. And the second is whether or not they decide to extend Isaac Rochell before he becomes a restricted free agent. Again, I don’t think they will, but I’d get it if they did.

The truth is, the decisions the team faces with Trevor Williams, Isaac Rochell, Artavis Scott and Cole Toner are more procedural than anything else. It’s rare that a team doesn’t use the restricted and exclusive rights tenders to protect their interests in players and I’d be surprised if the Chargers declined to do so with any of these four players.

Thank you for reading my take on the Chargers restricted and exclusive rights free agents this offseason. What do you think they’ll do? Let me hear it in the comments section below…