2021 Chargers Thoughts at 2020 Midseason

With the Chargers at 2-6, I'm starting to see more posts that are looking forward to 2021, so figured it was a good time to take a look at next season.

Here is the statement I used to open my first 2020 Chargers post:

Another disappointing season is in the books, so it's time to look forward to the offseason and try to generate some optimism that the Chargers will rebound back to playoff contender status in 2020.

Halfway through the 2020 season, this season doesn't seem much different. It's not quite as bad yet, since there are still 8 games to go and the QBOTF question is settled... but I was struck by the similarity when I looked back at that post.

Anyway, I will start by looking at the 35 players the Chargers currently have under contract for 2021, along with their cap hits from Over the Cap:

Edge Joey Bosa $20,750,000
WR Keenan Allen $15,700,000
WR Mike Williams $15,680,000
CB Casey Hayward $11,750,000
G Trai Turner $11,500,000
IDL Linval Joseph $11,500,000
CB Chris Harris Jr. $11,250,000
T Bryan Bulaga $11,083,333
QB Justin Herbert $6,040,626
RB Austin Ekeler $5,750,000
S Derwin James $3,941,939
IDL Jerry Tillery $3,115,134
LB Kenneth Murray $2,948,851
Edge Uchenna Nwosu $1,832,593
S Nasir Adderley $1,290,576
IDL Justin Jones $1,133,535
LB Kyzir White $1,083,610
T Trey Pipkins $1,069,269
LB Drue Tranquill $1,014,702
C Scott Quessenberry $991,063
RB Joshua Kelley $975,086
RB Justin Jackson $920,000
QB Easton Stick $919,655
LB Emeke Egbule $889,239
IDL Cortez Broughton $869,580
WR Joe Reed $865,078
WR Jalen Guyton $850,000
LS Cole Mazza $850,000
S Alohi Gilman $826,969
WR K.J. Hill $806,206
T Storm Norton $780,000
TE Donald Parham $780,000
LB Asmar Bilal $780,000
TE/FB Gabe Nabers $780,000
WR Tyron Johnson $780,000

I'm not convinced Norman, Bilal, or Johnson are likely to make the final 2021 roster, so I'm not going to include them in roster and cap projections in this post.

Next, I will estimate how much cap space the Chargers will have available in 2021.

  1. First, note that the 2021 salary cap floor is $175M, but it could be as high as $198.2M, depending on revenues. IMO the floor is the most likely outcome, so I'll use $175M as my starting point.
  2. Per Spotrac, at this time, the Chargers have $7,638,204 to roll over to 2021, with no other adjustments. I will assume that number holds.
  3. Per OTC, the total cap hit for the 32 players under contract for 2021 identified above, not including Norman, Bilal, or Johnson, is $149,757,044.
  4. Per Spotrac, at this time, the Chargers have just $58,008 in dead 2021 cap space.
  5. Accounting for all of that results in a total of $32,823,152 in available cap space.
Those salaries above do not yet account for the impact of the Proven Performance Escalator on 2021 salaries and cap hits.
  1. Per OTC, Justin Jones and Kyzir White are on track to qualify, so I am going to assume both do.
  2. This will increase both of their base salaries to the amount of the Right of First Refusal (ROFR) RFA tender, which is estimated to be $2.24M.
  3. That is an increase of more than $1.1M for each of them, taking a total of $2,262,855 in additional 2021 cap space.
  4. Subtracting that leaves $30,560,297 in remaining cap space.
Per OTC, the Chargers are currently set to have these 2021 draft picks:
  1. 1.6
  2. 2.5
  3. 3.7
  4. 3.34 - projected compensatory draft pick
  5. 4.6
  6. 5.5
  7. 6.7
  8. 6.25 - from King trade
  9. 7.6
I assume all of these players will make the final roster barring injury. Side note: I think only 2 players Telesco has drafted since 2015 failed to make the roster, both due to injury -- Dylan Cantrell and Donovan Clark.

Anyway, per OTC, those picks have an estimated total cap hit of $9,801,359. Subtracting that leaves $20,758,938 in remaining available cap space.

Next, I will account for the practice squad:
  1. The current practice squad rules for 2021 allow teams to have 12 practice squad players. In 2020, the NFL increased that to 16 due to COVID, but I will assume that 2021 stays at 12.
  2. Depending on how many accrued seasons a PS player has, he earns either $9,200 or $14K per week. I'm going to assume the Chargers have a full practice squad of players without enough accrued games/seasons to qualify for the higher salary (i.e., all at $9,200 per week).
  3. However, the new CBA allows 2 PS players to be activated every week, and those players get paid at NFL minimum salary level. I will conservatively assume the Chargers activate 2 players for all 16 games. That means effectively 2 of the 12 PS player slots will cost $630,376 each (16/17ths of NFL 2021 minimum salary of $660K plus $9,200 for the bye week).
  4. Accounting for all of that results in a total cost of $2,824,753 for the practice squad. Subtracting that leaves $17,934,185 in remaining available cap space.
The team will need to reserve some cap space for 2021 in season injury replacements. I can't see that being less than $2M, and IMO it is more likely to be higher. I will be conservative and assume they reserve $3M, leaving $14,934,185 in remaining available cap space, with 41 of 53 roster spots accounted for.

Now let's take a look at the team's free agents, grouped by position area:
  • QB - Taylor
  • RB - Pope
  • TE - Henry, Green, Anderson
  • OL - C Pouncey, C/G Feeney, G Lamp, G Groy, G Toner, T Tevi, T St. Louis
  • Edge - Ingram, Rochell, Lemonier
  • IDL - Square
  • LB - Perryman, Vigil, Jefferson
  • CB - Davis, Facyson, Campbell
  • S - Jenkins, Addae
  • PK - Badgley
  • P - Long
While I think the team should fire both Telesco and Lynn after this season, I do not expect that to happen and assume both of them will be back and driving free agency decisions. Based on that, I'm going to make some assumptions about the ones the team will keep.

Before doing that, since the OL has to be a focal point with so many free agents, I want to take a look at the OL PFF grades for this season so far. Here they are:
  • Bulaga - 68.8 overall, which ranks #52 out of 120 graded tackles; 205 snaps
  • Toner - 64.9 overall, which ranks #36 out of 122 graded guards; 166 snaps
  • Norton - 62.0 overall, which ranks #77 out of 120 graded tackles; but on just 5 snaps
  • Tevi - 58.7 overall, which ranks #93 out of 120 graded tackles; 600 snaps
  • Groy - 57.7 overall, which ranks #77T out of 122 graded guards; 271 snaps
  • Lamp - 51.3 overall, which ranks #97 out of 122 graded guards; 606 snaps
  • Pipkins - 50.9 overall, which ranks #108 out of 120 graded tackles; 471 snaps
  • Feeney - 50.0 overall, which ranks #40 out of 47 graded centers; 606 snaps
  • Turner - 43.0 overall, which ranks #115 out of 122 graded guards; 81 snaps
  • Quessenberry - 38.8 overall, which ranks #46 out of 47 graded centers; but on just 9 snaps
  • St. Louis - 37.7 overall, which ranks #119 out of 122 graded guards; 80 snaps
Wow, this is uglier than I realized. Comments:
  1. Bulaga has performed the best and has a contract that locks him in for 2021.
  2. Pipkins is not delivering on the potential that Telesco saw in him, but he will be back.
  3. Quessenberry showed potential in 2019 and is cheap, so he will be back.
  4. Turner is under contract, and the team gave up Okung to get him, but IMO he is going to have to come back soon and play really well to hold onto his roster spot. The team can release him this offseason with no dead money and clear $11.5M in cap space. Hard to predict at this point, but I'm going to assume he will be released.
  5. I assume Pouncey is gone, so Quessenberry is the only player under contract for 2021 who can play center. He doesn't have much experience, so hard to see the team counting on him to start. Feeney is not very good at center (or guard), but the team (read: Telesco and Lynn) seems to think more highly of him than I do, so I expect he'll be back for $3M or so to start at center.
  6. I think the team should move on from Lamp, but given that I predicted the release of Turner, I think they will re-sign him for $2M or so.
  7. Toner is a RFA, and I think the team will re-sign him for $1M or so.
  8. Groy is a UFA, but I think the team will re-sign him for $1M or so.
  9. Tevi is a UFA. Like Lamp and Feeney, the team seems to like him more than I do. I expect he will be back for $3M or so.
  10. Norton is cheap and will be back, but I expect he will end up on the practice squad, assuming Tevi is re-signed.
  11. The good news about my assumptions is that I am showing the team can re-sign Feeney, Lamp, Toner, Groy, and Tevi while saving ~$1.5M in cap space by releasing Turner.
So based on those assumptions about the OL, the team would have $16.4M in remaining available cap space. Moving on to other free agents:
  1. Henry - I assume Green is gone, which makes it even more important to re-sign Henry. Spotrac shows his market contract value as 4 years, $36M. Assuming the team signs Henry for something like that, I could see his 2021 cap hit as being as little as $4M... Hooper signed a slightly bigger contract last offseason, and his first year cap hit in 2020 is just $4M. I will be a bit more conservative and assume $5M in 2021.
  2. Rochell - he is a RFA, and I expect the team will re-sign him for $900K to $1M; I'll assume $1M.
  3. Davis - he is a UFA, and the team paid him $3.26M this season. I assume they will sign him to a multi-year deal and will hold his 2021 cap hit to $3M.
  4. Jenkins - he is a UFA, and the team paid him $2.3M this season. I assume they will sign him to a multi-year deal and will hold his 2021 cap hit to $3M.
  5. Badgley - he is a RFA, and he might be on the verge of getting replaced based on poor performance. But I can assume he is back as a placeholder; even if he is replaced, the cap hit is unlikely to change significantly. His cap hit this year is $750K. I think the team will re-sign him (or a similar replacement) for $1M or so.
  6. Long - he is a ERFA. He hasn't played well this season, but I assume he will be back for around $800K.
I projected these 6 free agents would have a total 2021 cap hit of about $13.8M. Subtracting that leaves about $2.6M in remaining available cap space.

I expect all other internal free agents to be gone. There might be a bit of churn in the lowest paid positions, but I expect this will end up being reasonably close. I do think this shows it is extremely unlikely the team can retain Melvin Ingram... at least not without another major move to free up additional cap space.

I have accounted for 51 positions - the 31 under contract not including Turner, Norton, Bilal, or Johnson plus 9 draft picks and 11 internal free agents. Even to fill those final 2 roster spots with minimum salary players would take $1.32M, so my assumptions have essentially used all available cap space without any splash external free agent signings. Here is what the position breakdown looks like for the 42 veterans:

Offense (21):
  • QB (2) - Herbert, Stick
  • RB (3) - Ekeler, Kelley, Jackson
  • FB (1) - Nabers
  • TE (2) - Henry, Parham
  • WR (5) - Allen, Williams, Guyton, Reed, Hill
  • OL (8) - LT Tevi, LG Lamp, C Feeney, RG Toner/Groy, RT Bulaga, C/G Quessenberry, G Toner/Groy, T Pipkins
Defense (18):
  • Edge (3) - Bosa, Nwosu, Rochell
  • IDL (4) - Joseph, Tillery, Jones, Broughton
  • LB (4) - Murray, Tranquill, White, Egbule
  • CB (3) - Hayward, Davis, Harris
  • S (4) - James, Jenkins, Adderley, Gilman
Special Teams (3):
  • PK (1) - Badgley
  • P (1) - Long
  • LS (1) - Mazza
Looking that over, the team obviously needs to bolster OL, CB, Edge, and TE. Given I am projecting that they only have $2.6M available at this point, this will need to happen mostly through the draft. If Telesco and Lynn are still around, I think OL will suffer again, and draft capital will be mostly focused on other positions.

Because of the expected 2021 salary cap reduction, it seems likely that a lot of veteran players who would not be released in most years will be hitting the market this offseason. That will create great value opportunities for teams with cap space. That could lead the Chargers to be more aggressive in external free agency, which could lead them to make some other moves to free up additional cap space. For example, they could consider extending Hayward by 1-2 years to lower his 2021 cap hit and/or they could sign Mike Williams to a multi-year deal that lowers his 2021 cap hit.

Obviously, this is all conjecture, so I'm sure I have missed on some of the roster decisions and salaries. My main takeaway is that the Chargers are not in position to sign any big name free agents for 2021, unless the 2021 salary cap ends up considerably higher than its established floor.


This FanPost was written by a member of the Bolts From The Blue community and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Bolts From The Blue editors or SB Nation.