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Pass rush market means that Chargers have leverage in Melvin Ingram negotiations

Tom Telesco isn’t his usual self this year, so maybe he’s willing to take some more risks before the season

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San Diego Chargers v Houston Texans Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

On March 12, 2019, the Kansas City Chiefs traded pass rusher Dee Ford to the San Francisco 49ers for a 2020 second round pick. The 49ers then signed Ford, who had been on the franchise tag, to a five-year, $87.5 million contract. It would seem that Kansas City didn’t want to pay a pass rusher that much, but that wasn’t close to the case.

On April 23, 2019, the Chiefs traded for pass rusher Frank Clark, sending a 2019 first and a 2020 second (whichever of the two was lower) to the Seattle Seahawks. Kansas City then signed Clark to a $105 million contract. The Chiefs traded away an expensive pass rusher but then soon acquired one at a higher cost.

Could more pass rush dominoes be falling in 2020 because of Melvin Ingram’s reportedly unsatisfactory view of his current contract?

The Athletic is reporting that Ingram wants a new deal now and while he’s been at training camp to avoid fines, he’s not participating on the field with other players. The LA Chargers may want to keep their three-time Pro Bowl edge rusher to pair with Joey Bosa next season — LA’s highest-paid player in 2020 (Ingram) and the highest-paid pass rusher in the league overall (Bosa) could form the best end duo in the league — and some believe it could result in the best defense in the NFL.

But it is also hard to imagine the Chargers adding years and guaranteed money to Ingram’s deal beyond 2020.

Not only will Ingram be turning 32 next year, but LA has upcoming free agents such as Keenan Allen and Hunter Henry, who may be more important to the franchise’s long-term future. And short term future. It could prove more vital for Tom Telesco to prepare for 2021 — Justin Herbert’s second year in the NFL — than to prepare for 2020; the Seattle Seahawks won a Super Bowl in Russell Wilson’s second season; the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl in Carson Wentz’s second season; Lamar Jackson won the MVP in his second season; Patrick Mahomes won MVP in his second season; so on ...

If Ingram wanted $15 million or more for the 2021 season, it could lower the team’s chances to not only retain their own players, but to add new ones. It was cap space that allowed the Chargers to sign players like Bryan Bulaga and Chris Harris in the offseason. So I wonder if Los Angeles is really going to consider a contract for Ingram beyond next season even though he may also be just as effective at age 32 as he was in his late 20s. Many pass rushers have proven capable of doing that.

And yet, the Chargers may have too much leverage to worry.

Beyond the normal reasons for team leverage, 2020 also presents a number of available pass rushers who Telesco could entertain if Ingram wasn’t in the plans or on the books any longer. The Chargers have roughly $13 million in cap space remaining for next season per, but if they were to trade or release Ingram, they’d have double that with only $2.62 million in dead money.

That’s enough for any pass rusher and LA would be able to find younger ones on the market right now who may even have more upside than Ingram.

Jadeveon Clowney still remains a free agent and he could wait until the eve of the season to decide. He didn’t get to Seattle last year until just before the season started. Given that Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley worked under Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, and Clowney just played for Carroll, it’s reasonable to assume that their defenses are similar enough for Bradley to also be attracted to Clowney’s fit.

Even if Clowney’s never fully developed as an elite pass rusher, he’s only 27 and at times can be the most disruptive defensive player on the field.

Yannick Ngakoue is also available and not happy with the idea of playing on the franchise tag for the Jacksonville Jaguars this year. Ngakoue is only 25 and he’s totaled 37.5 sacks over his four NFL seasons. He’s a been a much more productive pass rusher than Clowney, but will come at the cost of a bigger contract and potentially a first round pick. Telesco had been hesitant to trades prior to this year but has been much more active recently.

I think Los Angeles has a legitimate argument as a playoff team right now, so would a first round pick in the 20s be so worrisome to let go of if the prize is Ngakoue? Bradley would know better than most, since he was the one who drafted him in 2016.

And one underrated player who is also out there is Matt Judon of the Baltimore Ravens. Also on the franchise tag, Judon seems more content to play it out and try his hand at free agency in 2021. Judon had 33 QB hits last season and 9.5 sacks but surprisingly is older (28) than both Ngakoue and Clowney. I think the Ravens are content with trying to win a Super Bowl in 2020 with their current roster, but I’m assessing potential options and dominoes and Judon qualifies.

Finally, what if the Chargers simply never see Ingram on the field and need whatever pass rusher is available to them? Well, you could do worse than free agent options like Cameron Wake, Ezekiel Ansah, Jabaal Sheard, and Clay Matthews.

Not that my personal beliefs matter at all, but I don’t hold it against Ingram for trying to protect himself at a time of such uncertainty, not only for the world, but for those same everyday reasons that always lead to these situations. He wants more money from a league that has a lot of money? Fine! However, I can’t see where Telesco is going to budge on this one or why he would with so many other options.

Options that in one or two cases, may actually be more attractive than Ingram himself.

Sidenote: Those two teams in the beginning of this article did indeed make the Super Bowl.