FanPost

2021 Chargers Roster Thoughts

A lot has happened since my first fan post about 2021 (2021 Chargers Thoughts at 2020 Midseason).

When I posted that, the Chargers were 2-6, and the season was already a disappointment, with the exception of Herbert's emergence. But then the Chargers rallied to finish 5-3 in the second half and 7-9 overall, including winning their last 4 games of the season.

Then the Chargers surprised me by doing the right thing, anyway, and firing Anthony Lynn. He seems like a good man, but IMO was clearly not worthy of continuing, especially given the priority the franchise needs to put on Herbert's development and his place in the offense.

The fact that Dean Spanos, John Spanos, and Telesco were the principals involved in hiring Staley is enough to give any Chargers fan pause... after all, that brain trust hired McCoy and Lynn. But, while the new coaching staff is unproven and inexperienced, I am optimistic that the franchise may have actually made a good decision on Staley, and I am extending my optimism to the staff he is putting in place.

So... optimism. A good place to be a month before the 2021 league year starts. So, as I often do, I want to examine the cap situation and roster decisions that the team will be dealing with over the next few months in particular.

Active Contracts

The Chargers currently have 48 players under contract for 2021. Here they are, along with their cap hits from Over the Cap:

Player Cap Number
Joey Bosa $ 20,750,000
Keenan Allen $ 15,700,000
Mike Williams $ 15,680,000
Linval Joseph $ 11,900,000
Casey Hayward $ 11,750,000
Trai Turner $ 11,500,000
Chris Harris Jr. $ 11,250,000
Bryan Bulaga $ 11,083,333
Justin Herbert $ 6,040,626
Austin Ekeler $ 5,750,000
Derwin James $ 3,941,939
Jerry Tillery $ 3,115,134
Kenneth Murray $ 2,948,851
Justin Jones $ 2,396,535
Kyzir White $ 2,346,610
Uchenna Nwosu $ 1,832,593
Nasir Adderley $ 1,290,576
Trey Pipkins $ 1,069,269
Drue Tranquill $ 1,014,702
Scott Quessenberry $ 991,063
Joshua Kelley $ 975,086
Justin Jackson $ 920,000
Easton Stick $ 919,655
Emeke Egbule $ 889,239
Cortez Broughton $ 869,580
Joe Reed $ 865,078
Lachlan Edwards $ 850,000
Jalen Guyton $ 850,000
Cole Mazza $ 850,000
Jason Moore $ 850,000
Alohi Gilman $ 826,969
K.J. Hill $ 806,206
Cole Christiansen $ 780,000
Joe Gaziano $ 780,000
Ryan Hunter $ 780,000
Tyron Johnson $ 780,000
Jessie Lemonier $ 780,000
Gabe Nabers $ 780,000
Storm Norton $ 780,000
Donald Parham $ 780,000
Darius Bradwell $ 660,000
John Brannon $ 660,000
Breiden Fehoko $ 660,000
Nathan Gilliam $ 660,000
John Hurst $ 660,000
T.J. Smith $ 660,000
Matt Sokol $ 660,000
Donte Vaughn $ 660,000
Total $164,343,044

Exclusions from 2021 Final Roster

Looking over that list, I can go ahead and rule out one veteran, Trai Turner. His PFF grade ranked #129 out of 132 graded guards, and his release would clear $11.5M in cap space. IMO that is a nobrainer, despite the team's dire OL situation, and I expect him to be released. So I am going to assume he is not on the final 2021 roster.

I also think these players are offseason/camp fodder, and I do not expect them to make the final 2021 roster:
  1. RB Bradwell
  2. CB Brannon
  3. LB Christiansen
  4. G Gilliam
  5. G Hunter
  6. WR Hurst
  7. DT T.J. Smith
  8. TE Sokol
  9. CB Vaughn

There are others I think are on the bubble, but I'll leave them unaddressed for now. I am going to assume these 9 players do not make the final roster.

Removing those 10 players leaves 38 players under contract for a 2021 cap total of $146,663,044.

Draft Picks

Per OTC, the Chargers are currently set to have these 2021 draft picks:

  1. 1.13 (13)
  2. 2.15 (47)
  3. 3.14 (77) - note pick 3.13 was forfeited by the Patriots, which is why this is pick 77 instead of 78
  4. 3.34 (97) - compensatory draft pick
  5. 4.13 (118)
  6. 5.15 (160)
  7. 6.14 (200)
  8. 6.21 (206) - from King trade; note pick 6.19 was forfeited by the Raiders
  9. 7.13 (239)

For purposes of this post:

  1. I assume the team will not make any trades involving draft picks and makes all of these picks.
  2. I further assume all of these players will make the final roster barring injury. I think only 2 players Telesco has drafted since 2015 failed to make the roster, both due to injury -- Dylan Cantrell and Donovan Clark; and rookies and UDFAs in general should have better chances to make final rosters this year than normal, due to the lowered salary cap.
  3. Per OTC, those picks have an estimated total cap hit of $8.4M.

Practice Squad and Injury Replacements

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.

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 more conservative and assume they reserve $3M.

Functional Salary Cap Space

Now, taking all of that into account, I can determine an estimate of the team's functionally availble cap space based on these facts and assumptions:

  1. First, note that the 2021 salary cap floor is $175M, but it could be as high as $198.2M, depending on revenues. There have been reports that it could settle at $195M, $188M, or $180M. OTC is using $176M until the league makes an official decision, so that's what I will use here.
  2. OTC credited the Chargers with a rollover of $8,014,290 from 2020, making their franchise 2021 cap $184,014,290.
  3. As noted above, the 38 players under contract that I am counting toward the 2021 roster have a combined cap hit of $146,663,044; the team's draft picks have a combined cap hit of $8.4M; the practice squad will have an estimated cap hit of $2,824,753; and I estimate the team will reserve $3M for 2021 in season injury replacements.
  4. Do the math, and that leaves $23,126,493 in available 2021 cap space, with 47 roster spots occupied (38 players under contract I am counting plus 9 draft picks).

This provides a starting point to discuss roster and free agent decisions.

Roster Decisions

I already assumed that Trai Turner would be released, and 9 other players currently under contract will not make the final 2021 roster. Now I want to consider other decisions the team could make related to the 38 players under contract I did not yet exclude.

There are two veterans who could become cap casualties:

  • WR Williams - No way he is worth his 5th year option price of $15.68M. However, I expect the team wants to keep him if he will agree to a lower contract that pays him at closer to his true market value. I will assume the team signs him to a multi-year contract with a 2021 cap hit of $10M. The expected down free agent market could help the team here, since Williams and his agent may be less willing to hold out for more.
  • CB Hayward - Hayward's play declined significantly in 2020, and the team could release him to clear $9.5M in 2021 cap space. If I thought the team would use its first round pick on a corner, I might expect the team to release Hayward. But I think the team is likely to prioritize OL and Edge players. Combined with the fact that Davis is a UFA, I think the team does one of two things -- lets Hayward play out his contract, or extends him for a year to improve his 2021 cap hit. while preserving the ability to release him after 2021 if his play does not improve. I will assume they stand pat and let him play it out.

So I'm counting both of them on the final roster. Beyond those two, I see these other guys as bubble players who have to battle to make the final roster:

  • WR - Moore, Reed, Hill - A lot of variables here -- how well their offseasons go, how they fit the new offensive scheme, and whether or not the new coaches want to bring in any external players they are familiar with, like Josh Reynolds. My guess is that Reed makes it and the other two do not.
  • FB - Nabers - Not sure if the new coaches will see him as a fit, and he was not good on special teams last season.
  • Edge - Gaziano, Lemonier - Can Gaziano play DE in Staley's scheme? Can Lemonier play OLB? Will the Chargers bring in better players who beat them out? I am skeptical that either of these guys make the final roster, though both played reasonably well in very limited snaps last season. Bottom line, I would hope the Chargers have better players in their Edge/OLB rotation.
  • IDL - Broughton, Fehoko - Fehoko played just 19 unmemorable snaps, and I don't think he makes it. Broughton only played 94 snaps, but he showed some promise; but given the 3-4 principles of Staley's defense, is he big enough to play inside? Per PFR, he played at 293 lbs last season. That is at least 25 lbs lighter than the average NFL nose tackle. Or could Broughton play DE in Staley's scheme?
  • LB - Egbule - He played backup SAM last year, but only had 35 snaps. He was not very good at special teams. Can he play 3-4 OLB?
  • S - Gilman - Terrible on special teams last season, and the team chose to sign Watkins and Addae during the season rather than play him on defense. I doubt he makes the team, despite Telesco's fascination with Notre Dame players and penchant for keeping his unproductive draft picks too long.
  • P - Edwards - I'm skeptical he will be the guy to win the job, but I suppose you never know. He is the only punter under contract at this point. The team could bring Long back, but he has not been a good punter for the Chargers; he was good at kickoffs, but the Chargers 2021 kicker will hopefully be able to handle that on his own. So Edwards has a shot.

It would be ideal if most of these players did not make the final roster. I'm going to assume Reed, Nabers, Broughton, and Edwards will make it and the rest do not. Edwards might not be the guy, but the team has to have a punter, and he is the only one for now.

Internal Free Agents

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
  • IDL - Square
  • LB - Perryman, Vigil, Jefferson
  • CB - Davis, Facyson, Campbell
  • S - Jenkins, Addae
  • PK - Badgley
  • P - Long

Thoughts on these players:

  • I already posted about the team's disastrous OL situation. If Lynn was back, I would expect all of Feeney, Lamp, and Tevi back. With Lynn gone, it is much harder to tell what the team will do, even with Telesco remaining. I have to assume it will be a priority for the new coaching staff to seriously address the OL, particularly given that there are only 5 under contract for 2021, including Turner, who should be released. The team needs to add 4-6 OL via free agency and the draft, but it would be ideal if none of them were among these internal free agents. One easy call: if the team uses its first round pick on a LT, I don't see re-signing Tevi, given Norton and Pipkins are already on the roster as depth tackles.
  • Spotrac shows Henry's market contract value as 4 years, $44M. Assuming the team signs him for something like that, I could see his 2021 cap hit as being as little as maybe $8M, so I'll assume that.
  • Rochell is a RFA, and I expect the team will re-sign him for $900K to $1M; I'll assume $1M.
  • Davis is a UFA, and the team paid him $3.26M this season. I assume they will sign him to a multi-year deal, but it won't be cheap given the premium position. I'm guessing a $6M 2021 cap hit and will assume that.
  • Jenkins is a UFA, and the team paid him $2.3M in 2020. If Lynn was back, I would expect them to prioritize resigning him, but it's hard to say with a new coaching staff in place. I felt that Telesco and the coaches seemed to overrate him. But given the expected down free agent market and the fact that non-elite safeties do not tend to draw significant contracts, I could see his price being reasonable, meaning he might be back. I will assume he is back for $4M in 2021.

I think the rest of these internal free agents are gone, excluding the OL. I'm just not sure what to expect the team to do there.

Revised Roster

Based on my assumptions above, here is what the revised roster would look like without accounting for OL internal free agents or external free agents (* identifies assumed cap hits):

Player Cap Number
Joey Bosa $ 20,750,000
Keenan Allen $ 15,700,000
Linval Joseph $ 11,900,000
Casey Hayward $ 11,750,000
Chris Harris Jr. $ 11,250,000
Bryan Bulaga $ 11,083,333
Mike Williams $ 10,000,000 *
Hunter Henry $ 8,000,000 *
Justin Herbert $ 6,040,626
Michael Davis $ 6,000,000 *
Austin Ekeler $ 5,750,000
Rayshawn Jenkins $ 4,000,000 *
Derwin James $ 3,941,939
Jerry Tillery $ 3,115,134
Kenneth Murray $ 2,948,851
Justin Jones $ 2,396,535
Kyzir White $ 2,346,610
Uchenna Nwosu $ 1,832,593
Nasir Adderley $ 1,290,576
Trey Pipkins $ 1,069,269
Drue Tranquill $ 1,014,702
Isaac Rochell $ 1,000,000 *
Scott Quessenberry $ 991,063
Joshua Kelley $ 975,086
Justin Jackson $ 920,000
Easton Stick $ 919,655
Cortez Broughton $ 869,580
Joe Reed $ 865,078
Lachlan Edwards $ 850,000
Jalen Guyton $ 850,000
Cole Mazza $ 850,000
Tyron Johnson $ 780,000
Gabe Nabers $ 780,000
Storm Norton $ 780,000
Donald Parham $ 780,000
Total $154,390,630

That would reduce functional available cap space to $15,398,907, accounting for the 35 active contracts identified above and 9 draft picks, meaning 9 roster spots are unaccounted for. That's not a lot of cap space for 9 spots.

Here is how those 35 active contracts break down positionally:

Offense (17):

  • QB (2) - Herbert, Stick
  • RB (3) - Ekeler, Kelley, Jackson
  • FB (1) - Nabers
  • WR (5) - Allen, Williams, Guyton, Johnson, Reed
  • TE (2) - Henry, Parham
  • OL (4) - RT Bulaga, T Norton, T Pipkins, C/G Quessenberry

Defense (16):

  • Edge (3) - Bosa, Nwosu, Rochell
  • IDL (4) - Joseph, Tillery, Jones, Broughton
  • LB (3) - Murray, Tranquill, White
  • CB (3) - Hayward, Davis, Harris
  • S (3) - James, Jenkins, Adderley

Special Teams (2):

  • PK -
  • P (1) - Edwards
  • LS (1) - Mazza

Comments on that nucleus:

  1. All non-OL starters on offense are in place, but only 1 of 5 OL starters. This is the most obvious problem of the entire offseason. Draft picks are not accounted for here, and I think 1 starter must be assumed from the draft, but I can't assume more than that. Meaning 3 starters need to be brought in via free agency, assuming the team does not want to start Norton, Pipkins, or Quessenberry. Not sure if the $15.4M I showed above is enough; this could lead to one or more of my other assumptions (e.g., Mike Williams, Hayward, Jenkins) being invalidated... It also seems appropriate to point out that the new coaching staff could favor a different blocking scheme, so this may enable the team to more easily transform the line than if they had more players under contract.
  2. Good defensive nucleus in place, but only 9 easily identifiable starters. If Nwosu starts at OLB, not sure who starts opposite Bosa at DE... Tillery or Broughton? I assume Murray and Tranquill start at ILB, with Nwosu taking one OLB spot, but who is the other OLB, White? Assume Jenkins starts over Adderley, otherwise the team shouldn't sign him for $4M (and maybe they won't...). Given my assumptions on Hayward and Davis, CB becomes less of a draft priority.
  3. Placekicker is a need, and I hope the team moves on from Badgley. Given the need to spend at other positions, it may make sense to draft late or sign a rookie PK rather than a veteran. Talked about punter already; think the team goes cheap there, whether with Edwards, Long at veteran minimum, or a TBD player.

Final Thought

So... without accounting for OL internal free agents or any external free agents, my assumptions result in 9 open roster positions, ~$15.4M in functional cap space, and a gaping hole at OL... at least 4, and probably 5, of those 9 roster spots have to go to OL.

Reminder that this is all based on a cap of $176M. Any increase on that will obviously make this situation easier.

Thoughts on what the team should/will do? Thoughts on my assumptions above?

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.