This is my third fan post about the 2021 Chargers, following these two:
- 2021 Chargers Thoughts at 2020 Midseason, posted on November 14, 2020
- 2021 Chargers Roster Thoughts, posted on January 31, 2021
As I mentioned in my second post, I was optimistic after the coaching hires, and what has happened since then has helped me to maintain that optimism. 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 month in particular.
The Chargers reportedly have 57 players under contract for 2021. Here they are, along with their cap hits for the 53 identified at Over the Cap and placeholders for the other 4 players:
|DE||Joey Bosa||$ 20,750,000|
|WR||Keenan Allen||$ 15,700,000|
|WR||Mike Williams||$ 15,680,000|
|DT||Linval Joseph||$ 11,900,000|
|CB||Chris Harris Jr.||$ 11,250,000|
|RT||Bryan Bulaga||$ 11,083,333|
|C||Corey Linsley||$ 6,600,000|
|CB||Michael Davis||$ 6,400,000|
|QB||Justin Herbert||$ 6,040,626|
|RB||Austin Ekeler||$ 5,750,000|
|OL||Matt Feiler||$ 5,000,000|
|TE||Jared Cook||$ 4,500,000||*|
|S||Derwin James||$ 3,941,939|
|DL||Jerry Tillery||$ 3,115,134|
|LB||Kenneth Murray||$ 2,948,851|
|DT||Justin Jones||$ 2,396,535|
|LB||Kyzir White||$ 2,346,610|
|OLB||Uchenna Nwosu||$ 1,832,593|
|OL||Oday Aboushi||$ 1,750,000||*|
|FS||Nasir Adderley||$ 1,290,576|
|T||Trey Pipkins||$ 1,069,269|
|LB||Drue Tranquill||$ 1,014,702|
|PK||Michael Badgley||$ 1,000,000||*|
|CB||Brandon Facyson||$ 1,000,000||*|
|IOL||Scott Quessenberry||$ 991,063|
|RB||Joshua Kelley||$ 975,086|
|RB||Justin Jackson||$ 920,000|
|QB||Easton Stick||$ 919,655|
|OLB||Emeke Egbule||$ 889,239|
|DL||Cortez Broughton||$ 869,580|
|WR||Joe Reed||$ 865,078|
|CB||Tevaughn Campbell||$ 850,000|
|P||Lachlan Edwards||$ 850,000|
|WR||Jalen Guyton||$ 850,000|
|P||Ty Long||$ 850,000|
|LS||Cole Mazza||$ 850,000|
|WR||Jason Moore||$ 850,000|
|S||Alohi Gilman||$ 826,969|
|WR||K.J. Hill||$ 806,206|
|LB||Cole Christiansen||$ 780,000|
|DE||Joe Gaziano||$ 780,000|
|G||Ryan Hunter||$ 780,000|
|WR||Tyron Johnson||$ 780,000|
|DE||Jessie Lemonier||$ 780,000|
|TE||Gabe Nabers||$ 780,000|
|OL||Storm Norton||$ 780,000|
|TE||Donald Parham||$ 780,000|
|OL||Tyree St. Louis||$ 780,000|
|RB||Darius Bradwell||$ 660,000|
|CB||John Brannon||$ 660,000|
|DT||Breiden Fehoko||$ 660,000|
|G||Nathan Gilliam||$ 660,000|
|WR||John Hurst||$ 660,000|
|DT||T.J. Smith||$ 660,000|
|TE||Matt Sokol||$ 660,000|
|CB||Donte Vaughn||$ 660,000|
|PK||Tristan Vizcaino||$ 660,000|
About those placeholders:
- OTC does not yet show Cook on the Chargers roster. Per Daniel Popper, the Chargers beat writer for the Chargers, Cook's contract is reportedly worth up to $6M with $4.5M guaranteed, but the $6M figure likely includes incentives, so his 2021 cap hit should be $4.5M. I'm using that figure for now, but I won't be surprised if some of the incentives are deemed to be likely to be met, in which case they will be counted against the 2021 cap. We'll see.
- OTC does not yet show Aboushi on the Chargers roster, but BFTB reported that his contract is for 1 year at $1.75M, so I'm using that as a placeholder.
- Per BFTB, the Chargers re-signed both Facyson and Badgley, but I have not seen any terms announced to date. Both of them have three accrued seasons, so the minimum salary for each of them in 2021 is $920K. (Note: 2021 minimum salaries are on page 2 of this CBA comparison.) I'm using $1M as a placeholder for each of them, but I won't be surprised if either number is slightly higher or lower.
For purposes of this post, I'm going to make some assumptions about a lot of these players who IMO will not be in strong contention to make the final roster. I think these players are offseason/camp fodder, and I do not expect them to make the final 2021 roster:
- RB Bradwell
- CB Brannon
- LB Christiansen
- P Edwards
- G Gilliam
- G Hunter
- WR Hurst
- DT T.J. Smith
- TE Sokol
- CB Vaughn
- PK Vizcaino
There are others I think are on the bubble, but I'll leave them unaddressed for now. I am going to assume these 11 players do not make the final roster.
Removing them leaves 46 players under contract for a 2021 cap total of $162,793,044.
Per OTC, the Chargers are currently set to have these 2021 draft picks:
- 1.13 (13)
- 2.15 (47)
- 3.14 (77)
- 3.34 (97) - compensatory draft pick
- 4.13 (118)
- 5.15 (159)
- 6.1 (185) - from King trade
- 6.14 (198)
- 7.13 (241)
For purposes of this post:
- I assume the team will not make any trades involving draft picks and makes all of these picks.
- 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.
- Per OTC, those picks have an estimated total cap hit of $9,812,604.
Practice Squad and Injury Replacements
Next, I will account for the practice squad:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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).
- 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.
More Bubble Players
I see these guys as bubble players who have to battle to make the final roster:
- WR - Reed, Hill, Moore - 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.
- TE/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. Telesco was vocal about needing better special teams players, so it would be foolish to keep a player essentially just for special teams who is bad at it.
It would be ideal if most of these players did not make the final roster. I'm going to assume Reed, Nabers, and Broughton will make it and the rest do not. This assumption that Hill, Moore, Gaziano, Lemonier, Fehoko, Egbule, and Gilman do not make it drops my veteran final roster players count down to 39 players accounting for $157,200,630 in 2021 cap space.
Functional Salary Cap Space Available to Spend
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:
- The 2021 salary cap has been set at $182.5M.
- Popper reported that the Chargers have a rollover of $9.23M from 2020, making their franchise 2021 cap $191.73M.
- As noted above, the 39 players under contract that I am counting toward the 2021 roster have a combined cap hit of $157,200,630; the team's draft picks have a combined cap hit of $9,812,604; 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.
- Do the math, and that leaves $18,892,013 in 2021 cap space available to spend, with 48 of 53 roster spots accounted for (39 veterans and 9 rookie draft picks).
This provides a starting point to discuss future roster and free agent decisions.
Here is how those 39 active contracts break down positionally:
- QB (2) - Herbert, Stick
- RB (3) - Ekeler, Kelley, Jackson
- FB (1) - Nabers
- WR (5) - Allen, Williams, Guyton, Johnson, Reed
- TE (2) - Cook, Parham
- OL (8) - LG Feiler, C Linsley, RG Aboushi, RT Bulaga, T/G Norton, T Pipkins, C/G Quessenberry, G St. Louis
- DL (5) - Bosa, Joseph, Tillery, Jones, Broughton
- LB (4) - Nwosu, Murray, Tranquill, White
- CB (4) - Davis, Harris, Facyson, Campbell
- S (2) - James, Adderley
Special Teams (3):
- PK (1) - Badgley
- P (1) - Long
- LS (1) - Mazza
Comments on that nucleus:
- The signings of Linsley, Feiler, and Aboushi have been a huge pleasant surprise that has drastically reduced the disaster level of the OL. That said, I have not identified a starting LT, and that remains a significant hole in the starting lineup. But I could actually live with the team re-signing Tevi if it came to that, given that Feeney is gone and Lamp presumably is as well. A better solution would be for the team to use its first round draft pick on a long term LT, but they have really signficant needs at CB and Edge.
- Good defensive nucleus in place, but only 8 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? Is Adderley the starting free safety? Lot of questions here, which suggests that the draft will be defense-heavy.
- The team has obvious needs at LT, Edge/OLB, CB, and S. And needs better depth in the DL. Most of this will be the focus of the draft, but it feels like at least 1-2 more impact free agents are needed to address everything. ~$19M is a lot to work with, so Telesco should be able to make it happen.
I feel much better about things now than I did at the time of both of my earlier posts. When I made those posts, the OL was a complete disaster, and I was apprehensive that Telesco would re-sign multiple internal free agents there, among Feeney, Lamp, and Tevi, as if that would solve the problem. I feel much better about that situation now.
In my earlier posts, I assumed Hayward and Jenkins would be back, and both are gone. So CB and safety now seem like higher priorities than I thought previously. I think Telesco needs to sign a free agent at both positions (i.e., at CB and safety) to relieve draft pressure. And I think this whether he uses a 1st or 2nd round pick on CB or not.
The other big weakness is pass rush. But it is at least possible that Staley and the rest of the new coaches can get more out of the likes of Tillery, Jones, and Broughton, plus the team will likely still sign a veteran or two in the later free agent market. So I don't think there is much draft pressure there.