I'm trying to put the bitter taste of the 2021 season finale out of my mind, so figured it was time for an initial post about the 2022 offseason and roster. Read on.
The Chargers currently have 44 players under contract for 2022. Here they are, along with their cap hits (Over the Cap doesn't yet show the futures contracts, so I pulled the data from Spotrac for those players, otherwise the data is from OTC):
|CB||Asante Samuel Jr.||$1,641,579|
|Edge||Chris Rumph II||$1,013,385|
|RB||Larry Rountree III||$868,941|
The cap numbers shown for Adderley and Tranquill already reflect the salary increases they received for 2022 due to the Proven Performance Escalator. (OTC reflects these increases, but Spotrac doesn't yet, which is why I used OTC for all data other than the futures contract players.)
Internal Free Agents
I'm going to change up the normal order of my offseason roster posts. The Chargers have a large number of internal free agents, with potential to re-sign a much larger number than usual, so I want to look at that next.
Here are the team's 25 internal free agents (the link shows 24, but inexplicably does not account for KR Roberts), along with my assumptions on which will be back and for how much:
- QB Daniel (UFA) - I think he will be back to continue in the mentor role for Herbert. I assume the team will sign him to another 1 year contract for the minimum, which for 7+ credited seasons is $1.12M in 2022.
- RB Jackson (UFA) - He showed flashes this season like every season. I would like the team re-sign Jackson, since he should be cheap, and sign a bigger veteran RB to join the RB committee, which would imply releasing Kelley and/or Rountree to the practice squad. I assume that will happen and the team will sign Jackson to a 1 year contract for the minimum, which for 4 credited seasons is $1.035M in 2022.
- WR Williams (UFA) - I would be okay letting Williams walk and devoting the cap space to other position groups that I think are more important. However, I don't think the team will do that. I think they will attempt to work out a long term contract with Williams, but I'm not confident they will be able to find mutually agreeable terms, so I assume they will keep him in 2022 on the franchise tag, which is projected to be $19.127M in 2022.
- WR Guyton (RFA) - The lowest RFA tender is the Right of First Refusal tender (aka Original Round tender), which is projected to be $2.433M in 2022. I don't expect the Chargers to pay Guyton, who earned $850K in 2021, that much, but I also don't think they want to lose him. I assume they will work out a 1 year, $2M deal.
- TE Cook (UFA) - IMO Cook was a disappointment this season. I posted about his poor performance in the comments of another thread recently. It wouldn't shock me if the team brought him back on a 1 year deal, but I don't think they should. For this exercise, I assume he is gone.
- TE Anderson (UFA) - Anderson was solid on offense and one of the team's best special teams players in both 2020 and 2021. I hope he is back and will assume so. Other teams could have interest, so I assume the team will sign him for a modest increase above the veteran minimum, say 1 year, $1.5M.
- TE Parham (ERFA) - Parham will be back at the minimum salary, which for 2 credited seasons is $895K in 2022.
- RG Aboushi (UFA) - Aboushi played well before his injury, albeit in only 5 games and 298 snaps. However, I'm going to go against what I ancitipate to be the popular opinion and say the team should sign Schofield instead, letting Aboushi walk. It's not just this year's injury; Aboushi has only averaged 438 snaps per season in 8 seasons. I'd rather have the younger, more durable player who performs similarly. See below.
- G Schofield (UFA) - In his last 3 seasons with the Chargers (2018, 2019, 2021), he has averaged over 1K snaps per season, and he has averaged 838 snaps per season over 7 seasons. He is slightly younger than Aboushi, and was graded similarly by PFF -- Schofield graded at 67.8 overall in 2021, compared to 68.2 for Aboushi. He should be a solid stopgap until (hopefully) Jaimes is ready to take over. Schofield played for the minimum salary in 2021, and I assume the team will sign him to another 1 year salary at the minimum salary of $1.12M.
- T Norton (ERFA) - We know Pipkins is a lock for the final roster, so the question here is whether the Chargers think either of them can be the starter at RT. I hope and assume they do not think that. So the next question becomes whether they want to keep a second backup tackle. Since he is an ERFA, I assume they will keep him and sign him for 1 year at the minmum salary of $895K.
- C Quessenberry (UFA) - Quessenberry played 625 snaps in 2019 but otherwise has played just 189 snaps over his other 3 seasons, including 115 for the current coaching staff in 2021. He was not very good in 2019, but he was also a second year player playing his first meaningful snaps at a tough position with poor players surrounding him on the OL. So I don't really know what to think of him, or, more importantly, what the coaching staff thinks of him, so I can see this going either way. If they do not re-sign him, they will have to acquire another center, which leads me to believe they will re-sign him for 1 year for the minimum salary of $1.035M.
- G Kelemete (UFA) - He was a desperation pickup midseason and played poorly, with the poorest PFF grade on offense out of 42 graded players other than Bradwell, who played just 7 snaps. I assume he is gone.
- Edge Nwosu (UFA) - I think the team needs an upgrade in the pass rush rotation opposite Bosa, but I think Nwosu proved down the stretch this season that he can be a valuable part of that rotation, and I assume he will be back.This article compares him to Tyus Bowser, who signed a 4 year, $22M contract last offseason, with an additional $5M in incentives available. I assume there will be some inflation in that contract value, since Bowser signed that in the season the cap was depressed, so I will assume a 4 year, $26M contract, with a 2022 cap hit of $4M.
- Edge Fackrell (UFA) - Fackrell only played 382 snaps in 2021, and he was only good at one thing - rushing the passer. But he only generated 12 pressures and 3 sacks in 207 pass rushing snaps and only had 8 tackles and 4 assists on the season. IMO that is not enough for a guy who is not good at run defense and is flat out bad at tackling and coverage. This is a position the Chargers need to upgrade, and I assume they let Fackrell walk.
- IDL Joseph (UFA) - Joseph was the Chargers best IDL in 2021, but the unit as a whole performed poorly, so I'm not sure that means much. He carried the team's 4th highest cap hit in 2021 at $11.9M, and he did not play up to it. He turns 34 in early October 2022, and I am reminded that IDL Mebane was good for the Chargers on his first contract but not on his second. I think the Chargers should let Joseph walk, and I think they will.
- IDL Jones (UFA) - The Chargers need to overhaul their poor performing IDL, but with 3 UFAs, it seems unreasonable to think they will let all of them walk. Although IMO Jones tends to be a bit overrated on this site, but he seems like the best combination of performance, age, and likely price tag. His 2021 salary was $2.183M. I assume the team will sign him to something like a 3 year, $13M contract with an out after two years. With a contract along those lines, I assume his 2022 cap hit will be $3M. This article compares him to Adam Butler, who signed a 2 year, $7.5M contract last offseason, which is in the same ballpark.
- IDL Covington (UFA) - Tillery is a lock for 2022, and I already assumed the team would keep Jones. I further assume they will keep 1-2 of Gaziano, Fehoko, and Merrill (more on them later). Given the need to upgrade this unit, IMO Covington isn't good enough to stick, and I assume he is gone.
- LB White (UFA) - White had the 4th highest PFF grade on the Chargers defense, though it must be pointed out that the Chargers defense was bad, so that helped his relative standing. The team is no doubt hoping Murray will finally take a big step forward toward fulfilling the potential the team saw when it moved up to draft him in 2020, but I don't see how it can count on that, so it isn't enough to rely on just Murray and Tranquill in 2022. Given all of the other needs, it seems to me that the right move is to re-sign White to resolve the LB group and focus draft capital and bigger free agent signing in other position groups. This article predicts he will sign a 3 year, $25M contract with the Chargers. I could see that and assume cap hits would break down something like $5M in 2022, $8M in 2023, and $12M in 2024, with an out for the team before that last year. So I assume $5M in 2022.
- CB Harris (UFA) - Harris turns 33 in June. His play fell off quite a bit from his time in Denver to his time with the Chargers. At his age and pricetag, the team should let him walk, and I assume they will.
- CB Smith (UFA) - Smith was signed to be a special teams ace, but only played 59 snaps before he was out for the season due to injury. His PFF special teams grade was #51 out of 64 graded players, which obviously isn't good. He also didn't grade well in 2020 on special teams, and he hasn't played significant snaps at corner since 2018. I assume the team will let him walk.
- S Marshall (UFA) - Marshall was claimed off waivers after final roster cuts last September. He played 197 snaps and was solid in run defense but terrible at tackling and coverage, which seem important to the safety position. PFF also gave him its second lowest grade for special teams on the Chargers in 2021. With all of the draft picks this the upcoming draft, the team should be able to find an upgrade, and I assume they will ultimately let him walk.
- WR/KR Roberts (UFA) - Roberts made a big positive impact on the team's kickoff returns when he was signed midseason, and he was fine on punt returns until the final game. He didn't have a target on offense but did run the ball 3 times for 19 yards. He just turned 34. So he doesn't offer much on offense. The question is whether the team wants to dedicate a roster spot solely to a returner who doesn't make any other real contribution. Given that he helped the team, I think they will do that. Roberts played for the minimum last season, and I assume they sign him to a 1 year contract at the minimum salary of $1.12M.
- PK Hopkins (UFA) - Hopkins helped to stabilize the team's placekicking when he was brought in midseason, and I think he will be re-signed. Hopkins played for the minimum last season, and I assume the team will sign him to a 1 year contract at the minimum salary of $1.12M.
- P Long (RFA) - Long performed poorly this season and probably contributed to getting Special Teams Coordinator Swinton fired. Per PFF, 34 punters attempted at least 20 punts this season, and Long graded out at #31. I think the team will let him go and draft a punter with one of its 6 picks in the 6th and 7th rounds of the draft.
- LS Overton (UFA) - The team needs a long snapper, and Overton played well in 2021. PFF graded him with the 5th highest grade out of 64 graded special teams players for the Chargers. I don't see any upside in the team attempting to upgrade him and assume they will sign him to a 1 or 2 year contract at the minimum salary for 2022 of $1.12M.
So I am assuming the team will bring back 15 internal free agents. The breakdown makes some sense -- 9 back for a strong offense, just 3 back for a weak defense, and 3 of 4 back for a special teams unit that improved over the course of the season, including 2 guys signed midseason who directly contributed to that improvement.
That said, I'm probably going to miss on a few of these players, since it seems surprising to think the team would bring back 15 internal free agents, especially given all of the draft picks and cap space available this offseason.
Exclusions from 2022 Final Roster
There are 44 players under contract, and I just assumed 15 internal free agents will return, which totals to 59 players, so I am 6 over the final 53 man roster limit without any draft picks or external free agents. So obviously not all 59 of those players will make the final roster.
First, I assume there will be one cap casualty -- RT Bulaga. He was an expensive free agent signing in the 2020 offseason, but has played just 11 games and 490 snaps since then. The Chargers will save $10.75M in 2022 cap space by releasing him.
I think these players are offseason/camp fodder and/or will be beaten out. So I do not expect them to make the final 2021 roster and will exclude them from my final roster projection in this post:
- WR Bandy
- Edge Brown
- LB Egbule
- LB Christiansen
- S DeLuca
- WR Ffrench
- CB Hall
- G Hunter
- TE Kampmoyer
- LB Lloyd
- IDL Merrill
- WR Moore
- LB Ogbongbemiga
- RB Rountree
- T Sarell
Removing those 16 players gets me back to 43, leaving 10 spots for draft picks and external free agents, which is almost certainly not enough. The best way to solve this IMO is to cut a few more players, like QB3 Stick and FB Nabers, but I'm not confident the team will do it... more on this later.
Per OTC, the Chargers are currently set to have these 2021 draft picks:
- 1.17 (17)
- 2.16 (48)
- 3.15 (79)
- 4.18 (119)
- 5.17 (158)
- 6.16 (194)
- 6.37 (215) - compensatory pick
- 7.15 (232)
- 7.34 (251) - compensatory pick
- 7.35 (252) - compensatory pick
- 7.37 (254) - compensatory pick
For purposes of this post, I assume the team will not make any trades involving draft picks and will use all of these picks, although this might actually be a year where that makes more sense than in the past, given the high number of picks.
I think only 2 players Telesco has drafted since 2015 failed to make the roster, both due to injury -- Dylan Cantrell and Donovan Clark. I don't see that trend continuing in 2022. I am going to guess that only 7 of 11 picks (if all picks are actually made) will make it. The others might make the practice squad, but I'm not attempting to predict the practice squad here.
For purposes of projecting cap space, I will take the most conservative approach and assume the bottom 4 picks are the ones that don't make it.
Working Roster and Cap Commitment
Based on my assumptions above, here is what the working revised roster would look like without accounting for external free agents (* identifies assumed cap hits; ** identifies the draft picks I assume will make the final roster):
|Draft Pick 1.17||$3,031,473||**|
|CB||Asante Samuel Jr.||$1,641,579|
|Draft Pick 2.16||$1,449,451||**|
|Edge||Chris Rumph II||$1,013,385|
|Draft Pick 3.15||$1,004,435||**|
|Draft Pick 4.18||$921,893||**|
|Draft Pick 5.17||$798,852||**|
|Draft Pick 6.16||$756,780||**|
|Draft Pick 6.37||$743,853||**|
Working Roster Breakdown
That working list includes 43 veteran players. Here is how they break down positionally:
- QB (3) - Herbert, Daniel, Stick
- RB (3) - Ekeler, Jackson, Kelley
- FB (1) - Nabers
- WR (5) - Allen, Williams, Guyton, Palmer, Roberts
- TE (3) - Anderson, Parham, McKitty
- OL (8) - LT Slater, LG Feiler, C Linsley, G Schofield, T Norton, T Pipkins, C Quessenberry, G Jaimes
- Edge (3) - Bosa, Nwosu, Rumph
- IDL (4) - Jones, Tillery, Gaziano, Fehoko
- LB (4) - White, Tranquill, Murray, Niemann
- CB (3) - Davis, Samuel, Campbell
- S (4) - James, Adderley, Gilman, Webb
Special Teams (2):
- PK (1) - Hopkins
- P (0) -
- LS (1) - Overton
Comments on that nucleus:
- Offense needs 4 players IMO, ordered in my view of the rough order of importance:
- Starting RT -- I'm fine with Pipkins and Norton providing tackle depth, but not ready to enter a season without a player better than them starting -- could be a veteran or rookie, but probably a veteran would work best
- TE1, since I assume Cook is gone and I'm not ready to believe that the trio of Anderson, Parham, and McKitty are experienced enough to absorb this role -- needs to be a veteran free agent
- Bigger RB who can successfully provide a contrasting style to Ekeler that Kelley and Rountree could not -- could be a veteran or rookie
- A WR to inject speed into the WR corps, ideally a player who can not only get deep but also play well in the slot -- could be a veteran or rookie
- Two possible adjustments to help clear space for all of those needs on offense:
- Don't roster 3 QBs, whether that means dropping Daniel or Stick. I would keep Daniel on the active roster and drop Stick to the practice squad. I see zero reason to think there is a real threat of another team signing Stick off the PS, and he can be elevated on gamedays if he is actually ever needed.
- Don't roster Nabers. Last season, he only played 47 snaps on offense and was a poor performer. Per PFF, he was the second worst Chargers player graded at run blocking, and he got the lowest pass blocking grade I have ever seen. While he got a good receiving grade, he only caught 3 passes for 17 yards and 0 first downs... no impact. In addition, he was a weak special teams player who played just 138 special teams snaps. With 4 TEs, it should be easy enough to flex a TE like Anderson or McKitty into a FB role for as few snaps as the offense uses that role. And, again, they can always elevate him from the practice squad if necessary.
- IMO the defense needs 6 players:
- 2 IDL players, at least one of whom has to be a day 1 starter -- if this player comes from the draft, it implies a first round pick to me... that is how important this need is. The priority for these 2 players is to bolster the run defense; any pass rush gains would be icing on the cake, but IMO should not be the focus. At least one should come from the draft.
- 2 Edge players, at least one of whom should be a day 1 starter and a stronger pass rush threat than Fackrell -- this would be a good place to spend some cap space on a veteran impact player. The second player would be a depth player who should come from the draft.
- 2 cornerbacks, at least one of whom is starter-caliber outside or in the slot (Harris replacement). At least one should come from the draft.
- Obviously, the team must acquire a punter -- no preference on veteran vs. rookie, but I could see using one of the late draft picks in the 6th or 7th rounds on a good prospect.
- Adding 4 offensive players, 6 defensive players, and a punter is 1 over the number of roster spots I had open. So if the team doesn't agree with me on Stick or, more likely, Nabers, then something else has to give.
OK, having examined the working roster and identified internal and external free agent needs, let's turn back to the salary cap.
Practice Squad and Injury Replacements
I need to account for the practice squad:
- The practice squad rules in the 2020 CBA allowed teams to have up to 12 practice squad players in the 2020 and 2021 seasons, expanded to up to 14 players beginning in the 2022 season. However, the NFL increased that maximum number to 16 for 2020 and 2021 due to COVID, and I assume they do that again in 2022.
- I'm not sure where to find the data to see if the Chargers took full advantage of that rule change and carried 16 practice squad players throughout the 2021 season. To be conservative, I assume they will carry the max.
- For 2022, up to 4 of the 16 practice squad players can be veterans with no limitations on accrued seasons. To be conservative, I assume the Chargers will carry 4 of these veterans. These players earn between $15,400 and $19,900 per week on the practice squad. I assume these 4 players will average the midpoint between those salaries, $17,650 per week. For 18 weeks, that is $317,700 per player.
- The other 12 practice squad players earn $11,500 per week. For 18 weeks, that is $207K per player.
- The CBA allows 2 practice squad players to be activated every week, and those players get paid at NFL minimum salary level. I am not sure where to find data on how often the Chargers have activated practice squad players for gamedays.
- In 2022, the NFL minimum salary is $705K.
- I assume the Chargers will activate an average of 1 player per gameday, understanding that sometimes it might be two and sometimes zero.
- To be conservative, I assume it is always one of the 12 lower paid practice squad players, which maximizes the delta between the practice squad and active roster salary at $27,667 per game. For 17 weeks, that is an added $470,333.
Accounting for all of that results in a total cost of $4,225,133 for the practice squad.
The team will also need to reserve some cap space for 2022 in season injury replacements. If the Chargers need the equivalent of 3 full-time replacement players for 17 games each, with 1 each at 0, 1, and 2 credited seasons, that requires setting aside $2.425M. To be conservative, I will round up to $3M.
Functional Salary Cap Space
Now, taking everything posted above into account, I can determine an estimate of the team's functionally availble cap space based on these facts and assumptions:
- At this time, the 2022 salary cap is projected to be $208.2M.
- Spotrac credited the Chargers with a rollover of $9,737,380 from 2021.
- As noted above:
- The 43 players under contract and 7 draft picks that I am counting toward the 2022 roster have a combined cap hit of $183,457,721.
- The practice squad will have an estimated cap hit of $4,225,133.
- I assume the team will reserve $3M for 2022 in season injury replacements.
Do the math, and that leaves $27,254,526 in available 2022 cap space, with 50 roster spots occupied (43 players plus 7 draft picks).
That is a big number to fill just 3 remaining roster spots, but I really want to see at least two top end free agents signed, ideally at RT and Edge, but IDL and CB could be other candidates, as could a veteran RB.
Proposed Action Plan
To summarize my thinking at this point:
- Release Bulaga.
- Re-sign the 15 internal free agents I identified above.
- Sign top notch external free agents to start at RT and Edge. I haven't looked at candidates yet, so not sure who.
- Sign veteran TE who can handle TE1 role in passing game, though perhaps conceding more snaps to the other TEs than Cook did in 2021.
- Draft IDL in first round.
- Draft CB in second round.
- Draft WR, CB, Edge, IDL in 3rd through 6th rounds.
- Draft punter in 6th or 7th round.
- Draft RB in 6th or 7th round, but also sign veteran. Both need to be bigger backs complementary to Ekeler, and they can battle for the final RB spot.
- Draft BPAs with the remaining 3 draft picks in the 7th.
- Let the 15 players I excluded earlier walk at roster cutdown, signing some to the practice squad as appropriate.
- Drop Nabers to practice squad.
I realize matching positions to draft rounds cannot be done as precisely as this, but this would be an ideal scenario IMO.
It took me a while to organize my thinking on all of this and put this post together. I probably made a few mistakes, but I want to get it posted to provide a starting point to discuss roster and free agent decisions.
Hoping for some great discussion!