I decided to write a series focusing on our upcoming UFA's, and make some projections on where we can expect their market to land.
I've been struggling on what to call it, but ultimately landed on this being a weekly segment that I'll release every Monday, titled Market Mondays. Please forgive me for this one being a day late, but moving forward you can count on this content coming every Monday! The depth and content will largely depend on the subject and hand, and the likelihood of the Chargers retaining him.
Tranquill and Defensive Culture Changes
An under-the-radar theme this last season seems to have been a significant shift in leadership for the defense. Though Derwin James is certainly an emotional leader for the team, Staley stripped him of the "Green Dot" in Week 4 in an effort to free up Derwin's bandwidth and maximize his individual contributions to the team. Joey Bosa dons the captain's "C," but it's easy to question his selfless leadership abilities when he paints a target on himself by criticizing officiating in press conferences and by throwing tantrums on the field when he's being held. You can love the way an athlete performs their craft, acknowledge his on-field energy and the respect his teammates have for him, while still questioning the the impact he has as a leader on the team, and I believe that's where many fans are currently struggling with Bosa.
Enter Khalil Mack, a selfless EDGE superstar for each of the nine seasons he's been in the league. Besides being a foundational piece on the field, Mack was the focal point for building chemistry and unity in the clubhouse by hosting Friday Night defensive dinners, where he invites the entire defense out to a swanky dinner each week and picks up the entire tab. This was so successful in building team unity, the offense eventually got jealous and started joining in. Ironically, this sort of tradition is usually reserved as a once-a-year rookie prank. Mack's humility in not only treating his team to such a dinner once but every single week is one of the most underrated storylines of the season.
Enter Sebastian Joseph-Day, recent Super Bowl champion with the Rams. SJD is a charismatic, fun-loving defensive lineman that was voted captain in his first year with the Bolts. Don't let that beaming smile and contagious laugh fool you though; when he feels there are miscommunications on defense, he gets LOUD and confronts his teammates, as he did with his follow lineman and linebackers when playing against the Titans in Week 15.
Lastly, we cannot forget Drue Tranquill. Unlike Mack and SJD, Tranquill wasn't a new addition to this roster, but he was thrust into his first full-time starting season. Drue displayed flashes of an athletic playmaker with upside in seasons past, but an early wave of injuries and lack of availability prevented him from establishing a consistent role in the defense. With the departure of Kyzir White, and a fluid roster construct with recent veteran acquisition Kyle Van Noy floating between Edge and Linebacker as Staley saw fit, Tranquill had both the opportunity and urgency to stake his claim as a reliable starter in his contract year.
Not only was Drue active and healthy for a full slate for the first time in his career, Drue's play also rose to the occasion. Replacing White's role as the team-leader in tackles the year prior, Tranquill stepped into action and not only led the team in tackles (146 total), he finished 3rd in sacks (5), tied with SJD for most "run stops" (29), and second in tackles for a loss (10).
Perhaps most impressively, Drue completely the trifecta of this leadership-renaissance that Mack and Joseph-Day headed. It was Drue that Staley trusted with the Green Dot in hopes of switching up the leadership rhythm on defense, and Staley never looked back. Widely recognized as our most impactful UFA, Charger fans are clamoring for Tom to not let another impactful linebacker walk in free agency, especially given the lesser depth the Chargers would be left with compared to last offseason.
My "day job" is working as a real estate agent, primarily as a Project Manager for an investment group. Much of my time is spent on market analysis, essentially appraising fixer properties for their current market value as well as what they would likely sell for after a substantial renovation.
A home appraiser is tasked with finding comparable home sales from a relevant timeframe, and using these home sales to determine the value of the subject property. To do so, appraisers are often required to effectively "bracket" the property with a low comp, a high comp, a "most relevant" comp, and make their market adjustments based on the various attributes of the subject property and these various comparables.
As I understand, player representatives take a similar approaches with Market Comparison packets filled with supporting research for their players when renegotiating a contract. Not every contract negotiation is the headline-grabbing QB or skill position contract that resets the market; most involve heavy research and evidence to support a market value for a player.
Here is my attempt to do so for Tranquill. Below, you will see a player card, where I break down the Drue's contract-year stats and his best supporting-year, and the three players I would use to bracket his upcoming contract.
Still trying to come up with a cleaner way to present these, but I'm starting to dig into market comps for our UFA's. For starters, probably the most volatile of our guys, would be Drue Tranquil. Outperformed White and even Foye in areas, hovers closer to Jack/Greenlaw. #boltup pic.twitter.com/9Kay4M0ifj— Kyle DeDiminicantanio (@TheKyleDe) January 20, 2023
High-Market Comp: Foye Oluokun, 15mil/yr
Drue's representation would love to point to Foye Oluokun's massive contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he signed for $15,000,000 over three years. In the eyes of most analysts and pundits, it appeared to be one of the two major Jaguar overpays, the other being Christian Kirk's monster deal. However, Foye followed it up with another great season, and led the Jaguars to the most successful single-season turnaround in the history of the league.
Foye's greatest attribute is the range and consistency in which he brings down ball carriers. Stacking an NFL best 192 tackles in 2021 was certainly impressive, but Foye was no flash in the pan... he had built upon a strong 2020 season before launching into a near 200 tackle season in 2021.
Negative Adjustments from Foye to Tranquill
- Foye greatly outpaced Drue, and the entire league, in tackle production
- He was slightly more impactful (statistically) in coverage with 6 PBU's and 3 INTs, compared to Drue's 4 and 1.
- Most importantly, Foye had a strong supporting season that provided support for his durability and consistency. Though his tackle numbers were lower in 2020, his sacks, TFLs, and pass coverage stats remained very stable
Positive Adjustments from Foye to Tranquill
- Drue outpaced Foye in TFL's and Sacks, significantly.
Low Market Comp: Kyzir White, 3mil/yr
Kyzir White is a great comparable for Drue, as he was playing in the same system and role as Drue in his contract year. Kyzir effectively represented the fall-out for a smaller, hybrid linebacker in last year's market after Foye took the heavy spender off the board. Kyzir White has a very similar athletic profile to Tranquil and at first glance appears to be the best apples-to-apples comparison. Most importantly, he provides strong evidence that one strong year isn't likely to net you a big pay day on the open market; there's a strong chance you're asked to take a prove-it deal and show that you can repeat it before getting the bag.
However, looking closer, White didn't appear to bring the same level of versatility to the Chargers as Tranquill did this last year.
Positive Adjustments from White to Tranquil
- Drue provided a greater pass-rush threat, bringing down the quarterback (5) times compared to White's (1) sack. Teams will pay a premium for this type of pass-rush threat.
- Drue made more tackles in the backfield, outpacing White by (3) TFL's.
Negative Adjustments from White to Tranquill
- Kyzir had one more interception, but this is essentially negated by Tranquill getting an INT in the playoffs that doesn't show up on his season stats. I don't see any stats that actually justify a negative adjustment from White's deal.
Most Relative Comparable: Myles Jack, $8mil/Yr
Myles Jack is not someone I would have considered a strong comp before starting this exercise. He started with a higher draft pedigree, a sure-fire first rounder than fell to the second due to health concerns. An athletic heavy hitter and disruptive force, Jack played well enough for Jacksonville to sign him to an extension in 2019, but as multiple regime changes brought Jack further and further from the original coaching staff that believed in him, he found himself a cap casualty as the 2022 League Year began. He was only on the market for a day, immediately signing a $16,000,000 two year deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Positive Adjustments from Jack to Tranquill
- Tranquil outpaced Jack in every category in 2022. Added 42 tackles to Jack's total, and Jack didn't contribute a statistic in the Sack, PBU, and INT categories. This would seemingly support Tranquil greatly outshining Jack's production.
Negative Adjustments from Jack to Tranquill
- As impactful as Tranquill's versatility will be on the open market, I believe Jack's consistency and availability will actually be a more impactful force. Jack showed more versatility in his supporting year, 2020, when he added 5 PBU's, a sack, and 6 TFL's to his impressive 118 tackle stat line. He has also played in less than 11 games in a season only once, and played in at least 14 games six times.
Macro-Market Adjustment, added to most relevant comp bracket
- Year-over-Year Salary Cap increase
Bracket Established: ( 3mil -[ 8mil ]- 15mil )
- I see much more downward pressure from $15,000,000 than I see upward forces from $3,000,000. If not for Myles Jack, and a 4th uncharted contract that is also comparable in Dre Greenlaw's 2022 extension for an APY of $8,200,000, my adjustments would greatly favor working from the low end of the bracket. I believe the added pass rush threat from Drue and overall versatility, paired with the rising cap, would adjust Drue's value upward from White's $3mil to $5,500,000/APY.
- However, Jack and Greenlaw provide a small grouping for the $8,000,000 APY. Drue's lack of consistent production would not justify him outpacing these two defensive stalwarts, so adjusting for this lack of a supporting year of production and still considering the rising cap, I would see Tranquill landing around $7,500,000 APY.
If Drue wants to try to maximize his earnings, he could take a two year deal for between $5,500,000-$6,500,000 APY. This would properly slot him beneath the players with a proven track record and give him an appropriate raise over White's prove-it deal. Most importantly for Drue it would give him two years to showcase he can repeat this production and hit free agency in 2025. At this point the salary cap will be much higher and he'll still be on the right side of 30.
We'll split the difference: 2 years, $12,000,000. $6,000,000 signing bonus, $10,000,000 fully guaranteed, cap hits of $4.5mil and 7.5mil.
Team Friendly Contract
If the team wants keep their cap figure relatively low this season but still lock up Drue as a defensive centerpiece for years to come, I could see them heavily leaning on the APY's of Greenlaw and Mack, hedging their gamble that Drue's season was just a flash in the pan against a rising cap that likely makes this contract look much more palatable in two years time when the cap hits rise.
Drue takes a 4 year, $32,000,000 deal. $8,000,000 signing bonus, $20,000,000 fully guaranteed, with $3,000,000 roster bonuses that become fully guaranteed if Drue is on the roster at the start of the league year in 2025 and 2026. The cap hits would thus ascend as follows: $3,100,000 -> $5,900,000 -> $10,000,000 -> $13,000,000. This would represent cap savings of $2,000,000 if Drue were cut in 2025, and $8,000,000 if he were cut in 2026, giving Tom his lovely little rip cord he loves to dangle on the end of his contracts.
Although this deal would give Drue a valuation somewhat similar to players that have performed consistently at a high level for multiple years, I believe locking Drue in longer-term would pay dividends to this defense over the next four years. I can't reiterate enough how the rising salary cap will likely make a max $13,000,000 cap hit for a soon-to-be defensive captain seem like a bargain.
Let me know what you think of these valuations below!