UPDATE: My good buddy Kyle pointed out that I had an error in my original post, so I went ahead and updated the entire post through week 7.
The bye week seems like a good time to update the 2024 salary cap situation, especially in the aftermath of the J.C. Jackson trade. So here is a quick update.
I first wrote this fan post about this subject several months ago: How can the Chargers solve their 2024 cap problems? There is more good info there.
Players Currently Under Contract in 2024
The Chargers currently have 39 players under contract for 2024. Here they are, along with their current 2024 cap hits from Over the Cap:
Trainer and Uzodinma are both on Injured Reserve. Had they not gotten injured, both would presumably have been waived at final roster cuts and would not remain under contract for 2024. That said, if they are ultimately replaced for the final 2024 roster, it will likely be two similarly inexpensive players, so they can remain included for purposes of this post.
Because this is only 39 players, when adding the 8 draft picks (discussed below), that only gets to 47 players. Thus, I will use 6 placeholders to get the roster to the full 53 players. For this exercise, I will assume each of the placeholders is a UDFA making the 2024 NFL minimum salary of $795K.
Accounting for the Proven Performance Escalator (PPE)
The PPE is a fourth-year salary escalator for players on drafted rookie contracts not drafted in the first round. From OTC:
Article 7, Section 4 of the 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement governs the PPE, establishing three levels of qualification:
- The Level One PPE is earned if a player participates in a certain percentage of a team's offensive or defensive snaps in two of his first three seasons, or averages that percentage of offensive or defensive snaps over his entire first three years. For 2nd round picks, the average is 60%, and (as was the same in the 2011 CBA) for 3rd-7th round picks it is 35%.
- The Level Two PPE is earned if a player participates in at least 55% of a team's offensive or defensive snaps in all of his first three seasons.
- The Level Three PPE is earned if a player is selected to a Pro Bowl on the original ballot (not as an alternate) in any of his first three seasons.
Players eligible for the PPE will see their fourth year base salary escalate, based upon the restricted free agent (RFA) tenders for that season, as follows:
- The Level One PPE will raise the base salary to the amount of the Right of First Refusal (ROFR) RFA tender.
- The Level Two PPE will raise the base salary to the amount of the ROFR RFA tender, plus $250,000.
- The Level Three PPE will raise the base salary to the amount of the 2nd round RFA tender.
- Level 1 PPE salary is projected to be $2.992M.
- Level 2 PPE salary is projected to be $3.242M.
I'm not going to project any of the eligible Chargers players from the 2021 draft to make the 2023 Pro Bowl, so we don't need to worry about any of them getting a Level 3 PPE salary.
The Chargers have 3 players who have earned or could earn a PPE raise in 2024.
Asante Samuel, Jr.
Samuel played 93.3% (1,045 of 1,120) of the Chargers defensive snaps in 2022 and 59.6% (693 of 1,162) of the Chargers defensive snaps in 2021. Through 6 games in 2023, he has played about 96% (403 of 420) of the Chargers defensive snaps.
He has already earned the Level 1 PPE salary. If he plays at least 55% of the Chargers defensive snaps in 2023, he will earn the Level 2 PPE. That feels like a lock at this point, unless he suffers a season ending injury within the next 3 games or so.
I assume he will earn the Level 2 PPE, increasing his 2024 salary from $1,644,948 to $3.242M. This will increase his 2024 cap hit from $2,298,211 to $3,895,263.
He has already earned the Level 1 PPE and cannot earn Level 2. His 2024 salary will increase from $1,396,190 to $2.992M. This will increase his 2024 cap hit from $1,601,109 to $3,246,919.
He played 32.8% of the Chargers offensive snaps in 2021 and 2022 combined, so his easiest path to earning the Level 1 PPE salary is to play 35% of the offensive snaps in 2 of his first 3 seasons, 2022 and 2023. That would require him to play 425 offensive snaps or so in 2024 (depending on how many offensive snaps the team plays).
Through 6 games in 2023, he has played just 12.1% (50 of 414) of the Chargers offensive snaps. His snap count has dropped to a career low so far this season, and deservedly so, since his PFF grade (34.6) is the lowest on the offense by a considerable margin (next lowest grade is Smartt at 47.1).
So it appears that McKitty will not earn the PPE Level 1 salary, unless one or more injuries occur to the TEs above him on the depth chart. For now, I am going to assume he doesn't make it.
And, frankly, that might be a good thing for him, because it would have increased his 2024 cap hit from $1,460,154 to $3,202,154, making him a possible cap casualty. IMO he stands a much better chance of making the team at his current 2024 salary.
2024 Draft Picks
As of today, the Chargers have 7 draft picks in the 2024 draft. OTC projects they will have 1 compensatory draft pick, which they project to be the final pick of the draft. Based on the 2023 regular season to date, this is what OTC is projecting for the Chargers draft picks and their associated cap hits:
I assume all of the players drafted with these picks will make the final 2024 roster. I expect the Chargers will attempt to acquire additional picks through trades as part of solving their 2024 cap challenge... trading for even a late pick is certainly preferable to cutting a player. But I'm not assuming anything here.
Projected 53 Man Roster
So here is the projected 53 man roster for this exercise:
Teams are allowed to carry 16 practice squad players, including 4 veteran players. I assume the Chargers will carry the full number of 16 players and will include 4 veteran players.
Non-veteran practice squad players will make $12.5K per regular season week on the squad. Over the 18 regular season weeks, that scales to $225K for the full season.
Veteran practice squad players will make between $16.8K and $21.3K per regular season week on the squad. Over the 18 regular season weeks, that scales to $225K for the full season. Using the midpoint for 18 regular season weeks, that scales to $342.9K for the full season.
Do the math, and I'm projecting the practice squad to cost $4,071,600 against the 2024 cap.
Practice Squad Elevations
The CBA allows 2 practice squad players to be activated every week. Those players get paid at NFL minimum salary level for each week they are activated.
The Chargers activated practice squad players a total of 28 times in the 2022 season. They have elevated 9 players in 6 games so far this season. I will assume the same number as 2022 (28 elevations) for this projection, and I will assume 8 of the activations are veteran practice squad players to be somewhat conservative.
Do the math, and I'm projecting PS elevations to cost $834,267 against the 2024 cap.
In Season Injury Replacements
The team will also need to reserve some cap space for 2024 in season injury replacements.
I don't know for sure how the team thinks about this and plans for it, but suppose 6 players get hurt and are out for the season at some point. Not an unreasonable number since the Chargers already had at least 6 players on IR or the NFI list before their first game in 2022, and we know it got worse from there. Suppose 2 of them go down with 2/3 of the season left, 2 with half the season left, and 2 with 1/3 of the season left. That means the team would need 6 replacement players who would be active for the equivalent of 3 full seasons... and they also have to pay the 6 injured players. $3M is just a guess. It could be higher, so it may not be conservative enough.
Dead Cap Money
As of now, this is the dead cap money the Chargers have against the 2024 cap:
This is going to go up a lot before all is said and done.
Salary Cap Charges
So, without taking any actions other than adding the draft picks, this is what the salary cap charges look like:
Collectively, these cap charges are likely too low:
- While this does account for in-season injury replacements, it obviously cannot at this time account for PUP, IR, or NFI players. There obviously will be more than zero. Will $3M cover it?
- The team will likely obtain additional draft picks through trades, since the team will have to get rid of some expensive players, and those draft picks will make at least a bit more than the minimum salary.
- The dead cap money will go up considerably.
- It seems very unlikely the team will end up with 6 minimum salary UDFAs on the final roster along with 8 rookies. This calculation has not accounted for retaining any internal free agents, for example, nor signing any external free agents other than UDFAs. So some salaries in the active contracts list will increase over this projection.
Functional Cap Space
This is a grim picture about the team's functional cap space accounting for everything above:
Even this is probably underestimating the amount of space the Chargers must clear. Some of the reasons are listed in the previous section. Realistically, they need to clear $60M to $70M in order to field a competitive roster in 2024. But if they are able to roll over $6M or so from 2023, that will help.
It seems that the Chargers will have no choice but to most of the following:
- Release, trade, or extend Mack and/or Bosa -- if Mack is the one to go, it provides more cap relief, so I expect it will be him
- Release or trade either Allen or Williams and extend the one who stays on the roster -- I expect Williams to be the one to go
- Release Linsley -- he may never play again, hard to say at this point
- Release SJD or Kendricks as a cap casualty
Trading Mack and Williams, releasing Linsley and SJD/Kendricks, and extending Allen can clear around $76M. They don't necessarily have to do all of that, and the moves they make will no doubt be influenced by whether or not Telesco and/or Staley return for the 2024 season.
That is a lot of talent to replace for a team that is currently 21-20 under Staley. It will definitely be an interesting offseason.