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Chargers Free Agency: Will Tom Telesco use the UFA Tender for the first time?

Telesco can use the UFA Tender to retain solid veteran contributors Kyle Van Noy and Bryce Callahan the Monday following the draft.

Los Angeles Chargers v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images

In 2022, Tom Telesco made his first trade for a marquee player when he shipped the Chargers second round pick and 2023 sixth round pick to the Bears for Khalil Mack. This year, Charger fandom hoped Telesco would continue employ new roster-building strategies by finally trading down in the draft to gain extra draft capital.

Although this vision didn’t come to fruition, there is still a chance in 2023 for Telesco to make an offseason transaction he’s never made before, and it’s one that would greatly help bolster the roster’s depth heading into another “All-In” season.

A rarely used and lesser-known tool in a GM’s toolbox is the UFA tender. The UFA tender is an opportunity for clubs to retain outgoing free agents that didn’t sign with a new team in the pre-draft wave of free agency.

The draft differentiates two very distinctive periods of free agency. Players signed before the Monday following the draft are accounted in the compensatory pick allocation, meaning if you had multiple free agents leave your team in a given offseason, signing a free agent before the draft could result in your club losing a compensatory pick in the following year. However, after the Monday following the draft teams are able to sign free agents with no consequence to their compensatory allocation, which often creates a second wave of signings the following week.

The UFA tender is the rare exception to this rule. If a team applies the UFA tender on the Monday following the draft, they are essentially tagging the player for 110% of the previous year’s salary, but the player retains the right to continue negotiating with other teams until June 22nd. Should the player end up signing with another club by this date, the signing would count towards the compensatory pick formula for both teams, assuming the contract amount was enough to qualify.

Last year, the Ravens and the Dolphins both used the tender to retain Justin Houston and Melvin Ingram for $2,283,000 and $4,400,000 respectively. Both stayed with their clubs; Houston went on to post a 73.6 PFF grade and matched his highest sack tackle since 2014 by bring the quarterback down 11 times, and Ingram posted a 70.3 PFF grade and added seven sacks to his total. Both players were great value signings for their clubs.

The Chargers have the same option available to them with Van Noy and Bryce Callahan. While Callahan’s number’s aren’t great on paper, he was an upgrade over the performance Chris Harris had given the year before. Van Noy was moved around a bit by Staley, initially filling a middle linebacker and EDGE hybrid role before Bosa’s injury forced him remain at the EDGE for the rest of the season. His five sacks came in each of the five finally games of the regular season and were a big part of that last-season run the Chargers went on to boost them into the regular season.

Callahan signed in 2022 for $1,120,000, and Van Noy signed for $2,250,000. Callahan’s UFA tender would thus be worth $1,232,000 and Van Noy’s would be $2,475,000. Retaining both players, when replacing in the salaries at the 52nd and 53rd position on the roster (currently occupied by Michael Jacquet and Christopher Hinton at $870,000 each), would only effectively add $1,967,000 against the cap. For two reliable veterans that have played admirably at premier positions in Staley’s complex scheme, that’s a small price to pay and something Tom needs to consider.

Should Telesco elect to tag them and the end up signing elsewhere, the benchmark to hope they sign for is around $3,500,000/year. Although there are signings of $3,000,000/year qualifying for 7th round picks on OverTheCap’s projections for the disbursement in 2024, many of these have built-in incentives that will be factored in at the end of the season. These would also reflect the only compensatory picks we are projected to receive, unless Drue Tranquill hits some of his incentives with the Chiefs.

Tom, you’re still on the clock. Let’s lock up some of our valuable depth for the next season, and maybe take a look at that Josh Johnson III fellow as well.