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2024 Roster Thoughts - Super Bowl Eve

Chargers GM Joe Hortiz is excited about partnership with coach Jim Harbaugh

Now that important dates for the 2024 league year are nearly upon us, it feels like an opportune time to post my latest take on the 2024 roster. I posted twice previously, but both were months ago:

Near Term Schedule

I will start by identifying some important offseason dates, taken from here and here.

February 12

Teams are allowed to start releasing players without any repercussion on the 2023 salary cap. With the Chargers just assembling their front office and coaching staffs, I assume they won't rush any of these decisions. I doubt we will see any players released until early to mid March at the earliest.

February 20 - March 5

Teams can designate Franchise or Transition Players. I don't expect the Chargers to designate any.

February 27 to March 4

The scouting combine is held in Indianapolis.

Early March

The NFL will announce the official list of compensatory picks for the 2024 NFL draft, probably just before the start of the league year.

March 11-13

Teams can officially negotiate with Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA). I don't expect the Chargers to be very active.

March 13

First day of the 2024-25 NFL league year. At 4:00 pm EST:

  • All 2023 player contracts officially expire.
  • Teams must have submitted tender offers to all of their Restricted Free Agents (RFAs) and Exclusive Rights Free Agents (ERFAs) who they want to retain. More on this for the Chargers later.
  • Free agency begins for UFAs and Restricted Free Agents (RFA).
  • UFAs can officially execute contracts and RFAs can officially sign offer sheets from other teams. I don't expect the Chargers to have any notable early signings of external free agents.
  • The 2024 trading period officially begins. The Chargers could be active early here. More on this later.
  • All teams must be under the salary cap. This only accounts for the top 51 active contracts, along with existing 2024 dead cap money. More on this later.

April 1

Teams with a new head coach can officially begin offseason workout programs. This is two weeks earlier than teams with returning head coaches, so this enables the Chargers to get a head start on most other teams.

April 19

Deadline for Restricted Free Agents (RFA) to sign offer sheets.

April 24

Deadline for current teams to exercise Right of First Refusal (ROFR) for RFAs who signed offer sheets with other teams.

April 25-27

The NFL Draft is held in Detroit. Woo hoo!

May 1

This is the last date that the signing or losing of a free agent will count toward the calculation of 2025 compensatory draft picks, with one exception.

If a player is tendered a contract of at least 110% of his prior year’s compensation by his former team by this date, the team can potentially obtain exclusive negotiating rights with a player later in the summer (after July 22). It also provides extended comp pick eligibility.

May 2

Deadline for teams to exercise 5th Year Option (5YO) for players selected in the first round of the 2021 draft. I expect the Chargers will exercise Slater's 5YO. This won't affect his 2024 salary, but it means his 2025 salary will take a big jump. He deserves it, and we'll deal with the 2025 cap another day.

Players Currently Under Contract in 2024

The Chargers currently have 49 players under contract for 2024. Here they are, along with their current 2024 cap hits from Over the Cap:

Note that Spotrac does not show Shelby as being signed to an active contract. When OverTheCap and Spotrac conflict, I usually go with OTC, as I have done by including Shelby here.

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.

OTC projects the 2024 ROFR tender at $2.828M. Thus:

  • Level 1 PPE salary is projected to be $2.828M.
  • Level 2 PPE salary is projected to be $3.078M.

The Chargers have 2 players who earned a PPE raise in 2024.

Asante Samuel, Jr.

Samuel played in at least 55% of the Chargers defensive snaps in each of his first 3 seasons, meaning he earned the Level 2 PPE. That increases his 2024 salary from $1,644,948 to $3.078M. This will increase his 2024 cap hit from $2,298,211 to $3,731,263.

Josh Palmer

Palmer played enough snaps to earn the Level 1 PPE. His 2024 salary will increase from $1,396,190 to $2.828M. This will increase his 2024 cap hit from $1,601,109 to $3,032,919.

Major Roster Moves

As has been discussed often on this site over the past several months, there are a number of significant roster decisions the Chargers will need to make to get cap compliant.

Trade Mack

I posted my rationale on why I think the Chargers will trade Mack and keep Bosa a few times in various threads here recently. Here is a summary:

1. The team cannot assume Mack maintains his performance in 2024... he is at an age where edge rusher performance often drops off, sometimes precipitously.

2. The team cannot realistically assume it will be a true contender in 2024 given the cap situation. So keeping Mack means he plays out his contract and is not on the roster to help in 2025 and beyond unless the team signs him to a new contract at age 33, which does not seem like a smart use of cap space.

3. Moving Mack clears $23.25M in 2024 cap space. Moving Bosa clears $14.4M. That is a difference of $8.85M, which is non-trivial.

4. It is very possible that moving Mack will yield a better return in draft capital than moving Bosa, based on:

  • Mack significantly outperformed Bosa in 2023.
  • Mack would carry only a one year contract commitment at a reasonable price (~$23M) to the acquiring team... and that team could consider restructuring his contract by adding a void year or even a short extension if desired to lower his 2024 cap number.
  • Bosa has been unhealthy in 2022-2023, playing just 523 total snaps and starting just 9 games in that span.

5. In addition, moving Mack equates to selling high. He will never be more valuable as an asset than he is this offseason. But moving Bosa equates to selling low. There is a strong chance that his value will be higher next offseason than it is now. All it would take is staying healthy, and the Chargers now have a heralded new strength and conditioning coach to help with that. The likelihood of his value increasing shouldn't be ignored in this evaluation.

For purposes of this exercise, I'm going to assume the Chargers trade Mack to the Lions for their later 3rd round pick, projected at pick 3.29, #92 overall.

Trade/Release Williams

I have tried to determine if it is possible to release or trade Williams before he can pass a physical, and I have been unable to find anything definitive. For purposes of this exercise, I'm going to assume they release him prior to March 15, when he has a $3M roster bonus due.

I assume he will be released because I think the situation makes him unappealing as a trade target:

  • Coming off ACL injury sustained in September 2023, so may not be 100% to open the 2024 season
  • Turning 30 years old in October
  • $20M salary for any team that traded for him, assuming the trade preceded March 15 when his roster bonus is due; this salary might not be terrible if he was fully healthy and able to play the full season, but that is an obvious uncertainty

Release Kendricks

All things considered, Kendricks played pretty well last season. I could see the new coaching staff believing a one year veteran bridge to 2025 in this position group is valuable.

However, he turns 32 later this month and carries a $9.25M 2024 cap number. The team could save $6.5M in 2024 cap space by releasing him. I expect that to happen, since it does not seem likely the team will view him as a key player in the Chargers future.

Linsley Retires

This isn't really the team's decision, but it has been widely assumed for a while now that Linsley will retire due to his heart condition. There has been some discussion that the team could try to recover some of Linsley's signing bonus, but I assume they won't do that.

Extend Allen

I wrote a fan post just over a year ago about Allen: Chargers 2023 Roster Thoughts: WR Keenan Allen. I advocated in that post for the team to sign Allen to a contract extension last offseason. It's too bad they didn't, instead choosing to restructure his contract and contribute in a greater manner to the current 2024 cap challenge.

I didn't put a lot of detailed thought into this, but here is a possible extension that approximately represents a way the Chargers could execute a 2 year $49M contract extension with Allen, using OverTheCap's contract constructor:

Allen would get paid $30M in 2024, which is about $7M more than he stands to make under his current contract. But this would lower his current 2024 cap hit by more than $9M, and both his 2025 and 2026 cap hits would be lower than his current 2024 cap number. The Chargers would be able to release him after 2025 with $17M in dead 2026 cap space.

I'm sure this isn't exactly what will happen, but I will use this as a proxy for his 2024 cap hit in this exercise.

Free Agents

Exclusive Rights Free Agents

According to OverTheCap, the Chargers have 5 ERFAs:

  • PK Dicker
  • S Layne
  • T Sarell
  • WR Doss
  • G Bailey

I expect the team to sign Dicker, Layne, and Sarell to minimum salary contracts, even though Layne and/or Sarell may not make the final 53 man roster. I do not expect the team to bring Bailey or Doss back, since both are 28 and neither has made a meaningful impact in their careers to date.

Restricted Free Agents

According to OverTheCap, the Chargers have 2 RFAs:

  • LB Ogbongbemiga
  • LB Lynch

I don't think the team will tender either of them, but I think it is possible they will re-sign both of them to minimum salary contracts if no other teams show interest. I will assume that for this exercise. Given I am expecting the team to release Kendricks and let Murray walk, they may actually need defensive snaps from one or both of them, and both were core special teams players last season.

Unrestricted Free Agents

According to OverTheCap, theChargers have 20 UFAs:

  • QB - Stick, Grier
  • RB - Ekeler, Kelley
  • WR - Guyton, Erickson
  • TE - Everett, Vannett
  • C - Clapp, Tom
  • Edge - Hollins
  • IDL - Johnson, Williams
  • LB - Murray, Muse
  • CB - Davis, Bassey
  • S - Gilman, Marlowe, Hawkins

I think the Chargers will let most of these guys go, but there are a few position groups I want to comment on:

  • QB - I don't think it is reasonable to project Duggan as QB2, maybe not even QB3, so the Chargers have to add a QB through some means.
    • It doesn't make sense to use a high draft pick on one, and a low draft pick most likely just yields another Duggan.
    • So, even though I don't think particularly highly of Stick, I think they will likely re-sign him. I'm going to assume they do for this exercise. Just as a placeholder, I'm going to assume they sign him for $1.5M. (He played for $1.2325M last season.)
  • TE - This position group is a real challenge.
    • They only have Parham and Smartt under contract. IMO Smartt is a practice squad-caliber player and shouldn't be on the final 53 man roster. I certainly think Parham will be, but he has been challenged to stay on the field in his career to date. So IMO the Chargers need to add 2-3 TEs.
    • I'm sure they will address this position group in the draft. Since 2010, in 14 drafts, the Ravens have drafted 9 TEs, and they drafted 2 TEs in 4 separate drafts. So I suspect they may draft two in the upcoming draft. I think this lends credence to the possibility of drafting Bowers in the first round, particularly in a trade down scenario.
    • Regardless, even if they draft two, they probably still need another veteran. For that reason, I could see them re-signing Vannett. He is an 8 year veteran who has played more than half of his career offensive snaps on run blocking plays. His PFF grades are not good, but it is clear his teams have viewed him as a run blocker despite that. If not him, almost certainly some other veteran TE. For this exercise, I will assume it is Vannett on a minimum salary contract.
  • C - I'm showing 2 UFA centers here, most notably Clapp. With Linsley retiring, the Chargers don't necessarily have a viable center on the roster.
    • I assume Laing is not going to make the final roster, but could perhaps make the practice squad.
    • I don't think the team should bring Clapp back.
    • It seems there is enough potential with Jaimes as backup center, and there has been (unfounded?) talk of Zion as a possible backup as well (surely not the starter IMO).
    • The team obviously needs to draft a center, and IMO they should and will draft one within the first 2 rounds. Assuming they get one of the top 4 drafted centers, presumably Powers-Johnson (Oregon), Barton (Duke), Frazier (West Virginia), or Van Pran (Georgia), I expect him to start, which solves this position for now.

Draft Picks

The Chargers are projected to get a 7th round compensatory pick for Tranquill, and I assumed above that they will trade Mack for a 3rd round pick. Here are those draft picks, along with their projected cap hits from OverTheCap:

I assume all of these players will make the final roster, at least partly due to the cap challenge and associated need for low cost players.

Additional Roster Exclusions

Everything I mentioned above adds up to 61 players, and that is with signing just 2 internal UFAs (Stick and Vannett) and no external free agents. So I am going to go ahead and exclude 8 players I don't expect to make the final roster, to get down to 53. I think that ideally the following players will not make the final roster based on their talent/skill level, but could be practice squad candidates:

  1. QB Duggan
  2. RB Patterson
  3. WR Fehoko
  4. TE Smartt
  5. C Laing
  6. CB Hankins
  7. CB Uzodinma
  8. CB Wilcox

Projected Interim 53 Man Roster

So here is the projected 53 man roster for this exercise:

Position Breakdown

Here is how the 44 veteran players in that group break down positionally:

Offense (18):

  • QB (2) - Herbert, Stick
  • RB (2) - Spiller, Dotson
  • FB (0) -
  • WR (4) - Allen, Palmer, Johnston, Davis
  • TE (2) - Parham, Vannett
  • OL (8) - LT Slater, LG Johnson, C Jaimes, RG Salyer, RT Pipkins, OL McFadden, OL Trainer, T Sarell

Defense (23):

  • Edge (6) - Bosa, Tuipulotu, Rumph, Farmer, Allen, Shelby
  • IDL (6) - Fox, Ogbonnia, Matlock, Hinton, Clark, Okoye
  • LB (4) - Henley, Ogbongbemiga, Niemann, Lynch
  • CB (3) - Samuel, Taylor, Leonard
  • S (4) - James, Woods, Layne, Finley

Special Teams (3):

  • PK (1) - Dicker
  • P (1) - Scott
  • LS (1) - Harris

Observations:

  • No QB3. Assume it will either be Duggan on practice squad or another player. If another, on active roster or practice squad?
  • Only 2 RBs. Assume this staff will want 4, especially if players like Dotson or Patterson are in the mix.
  • Assume the new staff will want a FB.
  • WR2 is weak, and there is a need for additional speed in the group, so the team will need to add a WR.
  • Already discussed TEs... assume they will draft 2.
  • Already discussed center and assume they will draft one early to start. If so, despite the staff's focus and history, they could roll with the rest of the OL as is, assuming they are content with the likes of Jaimes, McFadden, Trainer, Sarell, or even Bailey as reserves. I'm sure they would prefer to upgrade, but there are so many needs...
  • DL (Edge and IDL) has a lot of bodies, but not much talent beyond Bosa and Tuli. A lot of these guys will not make the final roster. The IDL in particular is going to be a challenge, and I expect the team will want to upgrade there.
  • LB is a weak group, but I suspect they will need to roll with it due to so many other needs.
  • CB must be addressed. They need at least 2 more, and ideally need a starter.
  • I expect James to be great again under this coaching staff, but the rest of this safety group is weak. But, like LB, they might be forced to live with it in 2024 to use resources on higher priorities. It would be ideal if the new staff could elevate Woods enough that he can start and be at least an average caliber free safety.
  • At least special teams is set.

That is more problems than can reasonably be addressed in the draft or with free agents given the extreme cap situation. Part of the solution is going to be better coaching getting better performance out of current players, but I will also be very interested to see how creative the new front office can be this year.

Practice Squad

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 (I haven't gathered this data for 2023). 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:

With the moves I mentioned above, it grows to the following:

Salary Cap Charges

Based on taking the actions I described above, this is what the salary cap charges look like:

Functional Cap Space

This is a grim picture about the team's functional cap space accounting for everything above:

Note that there is a conflict between various sources on the rollover/adjustments total. An article by Daniel Popper (Chargers 2024 Offseason Handbook: Cap space, roster needs, free agency and more) that was published by the Athletic on February 5 says this:

According to the NFLPA website, the Chargers will roll over $7.537 million in space into 2024. Adjustments are still to be determined, but those should not affect the cap significantly.

Spotrac says the 2023 rollover cap is $8,006,038 and currently shows adjustments as $0.

OverTheCap doesn't publish a clear breakdown as far as I can tell, but one can reverse engineer by taking its cap status, based on the data published on the Chargers page, as follows:

These three sources all vary, but Popper reports that his number is from the NFLPA. It is also around a midpoint between the other two numbers. So I used the number from Popper's article here.

Conclusion

With everything described above, the team is likely still ~$4.5M short against the 2024 salary cap. That is a small enough figure that it can be addressed through restructuring, different details on Allen's extension, and other different decisions. But this figure includes minimal UFA signings. So don't expect much there this offseason.

Thoughts?

Addendum

First off, I posted this Saturday night, but made some edits Sunday morning. The main change in addition to this section is that I added the Position Breakdown section above.

Second, my good buddy Alister asked this in the comments:

I just want to be clear on the cap rules in one respect. Am I correct to think that:

  • the Chargers must be under the cap (at least their top 51 active contracts) by the first day of the 2024-25 NFL league year (13 March);
  • trades can't occur until after the new league year begins; and
  • therefore, the Chargers must find a way to get under the cap by 13 March using only cuts, extensions and restructures?

If that's correct, does your offseason plan set out above (that is, not including the Mack trade which can't be consummated until after the year begins) achieve cap compliance by the start of the new year?

I believe this is correct, so any Mack trade would not be able to be included. Now, I'm not sure if there are any margins to be worked here (e.g., league year starts at 4 pm but a trade can be executed at 4 pm and cap savings can thus be included). Assuming not:

  • OverTheCap shows the Chargers are currently $45,806,935 over the cap. This is counting the 49 active contracts and the current 2024 dead money.
  • Releasing Williams and Kendricks, extending Allen as I proposed, and making Linsley's retirement official by March 13 at 4 pm would clear $44.5M exactly. Leaving just over $1.3M more to clear. (But note discussion above about the varying sources on 2023 rollover/adjustments... OTC's is the most conservative, so this amount could be lower.)
  • To bridge that gap, the Chargers could release two players at the bottom of the roster and then re-sign them after Mack is traded. I think this is an unlikely solution.
  • I suppose there could another restructure that I have not proposed, like restructuring the contract of Bosa, James, or Herbert.
  • They could clear an additional $1.5M or more in 2024 cap space in the way they structure Allen's extension.
  • It would run counter to my assumptions, but they could also release a player I assumed would stay, like Allen, Bosa, or Fox. Allen or Bosa would be rather surprising, since I would expect if they wanted to move either of them, they would want to trade them, not release them. However, it is worth noting that the Lightning Round podcast this week assumed Fox would be released and said he is not really the type of IDL player Harbaugh and his staff prefer.

There are other possibilities, these just seem like the lowest hanging fruit. The last 3 of those options would also help with the ~$4.5M deficit I showed at the end of my post. So maybe they will ultimately make some or even all of these decisions.

This FanPost was written by a member of the Bolts From The Blue community and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Bolts From The Blue editors or SB Nation.