Estimated 2015 Cap Space: $24.3M ($140M cap limit)
Players Under Contract: 59
Pro Bowlers: 1
Unrestricted Free Agents: 17(5 with 50%+ playtime)
Draft Selection: 17
Salary Cap Breakdown
Free Agents to Re-sign
King Dunlap has played well for the Chargers the last two seasons and should be an affordable option at the position to keep for the next few seasons. He is not an upper tier player but he won’t hurt the team in any way if they stick with him…Brandon Flowers was a big boost for the secondary in 2014, but likely won’t be as cheap in 2015. My assumption is they will try to keep him next season at a mid range salary….I don’t think Eddie Royal will get much attention elsewhere and if he comes back at $3 million he can have his moments in this offense…Dwight Freeney can still provide some pass rush and as long as it comes for under $3 million they can continue to play the short term contract game with him…Nick Hardwick may retire but the team should do their best to convince him to play one last season as their starting center while they sort out the rest of the line.
Free Agents to Let Walk
Ryan Mathews is the most talented running back on the team, but he is always injured and those are the kind of players you should strongly consider moving on from. Unless he takes a one year Darren McFadden type deal (and I don’t think he would) that money is better spent elsewhere….Jeromey Clary was such bad signing from day 1 and now the contract is officially expired. There is no reason to even entertain the idea of keeping him…The Chargers should be able to find a better player than Shareece Wright at cornerback.
Contracts to Modify
Phillip Rivers carries the largest cap hit on the team at $17.4 million and is entering the final season of his contract. It is clear that Rivers has re-established himself as one of the better players in the NFL and should be the Chargers long term solution at the position. While he won’t be cheap and his extension should not provide much in cap relief, this is the time to make the move. Rivers is set to earn $15.75 million this year and extending him now will allow the Chargers to roll that into his guaranteed value of his new contract giving them less salary cap burdens in the future…Eric Weddle is also entering the final year of his contract and this could be the time to lock him up for the remainder of his career. This could prove more difficult in light of the recent Byrd and Thomas contracts, but both sides would probably benefit from coming to an agreement.
Players to Consider Releasing
The Chargers will save $5 million in cap and cash by releasing linebacker Jarret Johnson. Johnson will be 34 years old and has had a very long career in the NFL, but the Chargers need more production for that money…I didn’t understand the signing of Donald Brown last season and will understand it even less if he is back this season. They create $1.9 million in cap room with his release….Pro Football Focus graded Chad Rinehart as the third worst left guard in the NFL which should make the $3.25 million in savings stand out to the Chargers front office even more.
The Chargers are an older football team with just 6 players under contract beyond the 2016 season. If things are kept status quo next season they will have 10 starters that are no younger than 29, five of whom will be at least 34. This really is a franchise that is working its way through a transition and likely going to piece things together year by year until they can get more of a talent base in place or are forced to go heavy in free agency. This is partially because of poor decisions that the current front office was saddled with.
I cant recall too many teams that have been in the position the Chargers are in. A large part of the reason they held on to players like Royal, Malcom Floyd, Freeney, Clary, etc… is because they didn’t really have any other option but to keep piecing it together year by year. To their credit many of the decisions worked and they almost made the playoffs for the second straight year, but you have to wonder how long they can keep doing this. For their younger guys who are up on their contracts those are not the kind of players to consider long term which is why most likely wouldn’t be back.
This should be the first year the Chargers have some reasonable salary cap space to work with and with it they should be able to fix one or two holes with a decent option in free agency. I don’t think they will go after any of the top names at any position, unless they decide to go after one of the lower cost positions like right tackle, but a second level player would still be an upgrade. There wont be any shortage of receivers, running backs, and secondary players that they can target in free agency.
If they can build up a few spots in free agency it will leave them the chance to address their longer term needs through the draft. The draft is a more fiscally responsible option for finding upgrades along the defensive line, outside linebacker, and/or cornerback as well as on the offensive line. While it would take a stroke of good fortune to find them all this season they need to have a plan in place to fill these spots over a two year period.
This draft is really important for the Chargers. They need to start filling the roster with more good players that can carry the team in the future rather than forcing them to rely on a number of stop gap veterans. What they don’t want to have happen is to be in a similar situation as the Dolphins a few years back where they feel the need to overspend in free agency to plug up multiple holes on a team that they were never able to address in the draft. You want the free agency signings to have meaning such that they augment a nice core of very young talent. We’ll have a better idea if what they did in the 2014 and 2015 drafts are getting them prepared for the future early next season.