Key Additions: Donald Brown ($3.5M per year), Kellen Clemens ($1.5M)
Key Re-Signings: Chad Rinehart ($2.5M per year), Darrell Stuckey ($1.9M), Reggie Walker($1M)
Key Losses: Cam Thomas (Steelers), Charlie Whitehurst (Titans)
Major Cuts: LeRon McClain ($2.5M cap savings), Derek Cox ($1.7M)
Free Agency Thoughts:
Even moreso than the Chiefs’, the Chargers offseason had almost no chance to go anywhere due to the salary cap mess than was left from the prior front office. If not for the unexpected rise in cap dollars to $133 million, San Diego was going to be in a position where they were going to have a hard time just being cap compliant in 2014.
The teams biggest move came before free agency even began with the re-signing of LB Donald Butler to what could be no more than a three year deal worth around $20 million. Because of their cap situation they had to come in with a large signing bonus, which more or less makes the three years guaranteed. Pro Football Focus did not grade Butler highly, but he was a player they wanted to bring back and this was the only way to do it. If looked at as a three year contract the yearly average is close to a fair market value.
Donald Brown ended up as one of the two highest paid running backs of the offseason and I’m not sure I really understand the signing. The team already had capable players at the position and because of the cap situation again they had to go with a relatively high signing bonus to make everything work. Unless the team is considering a trade, my gut tells me that this will lead to wasted salary cap space.
With limited cap room the team was pretty much locked into bringing back their lower cost players, some of whom are listed up top and others who were lower in cost and not listed. Given their cap situation those are all proper moves in hopes of remaining competitive as there were no chances to upgrade at the price point and most played reasonable last season. Likewise the swap of Charlie Whitehurst for he lower cost Kellen Clemens was also the right move for the team.
Besides the no-brainer cuts of LaRon McClain and Derek Cox, the Chargers were proactive in reworking the contracts of Eddie Royal and Dwight Freeney. Freeney is a high upside player that might be worth the risk, but Royal I think would have been better off being let go. Royal was unexpectedly solid last season, but I would not count on that again. I think that would have been $3.5 million better spent elsewhere. Not releasing or reworking the contract of Jeromey Clary is questionable, but perhaps that will come in the summer and was unnecessary based on their anticipated plans.
Overall Grade: C-
The Chargers were a playoff team last season which makes free agency very difficult for a team with limited resources to improve. While I disliked the signing of Brown and keeping Royal, I can’t get on their case too badly since there was little the team could do this year. One of the smart things that I think they have done is resisting the temptation to possibly rework the contracts of Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, and Eric Weddle for cap relief. It will take another year before the new regime can really put a stamp on the team and in order to maintain that ability they need to keep the veterans on their current deals and take short term band aid contracts for the other positions.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.