The Chargers are primed for a busy offseason defined by a number of internal personnel decisions. Some of those decisions will be easy, while others could prove to be exceedingly difficult for a variety of reasons. Either way, they have to make all of these decisions between February 4th and the beginning of free agency on March 13th.
As is the case with most NFL teams, the Chargers will have to undertake some creative cap management if they want to free up enough money to sign their internal free agents, extend a few players with expiring deals, and dip their toes into the free agent market on March 14th.
This article is the first installment of my “Offseason plan” series, in which I will be taking about all of the in-house moves the Chargers need to make in order to set themselves up for a fruitful free agent period in March. We’ll start with some cap management decisions in this piece – namely the players the Chargers should cut, restructure, or extend this offseason. From there, we’ll talk about free agents the Chargers should either sign or part ways with and finish up with their restricted and exclusive rights free agents.
Let’s get started…
I think most of us would agree Corey Liuget has not lived up to expectations since signing his current contract a couple years ago. He has battled injuries, his production is down across the board, and he even had to face the embarrassment of a PED suspension last season. The Chargers seem to be concerned with how Corey’s career is trending, as they restructured his contract last offseason by eliminating the fifth year of his contract and converting $4,000,000 of his 2018 salary into a 2019 roster bonus.
As we look at Corey Liuget’s 2019 cap figure, we see he is owed $9,500,000, which is comprised of a $4,000,000 base salary, $1,500,000 in pro-rated signing bonus money, and $4,000,000 in roster bonuses that become due if he’s on the roster on March 15th. Cutting him before March 15th saves the team $8,000,000 in combined base salary and roster bonuses. I think you know where this is going. His best chance at survival depends upon whether or not Brandon Mebane retires, and if the team gets spooked into keeping Corey in Brandon’s absence.
2019 Cap Number: $9,500,000
Cap Savings: $8,000,000
Dead Money: $1,500,000
Odds of being cut: 85/15
When the Chargers signed Travis Benjamin in 2016, they thought they were getting a dynamic #2 receiver with deep speed who would also breathe life into their anemic return game. What they got was an undersized, timid gimmick receiver who has long since been replaced as their primary kick and punt return specialist. Yes, I know he made two huge catches in Kansas City this year, but even those two catches don’t change the fact that he’s been an immense disappointment since becoming a Charger.
Personally, I would cut Travis Benjamin. He just isn’t worth the $6,500,000 he’s owed in 2019 and, with his contract expiring next offseason, they don’t have the wiggle room to cut him without extending his existing contract. Cutting Travis saves the team $5,250,000 against the cap, which is a pretty significant number. Unfortunately, my gut tells me he will probably stick around long enough to play out his deal, with the team opting to keep the veteran receiver in light of what I expect will be Tyrell Williams’ inevitable departure via free agency. I think they’ll discuss cutting Benjamin before deciding to keep him.
2019 Cap Number: $6,500,000
Cap Savings: $5,250,000
Dead Money: $1,250,000
Odds of being cut: 50/50
Can we finally stop pretending Jahleel Addae is an NFL-caliber free safety? Addae was awful in the second year of his new deal, as he struggled to cover ground, took embarrassingly bad angles to ball carriers and missed far too many tackles. He was the single biggest liability on the Chargers otherwise impressive defense and his struggles were highlighted by his inexplicable interception-turned-fumble during the Chargers week 17 win in Denver.
I think most Chargers fans agree Jahleel Addae should get cut this offseason. Not only would it save the team $5,000,000, but it would force them to find a legitimate solution to their current problem at free safety. To my dismay, Tom Telesco recently stated that Addae is a “tone setter” for the defense, and is someone with whom they are very happy. So, while I would cut Addae before you could say “Addae misses another tackle”, it seems the team has fooled itself into believing he’s good enough to stick around.
2019 Cap Number: $6,000,000
Cap Savings: $5,000,000
Dead Money: $1,000,000
Odds of being cut: Nil
These restructures will work as follows: Team A and Player A agree to a “new” contract that involves a “new” signing bonus. That “new” signing bonus is actually base salary the team and player agree to convert to signing bonus money, which gets pro-rated, or spread evenly over the remaining years in the contract.
While Russell Okung was certainly one of the two best members of the Chargers offensive line in 2018, that isn’t saying much. And it’s fair to say he showed some signs of regression. Russell struggled badly with speed rushers, was called for some untimely (and in some cases phantom) holding calls, and seemed to spend a good portion of the 2018 season on his heels. While it isn’t fair to say he was bad, it’s definitely fair to suggest he lost at least a half step, if not a full step.
Because Russell Okung has two years left on his contract, the team is presented with an ideal opportunity to reconfigure his deal by converting base salary to bonus money that would be pro-rated over the remaining two years of his agreement. If they converted $4,000,000 of his $13,000,000 2019 base salary to bonus money, his 2019 cap number would be reduced from $15,968,750 to $13,968,750, thus saving the team $2,000,000 against the 2019 salary cap.
Approach: Convert $4,000,000 in base salary to signing bonus
2019 Cap Savings: $2,000,000
Downside: 2020 cap number would jump to $18,000,000
Odds of being restructured: 65/35
I don’t need to tell you about the season Philip Rivers had in 2019, so we’ll get straight to how the team could restructure his contract. It will work in a similar fashion to Okung’s restructure, except in Philip’s case they would also tack on an additional two years at about $50,000,000 with $25,000,000 in guarantees. The new guarantee would include a conversion of $5,000,000 of Philip’s $11,000,000 base salary in 2019 to bonus money, as well as the $12,000,000 in guarantees he’s owed this year.
I know it sounds confusing, but hang with me for a second. Under the new agreement, Philip would earn $6,000,000 in base salary in 2019 and $9,500,000 in 2020 and 2021. His $25,000,000 in “new” guarantees would be spread evenly over all three years of the deal, at a cost of $8,333,333 per year. Rivers would earn a total of $14,333,333 in 2019 and $17,833,333 in 2020 and 2021, respectively. It would save the team $8,666,667 against the cap in 2019 while simultaneously committing an extra two years to Philip. Seems like a win-win to me.
Current 2019 Cap Number: $23,000,000
Current Base Salary: $11,000,000
Current Guarantees: $12,000,000
New Deal: Three years, $50,000,000 with $25,000,000 in guaranteed money
Salary converted to
2019 Cap Savings: $8,666,667
Extension candidates: None
We already restructured and extended Rivers’ contract and I expect the organization to use their franchise and transition tags to protect their interests in Gordon and Henry while attempting to negotiate extensions next offseason. That leaves Brown, Watt and Pouncey and, quite frankly, I think it makes sense let things play out for another season before extending those three players.
And now it’s time for the inevitable letdown. Why? Because we essentially just went through all of that so I could tell you that I don’t really expect anyone other than Corey Liuget to get cut, and there is a chance he survives yet another offseason depending upon what happens with Brandon Mebane. Liuget should get cut, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Tom Telesco talks himself into kicking the can down the road for another year if and when Mebane retires.
Meanwhile, I fully expect the team to keep Travis Benjamin and Jahleel Addae around for another yea. They’ll retain Benjamin under the guise of “veteran leadership and experience” when Tyrell Williams leaves as a free agent and, of course, they could never survive with the “tone-setter”, Jahleel Addae. So it looks like we’re stuck with those contracts for another year.
As for the restructures, I think the likeliest person to restructure is Philip Rivers. It may not happen exactly as I laid it out, but it will follow a similar model. And he’ll do it because that’s what leaders, and especially quarterbacks, do in the salary cap era. Tom Brady takes pay cuts every couple of off seasons to help the Patriots manage the cap and, if Philip wants extra help on the offensive line, he will too. It isn’t a slight on him and it doesn’t undermine what he did in 2018, it’s just business and I’m sure he understands he has a small window to win a ring before he retires. Now is the time.
Thanks for reading my thoughts on the cuts, restructures and extensions the Chargers should make this offseason. Please stay tuned for the next installment in my offseason plan series, which will cover my plan for the Chargers restricted and exclusive rights free agents this offseason.
And don’t forget to tell me what you think the Chargers should do in the comments section below…