In my previous article, I outlined players I believe the Chargers should re-sign. You can find that article here. Assuming the Chargers tender Austin Ekeler for a 2nd and let Melvin Gordon walk in free agency, the Chargers would be left with about $20.4M in cap space. That is quite a bit of cheese for mice in free agency, but there are still at least a few moves the Chargers could make to free up even more space. This can be done through cutting players with a relatively high salary in relation to dead money, contract extensions and also trades.
A players contract consists of a salary, of which a portion may be guaranteed. When the salary is quite a bit higher then the portion of which is guaranteed, there is an opportunity to increase cap space. If a player has a $10M salary this year and $5M of it is guaranteed, there can be a savings of $5M if that player is cut. That $5M difference is what is known as dead money. Its typically not a good idea to have large sums of dead money on the books in a given year, but sometimes it may be in the best interest for the team to take the hit to get out from under an obligation. The Chargers do have a few players that it should consider moving on from this year.
“Supa Mel” is due $16.6M this year which is a high number for an aging defensive end. This is not to say that Ingram isn’t still a valuable asset to this team, because the team noticeably missed his presence in the few games he missed. The question is whether or not he’s worth being paid as the 9th-highest defensive end? Cutting Ingram on the final year of his contract would save $14M in cap space, which is a huge number, but there isn’t really a player on the roster that could fully replace him. Uchenna Nwosu could in theory fill the void, considering his high draft grade and ability to rush the passer, but not at the same level that Ingram does. Ingram is also a better run defender then Nwosu. Therefore, I would look to extend Ingram, which should save some cap space and at a number more friendly to his actual value.
Ideal Scenario: Extend Melvin Ingram on a $3-year $36M contract with $24M Guaranteed. $12M/year value with a rip cord after year 2. (Saves $4M in cap space)
Much like Melvin Ingram, Russell Okung is a quality player with a high salary cap in relation to dead money. Recently, he has expressed concern about the direction of the team. In some ways, the Chargers can be looked at in “rebuilding mode,” but they still have the pieces to compete with any team in the league. Okung is due $16.7M and the team can save $13.1M in cap space by cutting him. In terms of salary, he is the 8th highest paid Left Tackle. While there are quite a few Tackles to be found in both Free Agency and in the draft this year, finding players of Okung’s value isn’t usually that easy. The Chargers could also opt to trade Okung for a draft pick to clear cap as well. With Okung’s Pulmonary Embolism, which could be a lingering issue, I think it makes sense to move on. This may upset some players on the roster and fans who are already unhappy with the the current offensive line, but I am looking for a completely revamped line next year. Time to blow stuff up.
Ideal Scenario: Chargers trade Okung for a draft pick and get a 2nd-rounder for Okung and take none of his salary or simply outright cut him. Saves $13.1M in cap space. If he expresses dis-satisifction of team direction, he probably already checked out anyways.
Denzel Perryman/Thomas Davis
Denzel Perryman is a decent player, but a liability in coverage at times as well. He can be productive, but its hard to not point out his step back a year ago and his availability. He is on a team-friendly deal, but even so, he is replaceable with the rise of Drue Tranquil. He is due $8.5M this year for a player who may not be a starter on the depth chart come September. Cutting him would save $6.5M in cap space, which in theory could be used to find a player as productive in free agency. There isn’t much depth at linebacker, especially if Thomas Davis retires, so there is a need, but not at $8.5M. Same goes for Davis who is due $7.2M with cap savings of $5.2M. Davis played better then Perryman, but both left a lot to be desired. I would be ok with one player, but not both.
Ideal Scenario: Denzel Perriman is cut saving $6.5M in cap space and Thomas Davis retires saving $7.2M ($13.7M)
Mike Pouncey is an above average center who still hasn’t been cleared from the neck surgery he had earlier in the year. Injuries have been an issue for the long-time center, and we don’t know whether or not he will be retire after this last one. One thing to note is that Scott Quessenberry played fine in replacing Pouncey, so there is a player on the roster who can be the future center. That isn’t good news for a player who is due $7.2M with a savings of $6M. Still, I like Pouncey as a Charger and I like his demeanor and leadership on the line. The team is going to need a veteran presence. Right now, there just isn’t going to be one.
Ideal Scenario: Pouncey retires from Injury. More likely scenario is the Chargers cut him saving $6M.
The last player on the list is actually a team favorite of mine. Mebane doesn’t get the respect he deserves as the teams interior defensive tackle. Mebane does all the dirty work, taking on double teams. He is a gap control defender who helps the team more than most fans know. At age 35, he doesn’t play as well as he used to. Damian Square took over the role at parts of the season, but he is headed to free agency as well, so there isn’t a true 1-tech defensive tackle on the roster. That is not an easy position to fill. Keeping him around an extra year allows them to kick the can down the road to next year, but honestly, Mebane may retire anyways.
Ideal Scenario: Mebane retires and team saves $6.2M. If Chargers cut, they save $4.2M.
Starting with $20.4M in cap space, the Chargers are going to make the following moves. Extend Melvin Ingram($4M), Cut Russell Okung($13.1M), Cut Denzel Perryman($6.5M), Thomas Davis retires($7.2M), Cut Mike Pouncey($6M), Cut Brandon Mebane($4.2M). The Chargers are headed to free agency with $61.4M in cap space. Time to make a big splash!