With the Chargers falling to 5–8 following their 28–16 loss to the Carolina Panthers, it is time to look at a few roster changes that could happen in the off-season. Age, injuries and high salaries will contribute to the tough personnel moves General Manager Tom Telesco will be making at the end of this season — no matter where the team plays next year.
There is an old saying that, “The best ability is availability,” meaning no matter how talented you are, if you cannot stay healthy enough to perform on the field you will be cut in favor of someone who can.
Based on salary numbers provided by Spotrac, here is a list of a few players who could become cap casualties in 2017.
Brandon Flowers (CB) — Leading the team in interceptions (3) and passes defended (11) after signing a one-year free agent contract in 2014, the Chargers re-signed the former Chiefs Pro Bowler to a four-year deal for $36.4 million prior to the 2015 season. Flowers started 10 of the 11 games last season but missed significant playing time due to knee injuries and a concussion, and he missed the final five games of the year after being placed on “Reserved-Injured” Dec. 12.
This season Flowers has missed a total of seven games as a result of concussions he suffered in week three against the Colts and week 10 against the Dolphins. That totals three concussions over the past two seasons for the 30-year-old cornerback.
According to Spotrac, Flowers contract included an $8 million signing bonus, $20.5 million guaranteed and an average annual salary of $9.1 million. This season Flowers will earn a base salary of $7.75 million. Flowers has a cap hit of $9.7 million.
Orlando Franklin (OG) — Signed prior to 2015 to anchor the left guard position, Franklin was one of the top free agents on the market having started 70 of 71 possible games (including the playoffs) in his four seasons with the Denver Broncos. However, Franklin has missed significant playing time over the past two seasons thanks to ankle, knee and concussion issues.
According to Spotrac, Franklin signed a five-year, $36.5 million contract with the San Diego Chargers, including an $8 million signing bonus, $16.5 million guaranteed and an average annual salary of $7.3 million. In 2016, Franklin will earn a base salary of $5.5 million and an incentive bonus of $100,000. He has a cap hit of $7.2 million.
King Dunlap (OT) — Following a stellar 2014 season where he was selected the Chargers’ Lineman of the Year, Dunlap signed four-year deal prior to the 2015 season. Having started all 16 games just once in his eight-year NFL career (2014), injuries sidelined him for much of the 2015 season where he finished just two of the seven games he started. Dunlap missed three games due to a concussion and he was inactive six of the final eight games because of a high-ankle sprain. In March, Dunlap agreed to restructure his contract down from a $4.5 to a $3.3 million guaranteed salary for this season.
Dunlap signed a four-year, $28 million contract with the Chargers, including a $6.5 million signing bonus, $13 million guaranteed and an average annual salary of $7 million. In 2016, Dunlap will earn a base salary of $3.3 million and a roster bonus of $218,750. He has a cap hit of $5,143,750.
Stevie Johnson (WR) — A three-time 1,000-yard receiver during his first seven seasons in the NFL, Johnson signed a three-year deal prior to the 2015 season. Injuries have plagued Johnson during his two seasons in San Diego — hamstring and groin injuries limited him to just 10 games and eight starts last season, and after the second day of training camp he was put on “Injury-Reserve” for the 2016 season after suffering a season-ending knee injury.
Johnson signed a three-year, $10.5 million contract with San Diego, including a $3 million signing bonus, $3.87 million guaranteed and an average annual salary of $3.5 million. In 2016, Johnson will earn a base salary of $2.9 million. He has a cap hit of $3.9 million.
Free agent watch
In addition to the players above, Telesco must also decide which of the following players he would like to re-sign next off-season — each will be an unrestricted free agent in 2017.
Danny Woodhead (RB), Jahleel Addae (SS), Melvin Ingram (OLB), Sean Lissemore (DT), Manti Te’o (ILB), Kellen Clemmons (QB), Mike Windt (LS), Jeff Cumberland (TE), Dexter McCluster (RB), Ronnie Hillman (RB), Robert McClain (CB), Damian Square (DE) and Tourek Williams (LB).
The Endzone: Of the 13 unrestricted free agents listed, Ingram’s contract negotiations will be the most interesting. The former first-round pick in ’12 (18th overall) started all 16 games for the first time in his career last season and led the team with 10.5 sacks, 19 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and 29 quarterback hits. With three games remaining this season, Ingram has produced 36 tackles, six sacks, three passes defended and three forced fumbles. There is no doubt Ingram and his representatives will be looking for a multi-year deal commensurate with the other top inside linebackers in the league.
According to Spotrac, in determining Ingram’s “Fair Market Value” (the first step in evaluating a player’s contract) is to identify players of the same position, with similar playing time/opportunity, who signed a contract around Ingram’s current age. Based on the statistical comparisons of Tamba Hali, Von Miller, Bruce Irvin and Ryan Kerrigan, Spotrac projected Ingram’s next contract to be a 5-year deal for $58,951,372 with a base salary of $11,790,274.
The question is if Ingram is the type of impact player to command an average base salary in excess of $11 million per year? If one removes Miller’s base salary and compares Ingram to the salaries of Hali, Irvin and Kerrigan, I believe there will be a much better chance of re-signing Ingram. This season Ingram’s base salary is $2,099,559.