Following a report by ESPN’s Josina Anderson, it seems that Russell Okung’s future with the LA Chargers is uncertain.
Okung played six games in 2020, the fewest in his career. Much of the time he missed was due to his pulmonary embolism, which was caused by blood clots. He also struggled with injuries when he eventually made his return.
A strained groin during the road game at Oakland would effectively end his season, as he played three games in limited quantities after re-aggravation.
The numbers on the Okung contract are the primary reason for release. Okung is owed $13 million this season if he’s on the roster. If he’s not, the Chargers save $11 million when the two million in dead cap is taken into account.
Okung’s injury history and the possibility of another blood clot have to be a huge worries for the team when considering if he can play 12-16 games. He’ll be 32 years old heading into the 2020 season.
The Chargers can’t construct their roster around an older player with health concerns that could cause him to miss serious time. Drafting a younger offensive tackle or guard and developing the players already there fits both the cap, as well as what a coach like James Campen would want.
What might be said about Okung is that offensive lines tend to need a veteran to bring the younger players along. However, if we’re looking for a veteran to lead the line, I’d look at Mike Pouncey or Michael Schofield instead.
Pouncey is coming off of a neck injury, which will be a complication, but he’s less expensive than Okung is and still has some skill and power at center. I’d trust Pouncey’s ability to recover more.
Schofield isn’t as talented as Pouncey or Okung on the line, but he has consistently been getting better and has managed to stay on the field. He didn’t miss a game in 2018 or 2019.
As cliché as it is to say, the best ability is availability. As a relatively cheaper option than Okung, he could be brought back with or without Pouncey and have an immediate impact on the line.
The old guard can play a role in development, but it doesn’t really feel like Okung fits into this type of picture. If Okung ends up not being available again, mass line shifting and changing is just going to have the line right back where it was in 2019 if he can’t be depended on.
The main reason Okung probably won’t be a Charger in 2020 ultimately comes down to the money the Chargers can save in cap room. The injuries and fear for another blood clot have to be the other big reason to cut Okung on his current contract of $13 million per year.
The youth movement is another reason. The offensive line can only develop with consistency among some of its young prospects, and that only happens if the vets in front of them can play all the time. If the Chargers can’t trust Okung’s availability, there’s not much to trust him on.