Many fans are hoping that the LA Chargers are going to make a splash this offseason. After falling short in 2021 with a 9-8 record and no playoff berth, the Bolts are in an excellent position to spend big in free agency, utilize the 11 draft picks that they have in the 2022 NFL Draft and make a run like the Cincinnati Bengals.
LA has the best competitive advantage that a team can have in the NFL: an elite quarterback on their rookie contract. Justin Herbert is already a top-five quarterback in the NFL and is getting paid just over $7 million next season. The foundation is there and in year two of Staley and Herbert's partnership, the Chargers are looking to build up a contending team.
According to Over The Cap, the Chargers have $56.2 million in projected overall cap space with $48.9 million of "practical" cap space, which is the maximum amount of cap space the team can have after it signs 51 players to the roster. It does not stop there, though. Bryan Bulaga is most likely going to be cut to free up another $10.75 million in cap space and if the Bolts really want to go crazy with contract restructures, the team can open up over $100 million in practical cap space to spend.
Despite that, other executives in the NFL expect the Chargers to do what they have often done with Tom Telesco as GM. An anonymous NFC personnel executive told FanSided National NFL Insider Matt Lombardo that the Chargers likely won't be aggressive in free agency.
"“They have a handful of marquee free agents,” an NFC personnel executive tells FanSided, on the condition of anonymity to discuss another team. “So, depending what they do there, they aren’t likely to be very aggressive.”"- Matt Lombardo, Between The Hash Marks
While it is disappointing, this NFC executive has a point. Unless the Chargers go crazy with the contract restructures (which can hurt them down the line), they may not have the space to make that much of a splash depending on who they bring back.
How much Chargers salary cap space will be taken by existing free agents?
It all depends on who the team brings back but we can highlight several players that the Bolts will likely bring back and just how much they cost, starting with Mike Williams.
We project Mike Williams to get a four-year, $74 million contract this season. The Chargers can manipulate the contract to backload the cap hits but for simplicity's sake, we will take the average salary as the 2022 cap hit — $18.5 million. That is the exact same projected cap hit as the wide receiver franchise tag for 2022.
Kyzir White and Uchenna Nwosu represent two extremely important defensive free agents for the Bolts. Even if the team does not re-sign them they are going to have to replace them with a similar cost (if not more) to replace their production. We project White to get a four-year, $35 million contract and Nwosu to get a three-year, $25 million contract. Those two combined account for $15 million in cap space.
Add in Andre Roberts and Dustin Hopkins — who were two critical special teams additions for the Chargers — and the team is using another $5 million or so in salary cap space. Even without accounting for Justin Jones, that is $38.5 million used in cap space. If cutting Bulaga is the only thing the Chargers do to get more cap space, that leaves the team with $21.15 million in practical cap space.
That is enough to bring in external help but with the cap hit of the 2022 draft class as well, the Bolts are not going to be able to be big spenders if they retain all of these players unless they take advantage of the massive amount of cap space they can create by restructuring contracts.
Tom Telesco's initiative in restructuring contracts will tell us all we need to know about how aggressive the team will truly be in free agency.