Chargers roster conspiracy: How the Bolts have revealed their long-term plans
By Brody Arviso
Now that the excitement from the 2023 NFL Draft has settled, the Chargers are moving onward toward their next phase of free agency. This phase will presumably be replete with roster-strengthening moves and rookie signings. However, before completely turning the page on the 2023 NFL Draft, it is always a fun exercise to read between the cryptic lines of the newest draft class.
Are you now racking your brain to find the most cryptic of draft night selections? Look no further than the Chargers' first and second-round picks: TCU’s Quentin Johnston and USC's Tuli Tuipulotu.
Now, on paper, these selections fill obvious needs for depth at receiver and pass rusher. Yet, when paired with recent contract restructurings made prior to the draft, these picks become a bit more juicy.
So, in an effort to ring out every ounce of a juicy roster conspiracy, I will break down my take on the Chargers' first and second-round selections — and their future implications — in three phases. More specifically:
- Phase I: The pre-draft contract restructures
- Phase II: Draft night
- Phase III: The 2024 Implications
Phase I: The Chargers' pre-draft contract restructures:
As most Charger fans already know, there were 4 massive contract restructurings that happened this past March. As reported by Field Yates of ESPN, the Chargers restructured Keenan Allen and Mike Williams’ deals on or around March 9, 2023. Later, Yates reported that the Chargers restructured Joey Bosa and Khalil Macks’ deals on or around March 11, 2023.
Of particular consequence here are the contract restructurings of Mike Williams and Khalil Mack. Delving a level deeper into the terms of these restructurings, Spotrac.com broke down the cap implications of Williams restructure as follows:
William’s cap hit for 2023 is $13,540,000 with a dead cap hit of $26,000,000. In 2024, William’s cap hit is $32,460,000 with a dead cap hit of $12,460,000.
Spotrac broke down the cap implications of Mack’s restructure as follows:
Mack’s cap hit for 2023 is $16,632,500 with a dead cap hit of $30,535,000. In 2024, Mack’s cap hit is $38,517,500 with a dead cap hit of $15,267,500.
Phase II: Chargers' draft night
With the 21st pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Chargers selected Quentin Johnston. Strikingly reminiscent of Mike Williams “go-up-and-get-it” style of play, Lance Zierlein of NFL.com described Johnston as a:
"height-weight-speed prospect…[and a]...long-striding vertical threat who can open up and separate when allowed to keep his feet moving in space. His elevation and catch radius create an expansive target area down the field…"- Lance Zierlein, NFL.com
For comparison's sake, in 2017, Zierlein’s draft profile of Mike Williams described him as a:
"prototypical height, weight, speed prospect…[with the] ability to work all three levels of the field…"- Lance Zierlein, NFL.com.
With the 54th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Chargers selected Tuli Tuipulotu. Eerily similar to Khalil Mack’s “multi-positional-high-motor” style of play, Zierlein described Tuipulotu as a:
"defender possessing the rare blend of size, strength and athleticism to line up as an interior or edge defender in both 4-3 and 3-4 fronts. Tuipulotu plays with a go-go motor from the first snap to the last…"- Lance Zierlein, NFL.com
To compare, in 2014, Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com described Khalil Mack as a player that:
"has demonstrated the instincts, toughness, athletic ability and explosive power to line up at any linebacker position in an even or odd front and factor readily. [Mack has] excellent pursuit and tracks down ball carriers from behind…"- Nolan Nawrocki, NFL.com
Phase III: The 2024 implications for the Chargers
It is now time to hurl conspiratorial roster implications as promised above. As you may have guessed, I am convinced of two things. One, the Chargers drafted Quentin Johnston to replace Mike Williams in 2024. And two, the Chargers drafted Tuli Tuipulotu to replace Khalil Mack in 2024.
Beyond the positional similarities between these players (See Phase II above), there are way-too-obvious salary cap implications that were set into motion the second the Chargers restructured Williams and Mack.
For starters, Mack and Williams will combine for roughly $71,000,000 towards the 2024 cap. Although their combined 2024 dead cap hit will be $28,000,000 (give or take), there is still a $43,000,000 savings to be had if the Chargers decided to move on from Williams and Mack in 2024.
Now, in all fairness, this roster conspiracy could be assigned to Keenan Allen and Joey Bosa, too. To be sure, Allen and Bosa are equally expensive and play receiver and pass-rusher, respectively. However, Allen and Bosa exist in a seemingly different prism for the Chargers brass.
Why? See Tom Telesco on Good Morning Football calling Keenan Allen “our Andre Reed." See Also Joey Bosa's age.
Further, considering Allen’s style of play as a possession receiver — a style that will be a necessary compliment to a vertical threat opposite of him — it is reasonable to assume that the Chargers will look to rework Keenan’s deal next offseason to keep him on board for future seasons to come. Thus, kicking the proverbial salary cap can down the road.
In a similar way, when it comes to Bosa, it is entirely reasonable to believe that the Chargers are willing to eat his expensive cap hit over the next two seasons to create a potentially formidable pass-rushing duo. A duo — most importantly — that consists of a 27-year-old Bosa and 20-year-old Tuipulotu.
So, to sum it up in a single sentence, my roster conspiracy reads like this: the Chargers will save roughly $43,000,000 in cap space for 2024 by moving on from Mack and Williams, they will figure out Keenan’s long-term future, they will keep Bosa, and they will move onwards with cheaper, younger solutions at receiver and pass-rusher (which in turn, clears precious cap-space for QB1).