As the NFL season officially comes to an end, many fans and teams will begin to focus on the offseason. Usually for fans, this means wondering who each team is going to add in free agency or the draft. While there will be mock drafts and free agent predictions for weeks, some of the most important moves of the offseason could involve subtractions rather than additions. With the season ending, teams are now allowed to start releasing players from their contracts to help create cap space for the offseason. The San Diego Chargers don’t have a lot of big contracts on the books for next season — only Philip Rivers and Eric Weddle will make for than $10 million next season — but there are some contracts that could be shed to give the front office more money to spend on improving the roster. These are five players who could possibly be cap casualties in the offseason.
All contract information is courtesy of Spotrac. Dead Money refers to how much the player would count on the salary cap if released.
LeRon McClain – 2014 Cap Hit: $3.33 million | Dead Money: $833,333
McClain is probably the most likely to go of this group. His $3.33 million cap hit would make him the third highest paid fullback in the NFL in 2014 behind only Marcel Reece and Mike Tolbert. In 2013, McClain played on only 12 percent of San Diego’s offensive snaps for the entire season and only added 28 percent of special teams snaps. The Chargers could easily bring in another fullback to play the 133 offensive snaps McClain played this season for a much cheaper price. With savings of over $2 million, it’s highly unlikely McClain is in San Diego next season.
Eddie Royal – 2014 Cap Hit: $6 million | Dead Money: $1.5 million
Royal filled in nicely during the season when most of the planned starters at wide receiver were injured early in the season. He played 63 percent of the offensive snaps — third most for San Diego receivers — and occasionally helped out with punt returns. With the emergence of Keenan Allen, the return of Malcom Floyd and the possibility of re-signing restricted free agent Danario Alexander, $6 million will be a lot to pay Royal as his workload is sure to decrease. With just 2014 left on his contract, a savings of $4.5 million would help the team much more than Royal’s on-field production likely would in the upcoming season.
Dwight Freeney – 2014 Cap Hit: $5.125 million | Dead Money: $1.625 million
2013 was a disappointing year for Freeney after signing a two-year/$8.75 million contract last offseason. He was playing well at the start of the season, despite not attaining raw sack or tackle totals, before injuring his quad, which sent him to injured reserve after playing in only four games. Most of the guaranteed money in the contract was paid during the season and he would only count $1.625 million on the cap if cut this offseason. Freeney will turn 34 years old on February 19, which could cause the team some concern for a player of that age coming back to full strength from a quad injury. The Chargers could choose to use the $3.5 million saved to target a younger pass rusher to help spark what was a nonexistent pass rush this past season.
Derek Cox – 2014 Cap Hit: $5.55 million | Dead Money: $3.9 million
Cox signed a four-year/$20 million contract last offseason and underperformed greatly during 2013. If the Chargers choose to do so, cutting ties with Cox after only one season would save about $1.65 million for next season that could be used to target a cornerback in the draft or free agency — something the team will do whether or not Cox is on the roster. Since the savings is not a significant amount of money, the Chargers could decide to hang onto Cox for one more season, as he still has three remaining on his contract. For 2015, Cox’s cap hit raises slightly to $5.75 million, but his dead money drops to $2.6 million making it unlikely for Cox to be on the roster in 2016 when his cap hit jumps to $7.05 million. Cox could get another year to prove himself, but he’s not on pace to finish out his contract even if he does play well.
Antonio Gates – 2014 Cap Hit: $7.36 million | Dead Money: $4.725 million
Gates saw his production improve in Mike McCoy’s offensive system, having his best season since 2009. Still, Gates will be 34 years old next season and isn’t as explosive as he once was. Gates isn’t a $7 million a year player anymore, and an almost $3 million worth of savings could help the team, especially with Ladarius Green poised to see an increased role in the offense next season. Gates did play 87 percent of the snaps this past season, making it unlikely he’s fully cut. Restructuring his contract could save the Chargers some money by spreading the cap hit over an extra year past 2015, which is currently remaining on the deal. If no restructure is done, he will likely be cut before next season when his cap hit raises to $8.26 million for 2015 and the dead money drops to just $2.36 million.
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