The official unofficial start of free agency starts Saturday and the San Diego Chargers have spent the past week cleaning up their books in preparation. Starting Saturday, NFL teams can start negotiating with any player set to become a free agent, though official deals cannot be announced until Tuesday, March 11. The Chargers have been busy setting up the roster over the past week cutting some unneeded and overpaid players while locking up the important pieces to build around. Before the salary cap unexpectedly jumped up to about $133 million this season, San Diego wasn’t in a great cap situation, but some of the recent roster moves have put the team in a better situation heading into free agency. So what have the Chargers done so far and what does it mean for the next part of the offseason?
Re-signed linebacker Donald Butler
Butler and the Chargers agreed to a seven-year/$48 million dollar contract to keep the linebacker in San Diego. Butler has only played 12 games in each of the past two seasons, but he’s been a promising all-around linebacker when he’s on the field. He’s only 25 years old and still likely to develop into a more complete player in the next few seasons, making his average annual value of $6.85 million well worth it. The contract is very unlikely to be an even $6.85 million for all seven years and with $28 million of the contract guaranteed (assuming his option after the third year is picked up), this should be a win-win for both the team and player for the next few seasons.
Released cornerbacks Derek Cox, Johnny Patrick and fullback Le’Ron McClain
It’s not always the case when releasing an expensive player is a good sign for a front office, but Chargers fans should be excited about this move. Cox signed a four-year/$20 million contract as a free agent last season and played well below that level for all of 2013. Cox was scheduled to be a $5.55 million cap hit for 2014 with $3.9 worth of dead money if released. Instead of holding out hope Cox could become a better player than he showed last season and keeping over $5 million tied up in an unproductive player, San Diego identified a problem in need of fixing and acted as soon as possible. This is a positive sign for the front office constructing the best roster instead of holding on to players just because of their contracts.
Patrick was a waiver addition after being released by the New Orleans Saints, but was never able to truly establish himself as a productive part in the secondary. McClain was scheduled to be a highly paid fullback, which just isn’t something the league is trending towards anymore and his release saves the Chargers about $2.5 million next season.