Chargers Enter Salary Cap Hell After Embarrassing Playoff Loss

Ryan Phillips
AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Los Angeles Chargers v Jacksonville Jaguars
AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Los Angeles Chargers v Jacksonville Jaguars / Douglas P. DeFelice/GettyImages
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The Los Angeles Chargers are, once again, the laughingstock of the NFL this weekend. After racing to a 27-0 lead over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, Dean Spanos' bunch lost 31-30 despite a plus-five turnover margin. It was one of the most embarrassing losses in league history. Now the Chargers move what could be a brutal offseason as they enter salary cap hell.

As things stand, the Chargers are roughly $10 million over the cap for the 2023 season, the fifth-worst situation in the league. Lest you think they might be able to cut some guy and supplement the roster, they rank 23rd in draft capital. And those numbers come before giving Justin Herbert an extension, which could be worth upwards of $50 million a season.

The big issue for the Chargers is there aren't any easy cuts. The team's biggest cap hits belong to Joey Bosa ($31 million), Khalil Mack ($27.4 million), Keenan Allen ($21.7 million), Mike Williams ($19 million), J.C. Jackson ($17 million) and Corey Linsley ($13.1 million). It would be hard to move each of those guys.

While he's injured a lot, Bosa is an All-Pro talent and cutting him would cause a $38 million cap hit. He's going nowhere.

Mack would cost $9 million if he was cut, but the Chargers gave up second- and sixth-round picks for him last offseason. It would be irresponsible to cut him after one lackluster year. That said, of anyone on this list, he's the most likely to go because it would save the team $18.4 million.

Allen would cost $6.9 million in dead cap, but he's Herbert's security blanket and the team's No. 1 receiver.

Williams was injured for most of the season, a theme throughout his career. But cutting him would cause a $26 million cap hit. He'll be back.

Cutting J.C. Jackson -- who was a terrible signing -- would cost $32 million. Again, this was a horrible contract from the start for the Chargers and they're stuck with him.

Linsley is Herbert's center and the heart of the offensive line. He's staying. Besides, cutting him would cause a $7.8 million cap hit.

There could be some contract restructuring from that group, but that just kicks the can down the road for an even worse cap situation in the future.

The true cut candidates are Mack. cornerback Michael Davis ($7.4 million in cap savings), guard Matt Feiler ($6.5 million in savings) and defensive tackle Austin Johnson ($3.4 million in savings). The issue with cutting any of those guys is there aren't replacements on the roster and, as noted, the team doesn't have a ton of draft assets to add starters.

There are no good options for how to move forward.

Additionally, the Chargers have a number of key free agents. Safety Nasir Adderley will almost surely be too expensive to retain. Wide receiver/kick returner Deandre Carter, backup quarterback Chase Daniel, receiver Jalen Guyton, tackles Trey Pipkins and Storm Norman, punter J.K. Scott, and linebackers Drue Tranquill and Kyle Van Noy are all free agents. It's likely most of those guys won't be back because LA simply can't afford to retain them.

Then comes the matter of Herbert's extension. After three seasons of excellence, the 24-year-old should be getting a huge extension this offseason. The going rate for a top-level franchise quarterback is between $40 million and $50 million a year. While any deal would likely start after the 2023 season, it's still a substantial cash outlay that needs to be put in place now and would hamper any long-term additions.

The realization from all this is that 2022 was the Chargers' year to win big. Given how they operated over the offseason, they knew it. Giving up a ton for J.C. Jackson and Khalil Mack, while overpaying for average interior defenders like Austin Jackson and Sebastian Joseph-Day reeked of desperation in a last gasp of trying to piece together a roster capable of making a run. Instead, they went 10-7 and flopped in embarrassing fashion to end the season.

The Chargers embarrassed themselves Saturday night in Jacksonville. And the worst part is yet to come.

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