COSTA MESA, Calif. -- With the Los Angeles Chargers officially eliminated from playoff contention for 2020, it's time to look ahead. They have a big offseason awaiting them, with several unrestricted free agents hitting the market.
With WR Keenan Allen wrapped up with a four-year extension worth up to $80 million, 50 million guaranteed and DT Joey Bosa inked with a $102 million guaranteed contract (highest in the NFL), that leaves two big names: tight end Hunter Henry and defensive end Melvin Ingram III, and a host of other options.
With the coronavirus pandemic cutting revenue, the NFL could lower the salary cap to as low as $175 million, as opposed from $198.2 million in 2020. The Chargers currently have $152.1 million on the books. That could be a problem and might mean a lot of restructured contracts.
TE Hunter Henry
The fifth-year tight end, who turned 26 on Monday, is currently making $10.6 million per year on the non-exclusive franchise tag. Not bad for a kid from Little Rock, Arkansas, who is quietly having his best season. Drafted in the second round in 2016, Henry has clicked with rookie quarterback Justin Herbert, and Chargers coach Anthony Lynn has said that Henry has the ability to be one of the top tight ends in the league.
"He'll step in there," Lynn said. "He'll block. He'll catch."
The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Henry has been on a tear ever since Herbert got the starting nod and kept it. He has 49 receptions for 507 yards, averaging 10.3 yards per catch, with three touchdowns.
Most importantly, Henry has stayed healthy after spending the entire 2018 season out with an ACL tear and missing four games in 2019 with an injury to his other knee. The Chargers will want to keep him -- tight ends are a rare commodity these days -- and have the option to franchise him again if they choose, albeit at a higher price tag.
Still, Henry has yet to play a full 16-game season. Maybe this is the year.
DE Melvin Ingram III
At 6-2 and 247 pounds, Ingram has let it be known he wants to be a Bolt for life even as he held a brief "hold in" during training camp where he was present but not participating as he looked a new deal, which ended up with him getting a $14 million guaranteed base salary for this season. Ingram had 48 tackles, seven sacks and a fumble recovery in 13 games last season, earning a third straight Pro Bowl selection.
But Ingram has been in and out of the lineup in 2020 due to injuries, starting with a knee injury in practice just before the Week 3 game against the Carolina Panthers, which placed him on injured reserve. He didn't return to action until Week 8 and his best game came a week later against the Las Vegas Raiders, when he had five tackles, three solo. But he was injured again, only played one more game, then was placed on IR a second time, ending his season.
Ingram has been an asset for the Chargers, with 49 career sacks, and is ranked No. 18 in ESPN's list of available 2021 free agents. But his age (he'll turn 32 this offseason) and down year this season (10 tackles in five games played) might cause the Chargers and him to part ways.
Other notable Chargers FAs
RB Kalen Ballage: A restricted free agent, Ballage presents an interesting dilemma. He's a bargain at $750,000 and was the go-to at running back when Austin Ekeler was injured. He's big (6-2, 231), strong and has made himself valuable. He was a fourth-round pick by Miami in 2018 out of Arizona State and traded to the Jets in the offseason, but struggled with pass blocking and was released after three games. He signed with the Chargers in October when Ekeler went on injured reserve.
Ballage has fit in well in L.A., rushing 56 times for 215 yards and a touchdown while catching 17 passes for 81 yards and seems to have proved himself as the big back the Chargers were missing.
"He's stepped up," Lynn said. "He's made some tough yards. And he's definitely helped that rushing attack ... We're glad we have him."
The Chargers have Ekeler (who signed a four-year, $24 million contract in the offseason), Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley under contract at running back next season, but Ballage's unique size and skill set could prompt the Chargers to re-sign him.
The interior offensive line: The Chargers will have to pick and choose between veteran center Mike Pouncey, guard/center Dan Feeney and guard Forrest Lamp. Pouncey is a four-time Pro Bowler and carries a $7.25 million cap number, but was put on injured reserve in September with a hip injury. Pouncey, who the Chargers originally signed in 2018, has only played in five games the last two seasons, as he missed much of 2019 with a neck injury. He turns 32 next summer, which makes him a risky proposition, even with his past success.
Feeney and Lamp are both 2017 draft picks who are concluding their rookie deals. Feeney, who has started every game since 2018, filled in for Pouncey at center this season but also can play guard. Fenney, who had a $2.36 million cap number this year, has the versatility that could make him attractive for a second contract from the Chargers. Lamp, a second-round pick in 2017, had a $2.1 million cap number this year. He's started all 12 games at left guard this season after only starting two games in his first three seasons.
QB Tyrod Taylor: His episode with the Chargers was the latest is a strange, tormented career. After backing up Philip Rivers last season, Taylor -- who played under a $7.5 million cap number this year -- was slated to be the starter. He played in one game, completing 16 of 30 passes for 208 yards as the Chargers beat the Cincinnati Bengals 16-13 in Week 1. But he suffered a rib injury right before a Week 2 matchup with Kansas City after a team doctor accidentally punctured his lung with a pain-killing shot. Herbert got the start, and the rest is history.
Taylor is a team captain and beloved in the locker room, but will he want to return to be Herbert's backup?