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NFL Draft

What Could Melvin Ingram’s Next Contract Be Worth?

  • The Draft Network
  • August 24, 2020
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When it comes to NFL contracts, sometimes timing means just as much as talent.

We all like to say, “You don’t pay for what a player has already done. You pay them for what they’re going to do in the future (while on that contract).” But it doesn’t always work out like that. The fact of the matter is, age and outlook go into negotiations, but the discussion tends to begin with what a player already has under their belt (especially if they are re-signing with a team where they accomplished their feats).

Los Angeles Chargers edge rusher Melvin Ingram definitely hit the jackpot when it came to timing. The former No. 18 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft had a, let’s just call it “less than ideal,” start to his career.

But it wasn’t a struggle right out of the gate. In his first season of action, Ingram played in all 16 games, saw two starts, recorded 18 quarterback pressures, which was second most on the team, as well as four tackles for loss and one sack.

But going into his second season, Ingram tore his ACL during the summer while going through team activities. He was expected to miss the entire 2013 season, and was placed on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list. However, with a speedy recovery, the year was not totally lost, and Ingram was activated and played in the team’s final four games of the season.

With his ACL injury behind him, one thought the horizon was bright for Ingram, given he was finally able to settle into his role in the NFL. Two weeks into his third season, Ingram recorded another sack while starting both games, but he suffered a hip injury in that second game and as a result, missed eight weeks of action before returning in Week 11 to play the remainder of the season. That year, Ingram ended with a career high in sacks (4) and tackles for loss (5), QB hits (7), and forced fumbles (2). But with two big injuries three years into his career, there were some reasons to worry.

Ingram put those worries to bed over the course of the next two seasons, as he went on to play in and start all 32 games, recording 18.5 sacks and 24 tackles for loss during that stretch. That fortunate timing allowed him to cash in big time when his rookie deal was up after the 2016 season in the form of a four-year, $66 million deal with $42 million in guarantees.

Three years later, it’s hard to think Ingram hasn’t been well worth the cash at signing, especially given the fact that he was a somewhat injured pass-rusher who was 28 years old when he signed his second deal. Since then, Ingram has recorded another 10-sack season with 10.5 in 2017, then seven in each of 2018 and 2019, while missing just three games during that time period. 

Ingram’s deal is set to run its course at the end of this upcoming season, and with no certainty of whether or not he’ll be signing another lucrative contract after that, Ingram decided to make sure he got what he could while he had health and timing on his side once again.

The final year of Ingram’s current deal contained no guarantees. All $14 million of what the Chargers owed him was flexible for the team. Knowing that there is some uncertainty around what could happen with the upcoming NFL season due to COVID-19 (if the season was canceled, the Chargers wouldn’t owe Ingram anything), and of course not knowing what may play out with potential injuries (even if they do play), Ingram was not prepared to risk all that money. So he reported to the Chargers’ training camp when it opened, but opted to not practice with the team, and instead watched and helped practice from the sideline. With Ingram in attendance, the team couldn’t fine him for missing practice. 

That strategy paid off (literally) quickly, as the Chargers agreed to guarantee all of Ingram’s $14 million for 2020 to get him back out on the practice field.

So what we know now is that, health permitting, Ingram will be out there for the Chargers from this point on for whatever the 2020 season brings. But after that? Who knows. That brings up the question: what’s the market for Ingram, who will be 32 to start the 2021 season?

First, let’s rule out the franchise tag. The tag is quite unlikely for Ingram, barring a truly spectacular season, as it would put the Chargers on the hook for about $17 million, the projected going rate for pass-rushers who may be tagged for the 2021 season. That’s more money than Ingram’s average payout from his last deal when he was four years younger coming off even better seasons statistically.

Let’s first observe the other pass-rushers Ingram could be in a pool with come free agency, as that often has to do with how desperate a team might be for more experienced and safer bets for veteran contribution.

Von Miller is technically slated to be a free agent in 2021, but the Broncos have a club option on him for $19 million, an option I assume they are going to pick up, barring something terrible happening in 2020. As for the rest of his competition, you have Matthew Judon, Shaq Barrett, and Bud Dupree all playing on the franchise tag this season. Then you have the next tier of Justin Houston, Yannick Ngakoue, Takk McKinnley, and Ryan Kerrigan. You can also throw in guys like Jordan Jenkins, Vic Beasley, Olivier Vernon, and Solomon Thomas who could be intriguing pass-rush options.

Spotrac has a useful tool on its site called “Market Value” where they take in some context (not all) and try to give a guess at where someone’s next contract could fall, given examples similar to their situation at signing. Age and relative production are the biggest factors.

Vernon is one example. He signed a one-year, $11 million deal with the Cleveland Browns last offseason. Vernon was 30 at the time of signing (remember, Ingram will be 32). Vernon has been a steady, accomplished pass-rusher before, but he has not played a full 16-game schedule since 2016. Plus, 2019 was the lowest production of his career with just 3.5 sacks and four tackles for loss in just 10 games played. You figure Ingram will command more than that given his availability and production compared to Vernon, even if Ingram is older.

Another name on the list is Jerry Hughes. Hughes signed a two-year, $21.5 million deal with the Buffalo Bills in 2018. Hughes was 30 years old at the time of signing. Though his production numbers have been lower than some of the other players on the list, Hughes has been consistently in the lineup, as he has missed just one game and one start in the last six seasons, all with the Bills. Hughes was coming off a seven-sack season when he signed his deal, which fortunately for him, was the most he’s had since his back-to-back 10-sack seasons in 2013 and 2014. Hughes getting an average of $10.75 million per season for a two-year deal is more context to a potential Ingram deal, but again, I think Ingram will still be a bit higher.

The most accurate example of what an Ingram contract could look like is that of Houston. After a long career in Kansas City where Houston recorded multiple double-digit sack seasons, including a 22-sack year in 2014, Houston signed a two-year, $24 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts at the age of 30. At the time, Houston was coming off a nine-sack season, and that was following up a 9.5-sack season the year prior. On top of that, at age 30, Houston recorded 11 sacks in 2019.

That $12 million-per-year average Houston got is the best example we have for Ingram. Though Ingram is older, and though Houston had slightly better production, Ingram’s availability and steady production of his own makes me think a ballpark of $12-$13 million per year on what would likely be a two-year deal is plausible given yearly inflation. If Ingram can’t get a multi-year deal, something closer to the $10-$11 million range is more realistic.

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