Los Angeles Chargers general manager Tom Telesco has to make some difficult decisions this offseason. One of those decisions could include releasing superstar wide receiver Keenan Allen.
The Chargers are currently projected to be approximately $20.3 million over the salary cap, per OverTheCap. That figure does not account for allocated funds to sign their 2023 NFL Draft class. The Chargers should attempt to keep Allen, but making him a cap casualty may be a necessity for a franchise that must shed more than $25 million in salary this summer.
Allen signed a four-year, $80.1 million extension in 2020. He’s currently set to enter the third year of that deal in 2023 while earning a base salary of $15.5 million and carrying a cap charge of $21.7 million, per Spotrac. Releasing Allen would provide the Chargers with $14.8 million in financial flexibility (pre-June 1), according to Spotrac. The Chargers may simply not be able to decline that temptation.
Allen, who turns 31 in April, missed seven games with recurring hamstring injuries in 2022. Allen remained a highly-productive weapon when on the field, totaling 66 receptions for 752 yards and four touchdowns. Still, an increase in age (receivers rarely age well into their 30s) and injuries when paired with Los Angeles’ cap-related issues may make this a no-brainer decision for Telesco.
The Chargers may have to choose between Allen and Khalil Mack this offseason. Releasing Mack would yield similar results, netting the Chargers $18.4 million in cap space. Doing so welcomes a larger dead cap hit, however, as a result of a previous contract restructure ($9 million in 2023 dead cap versus $6.9 million in dead cap for Allen).
The optics of releasing Mack wouldn’t be great. The Chargers acquired Mack from the Chicago Bears in exchange for two draft picks in March of 2022. Mack responded with an eight-sack debut season for the Chargers. Releasing Mack one year into a successful stint after parting with various draft selections to get him is bad for business.
There’s also the matter of where the Chargers possess better depth. The answer is at the receiver position. Releasing Mack would create a sizable hole at EDGE for the Chargers. Currently, that would mean Chris Rumph II is catapulted into a starting role opposite Joey Bosa. Bosa and Mack have created a fearsome one-two punch. Meanwhile, Mike Williams is a No. 1 receiver and Joshua Palmer flashed the capabilities that insinuate he’s ready to take on a larger role. Roster makeup and production indicate losing Allen would hurt less than losing Mack, even if the Chargers would have to draft another receiver (they would).
The Chargers could create roughly $10.75 million in cap freedom by releasing tight end Gerald Everett and offensive guard Matt Feiler. In fact, both Everett and Feiler will likely be cap casualties, but it gets the Chargers nowhere near becoming cap compliant. It’s going to take something significantly bolder from Telesco than simply cutting Everett and Feiler.
Telesco may consider restructuring veteran contracts, but financial negligence is how the Chargers got themselves into this mess to begin with. Course correction is necessary as opposed to kicking the can further down the road. The writing on the wall suggests Allen’s tenure as a Charger has reached its conclusion.
There’s also franchise quarterback Justin Herbert to consider. Herbert is scheduled to enter the fourth year of his rookie contract in 2023. The Chargers possess the right to exercise Herbert’s fifth-year option, which the Chargers will undoubtedly trigger. It will keep Herbert on a cost-controlled wage scale through 2024, but Herbert is in a position to command $45-plus million annually via a long-term extension. The Chargers must start preparing for Herbert’s inevitable extension and the impact it will have on their salary cap.
Telesco went on a shopping spree last offseason. Trading for the likes of Mack and signing J.C. Jackson welcomed future financial difficulties. Those cap constraints have come home to roost. Herbert’s eventual extension looms large. The Chargers may be saying goodbye to Allen as a result.
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