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Bolts Are Zapped By These Contracts

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Philip Rivers will need to pick himself up if he is going to be worth his monstrous 2013 cap hit. Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images.
Philip Rivers will need to pick himself up if he is going to be worth his monstrous 2013 cap hit. Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images.

Year one will be the most crucial for new general manager Tom Telesco.

With roughly $6 million in cap space, Telesco’s focus this offseason has been finding fill-in players at minimal cost. Unlike last year, free agency has been quiet in terms of big name players because the Chargers can’t afford to make any significant moves — courtesy of former GM A.J. Smith.

From a front office perspective, the Chargers have more bad contracts than good.

Wide receiver Robert Meachem and left tackle Jared Gaither, two of Smith’s biggest signings last year, will account for nearly $10 million in cap space in 2013. That $10 million cap figure goes to a player no longer on the team and to another who accounted for just 14 catches and 207 receiving yards in 2012.

The Chargers are crippled and still have to save money for the draft.

At one point this offseason, there was talk of the Chargers restructuring the contracts of quarterback Philip Rivers and safety Eric Weddle but it didn’t happen. Rivers cap figure for 2013 ($17,110,000) is nearly twice that of Weddle’s ($8,600,000), and both have the two highest cap figures on the team (Meachem’s third at $6,875,000).

Rivers' contract is paralyzing, and based on his performance the last two seasons, it’s hard to justify his cap figure. Moreover, he’s 31, and questions regarding his mobility and arm strength are mounting.

U-T San Diego’s Kevin Acee made an interesting point last week on NFL Network when he said, “No one will say it, but I think that 2013 is the final audition of Philip Rivers.”

He went on to say that the Chargers decision not to restructure Rivers’ contract (and subsequently gain more cap space) “speaks volumes.” Had an agreement been reached, portions of Rivers’ base salary or signing bonus could have been spread over the ‘14 and ‘15 seasons, thus reducing his cap number for 2013. But since his current cap number is at peak value this year (he already restructured his contract in 2009), the Chargers decided against adding additional money over the final two years of his contract.

Regardless, he’ll need to return to form to validate the $17 million he’s owed in 2013.

Linebacker Donald Butler is one of the few bargains for the Chargers. He is one of the best and brightest young stars on the team, yet his cap number for 2013 is just $1,525,125. Twenty players, including punter Mike Scifres, will have bigger cap numbers than Butler this season. He is in the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, but look for the Chargers to re-sign him before he becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year.

The relatively quiet offseason and the release of veterans such as Takeo Spikes, Antonio Garay, and Randy McMichael further indicate Telesco is building for the future. And with limited cap space and questions still remaining on the offensive line and secondary, Year One will be crucial in establishing roster strength and flexibility for ensuing seasons.