During his conversation with reporters at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis on Thursday, San Diego Chargers general manager Tom Telesco acknowledged that his team is tight against the salary cap and has some tough decisions to make on whether to keep a number of veteran players who are due to make a significant amount of money during the 2014 season.
Even with the salary cap projected at $130 million for the new year, the Chargers are just over at $130.5 million for 59 contracts.
Receiver Eddie Royal's salary for the 2014 season is $4.5 million. Offensive lineman Jeromey Clary is set to make $4.55 million in total compensation this season. Outside linebacker Dwight Freeney is due a $500,000 roster bonus on March 15 and is set to make $3.5 million in total compensation in 2014.
Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson will make $4 million in base salary in 2014. Fullback Le'Ron McClain played just 12 percent of San Diego's snaps in 2013, but is due to make $2.5 million in 2014. Cornerback Derek Cox was replaced in the starting lineup by Richard Marshall, and will make $4.25 million in the upcoming season in total compensation. Receiver Malcom Floyd hopes to return from a serious neck injury, and is due to make $2.75 million.
The Chargers can easily get under the salary cap by releasing all of those players, saving more than $26 million in cash. But Telesco will not cut all of those players, so it will be important to find the right mix of who stays, who goes and who is asked to restructure his deal.
Telesco was asked specifically about Royal's financial situation and the salary cap.
“There are a number of decisions we have to make,” he said. “I wouldn't say we're flushed with cap space this year. Those are discussions we're going through. That's part of the offseason program.
“All 53 guys aren't always back, but Eddie had a very good year for us. He played through some difficult injuries, lined up every week for us, and was a tough matchup in the slot for a lot of teams.”
Telesco was asked if he had talked to Nick Hardwick, his veteran center, about whether he will return for a 12th season. Hardwick, who is contemplating retirement, is set to make $4.4 million in the upcoming season.
“I have not,” Telesco said. “We're expecting him to play next year until told otherwise. Obviously, he's a big part of the offensive line. A true team leader, a rock inside, and a guy we'd definitely love to have back.”
Telesco appears comfortable with veteran tight end Antonio Gates returning in 2014 at his $5 million base salary.
“We thought we had a really good group this year,” Telesco said when asked about the tight end group, led by Gates. “Antonio, even though at his age, we thought he played at a very high level this year, both as a pass-receiver and even blocking on the line of scrimmage. That was great to see.
“Ladarius [Green] is a great complement. He still has room to grow, and he's still getting better. But as you saw this year, he's got the chance to make some plays downfield. And we had John Phillips, who gave us a lot of dirty work around the line of scrimmage. As a group, we were really happy with those three guys.”
Telesco said with more college teams running a 3-4 defensive front and throwing the ball more, finding 3-4 edge rushers has become an easier task.
Telesco also mentioned Brad Sorensen twice in separate interviews in Indianapolis, saying he's a player who hasn't maxed out yet and has a lot of ability. So perhaps the Chargers may be comfortable going with Sorensen as the team's No. 2 quarterback, or at least letting him compete for the job with a veteran.
In an interview with the Mighty 1090 AM radio, Telesco identified receiver, offensive tackles and guards, 3-4 defensive linemen and secondary as deep positions in this year's draft.
In that same interview, Telesco acknowledged that Manti Te'o had offseason surgery on his foot. Telesco said that Te'o had surgery to speed up the healing process to a stress reaction in his foot that kept him out of the first three games of the regular season, with the hope that the Notre Dame product will be healthy for the beginning of offseason work in April.