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Franchise tag could be best option for Chargers, Melvin Ingram in 2017

The Chargers and Melvin Ingram have until July 15 to agree to a long-term contract. Otherwise, he'll play on the franchise tag in 2017. Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire

SAN DIEGO -- While the Los Angeles Chargers have gone through workouts since the beginning of April, one of their best players has not reported because of his contract status -- pass-rusher Melvin Ingram.

Ingram’s absence has not gone unnoticed by his teammates.

“Melvin’s still doing his negotiation thing,” defensive co-captain Brandon Mebane recently told reporters after practice. “I can’t wait until he gets back. He adds to the group and he’s a great player. So I can’t wait to get back on the field with him.”

As much as head coach Anthony Lynn and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley would like to see Mebane’s wish fulfilled, that probably will not happen next week.

“I haven’t heard from Melvin,” Lynn said this week. “I’ve spoken to him a couple times. He’s training out in Florida just trying to stay in shape. With these contract situations, I’ve been there before and they can take some time.”

I then asked if Lynn wants to see Ingram in camp at some point.

“I wanted to see him here like yesterday,” Lynn joked. “But I understand these contracts and sometimes they take time. But he will eventually be here on campus.”

The Chargers will host a mandatory minicamp beginning on Tuesday, but because Ingram remains unsigned and not under contract, he is not required to attend.

That leads to our first question in this week’s mailbag:

@eric_d_williams: The Chargers placed the franchise tag designation on Ingram in February. Ingram is set to make $14.55 million on the tag this season. He is only the seventh player in team history the Bolts have used the tag on, and the first since Vincent Jackson in 2011.

Jackson left for a $55 million free-agent deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the following year in 2012.

The Chargers can still negotiate a multiyear contract with the edge rusher through July 15. However, after that date, Ingram must play on the tag and cannot sign a new contract until after the 2017 season.

The Chargers also have enough cap space to do what they need to do during the upcoming season in terms of potential injury replacements with Ingram under the franchise tag. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Chargers have $13.8 million in cap space and all of Ingram’s salary would be designated toward this year’s cap.

According to ESPN’s Field Yates, the Chargers created $2.5 million cap space by cutting offensive lineman Orlando Franklin, and could use that savings to secure a long-term deal with Ingram.

However, Olivier Vernon set the bar for pass-rushers by signing a five-year, $85 million contract that included $52.5 million in guaranteed money with the New York Giants in free agency last year.

The Chargers likely would be unwilling to match that kind of deal.

So while the Chargers are still in negotiations with Ingram on a multiyear deal, it’s appears likely he’ll play on the franchise tag this season. That means Ingram might not report until the team breaks training camp and is close to the start of the regular season at the end of August, similar to what safety Eric Berry did with the Kansas City Chiefs when they placed him under the franchise tag last year.

For Ingram, he gets a nice pay day this season under the franchise tag. And if Ingram plays to his potential, he’ll be allowed to hit the free agent market in 2018 and should secure a lucrative, multiyear deal. Ingram turns 29 in April.

The Chargers likely will not use the franchise tag again for Ingram next season because the price will increase to 120 percent of his previous salary ($17.46 million).

And Bradley has done a nice job in the past of developing pass-rush specialists who fit his scheme, including Chris Clemons while with the Seattle Seahawks and rookie Yannick Ngakoue last season for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Young pass-rushers that have shown promise for the Chargers this offseason include Chris McCain and James Onwualu.

@eric_d_williams: Second-year cornerback Trevor Williams has been impressive so far during offseason work.

The Penn State product has worked with the starters because Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett are nursing injuries. And he also has worked inside at slot defender in passing situations.

Receivers I’ve talked to have praised Williams’ technique during 7-on-7 and team drills, so it will be interesting to see if he can carve out a role when training camp begins. So far, Williams is off to a good start.