The Los Angeles Chargers had the potential to be one of the most interesting teams of the 2022 NFL offseason and they’re running with it. The Chargers came into the offseason with the most cap space in the league and they’ve wasted little time in using it.
Deals started with a three-year/$60 million extension for Mike Williams and then the Chargers traded a 2022 second-round pick and 2023 sixth-round pick to the Chicago Bears in exchange for Khalil Mack.
In 2021, the Chargers finished 15th in pressure rate, per Sports Info Solutions, and 11th in ESPN’s Pass Rush Win Rate. The addition of Mack gives Los Angeles another top-tier edge rusher to play across from Joey Bosa, which can make things even more exciting and opens up opportunities along the defensive line and in the secondary.
Per Over The Cap, Mack will cost the Chargers just $17.75 million in 2022 and reports indicate LA will take on the full three years and $63.9 million remaining on Mack’s deal. But there is no guaranteed salary remaining on the deal and Mack’s cap hits in 2023 and 2024 would be $22.9 million and $23.25, respectively.
At 31 years old, Mack does come with a bit of a risk. He played only seven games in 2021 (the first extended period missed in his career) and his quarterback hits have dropped each year since 2016. Despite that, Mack has continually created pressure at a high rate and he’s been a high sack-to-hit converter throughout his career.
When he’s on the field, Mack is still one of the league’s best pass rushers. Last season, Mack had a 13.9% pressure rate according to SIS, which would have finished right around younger pass rushers such as Harold Landy (13.6%) and Brian Burns (13.5%) and among the top 20 in the league if that rate carried over the entire year. Those are two young stars, one that just got paid and another that will be soon.
It’s worth pointing out that Joey Bosa was eighth (16.4%) among 102 LB/DEs with at least 200 pass rushes on the season.
Mack has always been a singular force, but with playing next to Bosa, he won’t have to be relied upon as that type of player. If there is a slight dropoff in his game coming back from the injury, the pass rush won’t completely crater. Yet in all likelihood, the addition of Mack is a force multiplier for the Chargers, making both players better and giving at least one of them a consistent one-on-one matchup.
Another factor, which matters more with the Chargers and how they align the defensive front, Mack is a great run defender on the edge. In 2020, Mack ranked fifth among edge rushers in ESPN’s Run Stop Win Rate.
For the ideal Brandon Staley defense, the Chargers will play with a light box, which puts more responsibility on the defensive line to stop the run. With a poor run defense last year, the Chargers had to abandon that strategy in the middle of the season.
From Weeks 1-6, the Chargers used a light box 63% of the time, which was the eighth-highest rate in the league, per SIS. They stacked the box on 11% of defensive snaps, which was 21st in that time frame. After the Week 7 bye, the Chargers used a light box on just 53% of defensive snaps (16th) and they stacked the box 25% of the time, which was the third-highest rate among defenses.
It only helped so much as the Chargers went from 31st in EPA per attempt against the run before the bye to 28th after. The defensive line talent to stop the run just wasn’t there.
While the Mack deal on its own is exciting, perhaps the most fun part about it is the indicator that it won’t be the last big move the Chargers make to upgrade the roster.
At the NFL Combine, general manager Tom Telesco acknowledged the window of building around a superstar quarterback on a rookie contract. Justin Herbert will count for all of $7.25 million on the Chargers’ 2022 salary cap.
Having that quarterback and landing stars and other positions like left tackle and wide receiver also makes the Chargers’ offseason strategy more interesting. They’re not necessarily shopping for the hard to acquire positions. A top-tier edge rusher could be considered that, but they already had Bosa and swinging for a veteran with just a second-round pick is about as good as it gets to add another.
Meanwhile, the Chargers could use some more help at cornerback to play opposite a rising star in Asante Samuel and the free agent pool has a number of intriguing options. LA could go to the top and bring in a J.C. Jackson or Carlton Davis to really beef up the position. There is no shortage of options if the Chargers don’t want to shop at the top of the market, including former Ram Darious Williams.
The Chargers need some help in the interior of the defensive line and that job has already been made easier with Bosa and Mack on the edge. Sebastian Joseph-Day feels like too obvious of a fit coming over from the Rams, but he would be exactly what the Chargers need inside.
Defensive help would be huge for a team that finished 28th in EPA per play last season, per TruMedia. Defensive talent plus Staley’s scheme could open up another level for the Chargers. This was was a team that finished fourth in EPA per play on offense in 2021 while leaving some meat on the bone. Upgrades are available there, too.
More offensive linemen continue to hit the market, which would give Los Angeles a shot at reworking the right side of the line after the left side through center was set up last offseason. Speedy wide receivers are available. There are a number of tight ends. Nothing at this point appears to be out of the Chargers’ price range.
With Mack’s $17.75 million on the books for 2022, the Chargers sit with about $24 million in cap space. That would still be around the top-10 among all teams this offseason.
The Chargers can’t — and won’t — just buy a good team in free agency, but what makes them so exciting is how much of the foundation was already in place. These moves will surround the core instead of being a desperate attempt to build it.
Trading for Khalil Mack was the Chargers’ first big swing to get the most out of a young and inexpensive quarterback. Given the early aggressiveness, it’s not going to be the last.