Why They Call It ‘Salary Cap Hell’

NFL.com writer Chris Wesseling thought the Chargers’ signing of Donald Brown a bit of a head scratcher. A team with this many holes couldn’t possibly spend valuable salary cap room on a third veteran running back, could they?

Tom Krasovic – a veteran beatwriter who has covered his share of signings both savvy and boneheaded – says that Donald Brown will make the Chargers better. Probably true. But Krasovic ignores the elephant in the room that so preoccupied Wesseling: this team desperately needs help at every level of the defense, particularly the secondary, and seemingly can’t afford to sign even a ‘helpful’ running backs under the salary cap.

Chargers fans – well, their reactions have run the gamut, and many of them, defending the move against the likes of Wesseling, are unfit to print.

The Donald Brown signing, in the end, is not captured by their present-day needs or salary cap room or even Donald Brown’s skill set. It has everything to do with the repercussions of AJ Smith’s unholy spending spree of 2012 and the 2015 free agent picture for the Bolts.

Although the Chargers accelerated some of their salary-cap-related heartburn to this offseason with the release of Derek Cox, next year won’t be a breeze, either. On the plus side, Jeromey Clary and Eddie Royal come off the books. Unfortunately, the team is still saddled with obligations to Cox, Robert Meachem (I know, right?) and an increasingly gimpy Antonio Gates. That’s quite a bit of dead-or-near-death money for a team with “needs,” as Wesseling kindly put it.

Also: if the Bolts secondary looks vacant this year, the backfield will look like a ghost town in 365 days. Mathews, for all his injuries and fumbling problems, cuts a brawny figure and has the speed to get to the corner. Teams line up to pay for that kind of talent. You can also bet that the rest of the NFL has taken notice of the work Danny Woodhead has put in for this team.

If that wasn’t enough, the rest of next year’s free agent running back pool mostly pales in comparison to the Chargers’ incumbents. (With apologies to Benjarvus Green-Ellis, Darren Sproles, Darren McFadden, and Fred Jackson.) The 2014 Chargers backfield will get paid come 2015. Count on it.

When you stack all of that information up, you quickly realize that Tom Telesco was looking a year into the future when he inked Donald Brown. Still 26, with relatively low mileage, Brown has productive years left. Brown can also ably fill some of the voids left by each of Mathews and Woodhead, as he can both run between the tackles and play on third down. Telesco has ensured that this team will have the services of a veteran, versatile running back going forward.

In other words, the 2015 Bolts will not be overpaying for the likes of Darren McFadden, only to watch him crumble under the force of NFL tackling.

Yes, Donald Brown will give this team meaningful carries in 2014. And yes, the 2014 Chargers would probably have liked to throw his $3.5 million at a decent cornerback. But this team needs someone trustworthy to carry the rock in 2015 and beyond; given the team’s salary cap situation and next year’s running back market, Donald Brown seems like the most likely candidate.

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