Chargers tight end Hunter Henry to become free agent
March 11, 2021
The Los Angeles Chargers have decided and informed tight end Hunter Henry that they will not apply the franchise tag to Henry, which will allow him to become an unrestricted free agent and sign with any NFL team. The franchise tag is a designation a team can apply to a player scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. The tag binds the player to the team for one year if certain conditions are met.
But the franchise tag is expensive. Last season, Henry played under the franchise tag and made $10.6 million dollars. Under the franchise tag rules, if the Chargers had tagged Henry again, they would have had to pay him a salary equal to 120% of his previous salary, or $12.7 million per season. In 2022, a third use of the tag would force the Chargers to give Henry an increase of 144% of his 2021 salary, or $18.3 million per season. After that, the Chargers would not be able to use the tag on Henry.
The Chargers would ideally like to do a long-term contract with Henry that would be more favorable to the team's salary cap. A good example of that would be the deal that was signed between the Cleveland Browns and tight end Austin Hooper, who played his first four seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. Hooper signed a four-year deal with the Browns for $42 million, with a $10 million dollar signing bonus and a total of $23million guaranteed.
The salary cap hit in the first year of the contract was only $4 million. The second-year salary cap hit will be $8.25 million in 2021. Hooper is a good NFL tight end of similar abilities to Henry. Like most NFL players, Henry has wanted the opportunity to get on the open market and see what he is worth. He will now have that opportunity.
Henry did not rule out returning to the Chargers: "I've really enjoyed my time here, so I'm not going to ever rule that out, you know, with a young quarterback, me and Justin [Herbert] have formed a relationship," Henry told SiriusXM NFL Radio. "But I think I'm open to whatever, and I think I kind of have to, in a way, but I really enjoyed my time and if that continues, I'll be excited. If that doesn't, then that would be a new step and a new place to kind of start again."
The expectation is that if he gets to the open market, he is gone. The Chargers do not want to get into a bidding war for Henry. They have other needs and overpaying for a good, but not great tight end would be a mistake.
General Manager Tom Telesco was asked about Henry in his press conference last week: "Well, he falls under the category of things we've done right. You draft a player; he develops and turns into a really high-level tight end for us and a big part of this football team. Our philosophy has been draft, develop, and re-sign. Now can you do that with every single player? You can't, not in a salary-cap era, and certainly not in an era where we are right now where it's lowered."
The reality is that the salary cap number has fallen from $198.2 million to $182.5 million for each team. That is a reduction of about 8% from 2020. The reduction is due to the loss of revenue due to the pandemic. The reduction is forcing a lot of teams to make some tough decisions on their roster to get under the salary cap.
The Chargers are in better shape than most NFL teams with regards to the salary cap but cannot afford to pay any one player too much when there are other needs, such as the offensive line. The options on the roster at tight end are limited. The only tight end under contract on the roster is Donald Parham, who is under contract in 2021 at a salary of $780,000. Stephen Anderson is a restricted free agent. The Chargers could bring him back.
Henry missed the final two games of the 2020 regular season. Both Parham and Anderson more than took up the slack, with Parham catching five passes for 84 yards and a touchdown in the final two games, while Anderson caught seven passes for 100 yards in the final two games.
The best move going forward for the Chargers at an important position like tight end is acquiring a tight end at an affordable price through free agency or a trade, plus adding a tight end prospect in the draft. The Philadelphia Eagles are attempting to trade tight end Zach Ertz, a three-time Pro Bowl player who has expressed his desire to play somewhere else.
The Eagles need to cut salary to get under the salary cap. They are currently $26.8 million dollars over the cap, according to overthecap.com. The Eagles can save about $4.7 million in cap space with a trade of Ertz and with Dallas Goedert at tight end, they can afford to trade Ertz, especially if they can get some draft compensation for him.
As far as free agent options go, the Chargers may not have to look far to find an unrestricted free agent at tight end. Gerald Everett, a 2017 second round pick of the Los Angeles Rams, is available and might be a good fit for the Chargers. Everett has caught 127 passes and eight touchdowns in his four seasons with the Rams. Everett is considered a good run blocker with speed but for whatever reason has been under-utilized in the Rams passing offense.
Other options at tight end in free agency include Jared Cook and Josh Hill, both of whom were recently released by the New Orleans Saints. Cook is a veteran receiver who has caught 505 passes in his 12-year career and seems to be getting better with age. Hill is considered one of the best run blockers at tight end and is an excellent red-zone target with 15 touchdown receptions. More importantly, they are familiar with Charger offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, who spent the past five seasons with the Saints.