The Chargers decided not to use their franchise tag on tight end Hunter Henry this offseason with free agency pending.
Tagging is a tool that helps teams tag a player for a one-year deal. It is sometimes used if a team isn't sure about a player or is close to an extension.
It isn't known how close or far apart the Chargers are with Henry.
If the team had franchised Henry, his cap hit would have been around $13 million, which would have meant half of the team's spending money for free agency. He was tagged last season as a prove it deal, in a sense. Henry had never finished a season due to nagging injuries. He played in 14 games (missed two because of COVID), catching 60 passes for 613 yards and four touchdowns last season.
Henry has grown from his rookie season until now. The most significant step he has taken is in improving his blocking ability. The Arkansas product is very proud of how he has grown as a blocker. This season he was also a security blanket for rookie quarterback Justin Herbert on numerous occasions.
The Chargers have some wiggle room when it comes to the cap. If they want to get more cap relief, they could go different routes to save money.
This year is going to be challenging because of the cap restrictions taking place because of COVID-19.
"What we don't know is what the market numbers will be for certain players," said GM Tom Telesco last week. "Certainly, this year, it's even more difficult to figure out where those numbers are."
The Chargers could be close to a Henry extension, but they also could be far apart. It won't be known until free agency happens.
So, what happens if Henry leaves?
Well, if the worst-case scenario happens, the Chargers have some options. They have been rumored to have made contact with the Philadelphia Eagles on a potential Zach Ertz trade. If the Chargers do make the trade, he would be an $8.5 million cap hit. There is also Tennessee Titans Jonnu Smith and free agent Kyle Rudolph. All three players will be pricey, but not as much as Henry.
The Chargers have several needs at the moment. If Henry does leave in free agency, then that adds a new need for the team. If free agency doesn't work, the team could go after Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, whom everyone is raving about leading up to the draft. Pitts will be a top-15 player taken.
Telesco has a philosophy about drafting players, developing players, and then paying players, but it is an option. Due to the cap, it might not be possible, especially with the other numerous holes the team has this offseason.
Henry isn't the only notable player that is set to hit free agency. They also have defensive end Melvin Ingram, cornerback Michael Davis, left guard Forrest Lamp, center Dan Feeney, and free safety Rayshawn Jenkins.
Besides Ingram, they were all drafted by Telesco. Sometimes you can't keep them all, but they will try. If Henry does depart, the team will miss him in the locker room, the field, and the community.