It’s been a busy few weeks for the Los Angeles Chargers and their pass rushers. First, the team agreed to a record-breaking deal with Joey Bosa. His five-year deal worth up to $135 million gives him the highest yearly salary of any defensive player in the league, only the Chicago Bears Khalil Mack has a higher overall total ($141 Million over 6 years).
Then, of course, Melvin Ingram made headlines as the first player in the league to “hold-in”. Ingram had reported for training camp on time and participated in the team’s first week of walk-throughs, but then news broke that he was not participating in practices due to “company business” as Head Coach Anthony Lynn dubbed it. The new CBA made traditional holdouts a thing of the past, so Ingram had to go about expressing his frustration over his lack of guaranteed money for the 2020 season in a different way. He still attended practice, essentially serving as another coach on the field, but it became clear that something was up.
Thankfully the Chargers and Ingram’s representation were able to squash the matter relatively quickly. NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo was the first to report that Ingram had signed an adjusted contract that fully guaranteed his 2020 contract.
#Chargers DE Melvin Ingram signed an adjusted contract yesterday with the team that guaranteed this year’s salary, sources say. That was a driving force in his return to practice. We’ll see what it means regarding his push for a contract extension.
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) August 21, 2020
Ingram was never in any danger of not making the roster, but in a world where COVID-19 could wreak havoc on the NFL season at any moment, it made sense for someone of Ingram’s status to ensure he would be fully protected in case of any cancellation or outbreak within the Chargers organization.
Ingram’s “hold-in” however, sparked immediate discussion on Twitter about whether or not the Chargers would be better trading the Pro Bowl pass rusher, and handing the keys over to former USC Trojan Uchenna Nwosu (full interview with Nwosu here). The opinion being expressed by the Twitterverse was that Ingram is too expensive and he’s getting up there in age as well. Nwosu is obviously much younger and cheaper.
This got me thinking about Ingram’s true value and how we need to change how we view him. He signed a four year, $64 million contract before the 2017 season. That made him one of the highest-paid defensive players in the league at the time, but as it currently stands he is the 15th highest paid edge rusher in the NFL, per Spotrac, behind players like Trey Flowers and Dee Ford. The market for edge rushers will continue to go up, and in a few years, a $64 million contract is going to be looked at as a bargain.
Now, Ingram was named to his third straight Pro Bowl this past season and I know that the reputation of the Pro Bowl isn’t what it used to be, but Ingram’s three consecutive appearances are important. Over the last two seasons, he has 14 total sacks, 91 combined tackles, 19 tackles for loss, and 28 additional quarterback hits. Those are hardly top tier numbers, but he’s still shown the ability to produce at a high level. The other important thing to point out is that Bosa missed the majority of the 2018 season with a nagging foot injury, which forced Ingram to take a larger role and not have the luxury of playing alongside someone to share the double teams with.
Since his breakout season in 2015, Ingram has totaled 43 sacks, tied with Frank Clark (who also has a higher salary than Ingram) for 13th most in that time frame. Ahead of him are obviously players like Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack, Chandler Jones, and Von Miller. If you search this kind of search on Pro Football Reference, you’ll notice that all of the players ahead of him are clear tier-one pass rushers. This is where the real value comes in for Ingram.
If we look at him as a number one pass rusher, then yes he’s probably a little overpriced. But if we are looking at him as more of a sidekick, then his contract is absolutely fair. If you compare him to other number two pass rushers you can really begin to see that value.
Ford has a yearly average of $17 million for the San Francisco 49ers and is worse than Ingram in every category since 2015. Preston Smith seems like he’s on the rise after he had 12 sacks for the Green Bay Packers, his yearly average is $13 million. Then there’s Whitney Mercilus, who at times has been the third-best pass rusher for the Houston Texans. His current salary pays him $13.5 million. You could even throw in his former teammate, Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney is currently a free agent but is reportedly looking for north of $15 million. He’s never had a season where he reached double-digit sacks.
None of those players have the credentials of Ingram. They’ve all been in the league since 2015, or longer, and he has more sacks than all of them. Smith is probably the best of the bunch right now, we’ll have to see how people attack the “Smith brothers” in year two but I do expect the two of them to continue to be productive.
However you shake it though, Ingram is right up there with the best Robins in the league and his contract reflects that. Is he getting up there in age? Yes. Would the Chargers have been better off trading him? No, absolutely not.