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First look at Chargers free agents

1/15/2014

SAN DIEGO -- In this ESPN Insider pieceInsider, Mike Sando takes a look at the top 25 free agents set to hit the market in 2014.

While that list does not include a player from San Diego's current roster, I thought we'd take this opportunity to look at the Chargers salary cap situation heading into Year 2 of the general manager Tom Telesco and head coach Mike McCoy regime.

Telesco is scheduled to talk with reporters at the team's facility on Wednesday.

McCoy offered few details during his end-of-the-season interview session when asked what his team's approach will be in free agency, including the team's top unrestricted free agent, middle linebacker Donald Butler.

The Chargers have 12 players set to become unrestricted free agents once the free agency period begins in March.

“We'll address all those things down the road,” McCoy said. “We're going to sit down, like I talked about, as an organization and as a staff, Tom (Telesco) and the personnel department, we'll evaluate our football team and we'll have tough decisions like we do every offseason like all 32 teams.

“There's a lot of things that come into the equation and we'll do what we think is best for the football team moving forward.”

San Diego finished at about $120 million in salary cap space in 2013, allowing the team to carry over about $2.3 million into the 2014 season. With a projected league-wide salary cap of $126.3 million, San Diego's adjusted salary cap for 2014 if the team carries over cap dollars will be between $128-$129 million, giving them little space to sign its own free agents, let alone free agents from other teams.

However, the Chargers could save cap space with a couple different moves. The second year of cornerback Derek Cox's four-year, $20 million salary is guaranteed for injury only, according to salary cap specialist Brian McIntyre. If Cox is on San Diego's roster on the third day of the new league year once it begins in March, his $4.25 million salary is guaranteed.

But releasing Cox in February after the Super Bowl, the proration of Cox's $3.9 million signing bonus would accelerate into the 2014 salary cap for the Chargers. So San Diego would save $1.65 million in cap space and $4.25 million in cash by releasing Cox.

The Chargers could save another $11.55 million in salary-cap space and cash by releasing players getting long in the tooth like guard Jeromey Clary ($4.55 in non-guaranteed base salary), receiver Eddie Royal ($4.5 million) and fullback Le'Ron McClain ($2.5 million).

Also, according to McIntyre, edge rusher Dwight Freeney is due a $500,000 roster bonus on March 15. Freeney is set to make $3.5 million in non-guaranteed salary in 2014. Freeney says he plan on returning from a torn quad that ended his 2013 season, and will play next year.

Chargers 2013 salary cap: $120 million

Chargers projected 2014 salary cap: $128-$129 million

Unrestricted free agents: WR Seyi Ajirotutu , WR Danario Alexander, RB Ronnie Brown, LB Donald Butler, LB Larry English, WR Lavelle Hawkins, CB Richard Marshall, OL Rich Ohrnberger, OL Chad Rinehart, SS Darrell Stuckey, DL Cam Thomas, LB Reggie Walker.