Mike Scifres is a great guy. And he was a great punter. Was. In 2015 Scifres averaged 45.3 yards per punt. That number ranked 19th. But Scifres is top five in another important statistic; salary. Scifres is set to earn $3.5+ million in 2016. His cap number is even bigger; nearly $4.2 million.
As I said, Scifres is a good guy, he’s active in the community. He’s played his entire career in San Diego. But this is a salary cap league. Teams cannot pay a player top five money at his position and get less-than-average production.
The Raiders have had a tremendous off-season. They signed a few “big name players” but even then, they signed guys who are still young, who are productive, and they have money left over to sign the guys they’ve drafted who are heading towards free agency. But their plan was only possible because of the cap space available due to proper roster management.
Paying a 35-year-old punter who is declining and paying him top 5 money (for his position) just isn’t smart cap allocation; it is proper roster management.
Scifres’ supporters will point out that average yards per punt isn’t the only thing that matters and that Scifres is really good at avoiding touchbacks; he had only two all of last season. And they’re right, but when we look at the other punters who are “successful” in avoiding touchbacks, we see that they punt for teams like Dallas (4-12), Tennessee (3-13), Buffalo (8-8), New Orleans (7-9)…I’m guessing (the data isn’t conclusive) the reason so many average or worse teams are “good” at avoiding touchbacks is because they’re punting from their side of the field. The teams whose punters led the league in touchbacks were primarily playoff teams. Of course that doesn’t make it good to punt the ball into the end zone but it probably signifies that those teams are punting more often from mid-field; punting into a shorter field which of course makes a touchback more likely.
Chargers G.M. Tom Telesco has decisions to make with regards to the punting. Does he continue to pay top 5 money for average (at best) production? Does he cut Scifres and save $3.5+ million and sign another punter or draft a punter like Texas A&M’s Drew Kaser? Or does he restructure Scifres’ contract (set to expire after this season) possibly extending Scifres through 2017 but at a more reasonable rate?
Whatever happens, and I do not think status quo is the answer, we will probably not know until June. Telesco has no incentive to cut Scifres now (Scifres is not due any roster bonuses or such). By waiting until June cuts, Telesco can see if other punters are set to take pay cuts and hit the market and/or he can watch to see if Kaser (who broke some of Shane Lechler’s punting records at Texas A&M) slides in the draft. It will be interesting to see how Telesco manages this part of the Chargers’ roster.
Thanks for reading.