The San Diego Chargers released linebacker Donald Butler on Thursday despite an onerous dead-money surcharge that will be placed on their 2016 cap.
Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported the news.
Butler was due a $4.65 million base salary as part of the seven-year, $51.8 million deal he signed with San Diego in 2014. The 2010 third-round pick released a statement on his Twitter account thanking the franchise for a six-year run:
Donald Butler @DAButler56
https://t.co/ax2NAGL6uU3/3/2016, 6:26:26 PM
From a skills standpoint, the Chargers' decision to move on is understandable. Butler, 27, set a career low with 43 tackles in 2015. He started only nine games despite being fully healthy, as San Diego made the switch to rising star Denzel Perryman. The Miami product made 73 tackles and forced one fumble during his rookie campaign, and he is viewed alongside Manti Te'o as the future of the Chargers inside linebacking corps.
"He's a young guy who goes in there and is energetic and is out there looking to make plays, whether it be a big hit, some type of caused fumble," Butler said of Perryman in November, per of the San Diego Union-Tribune. "He's going to be great."
Financially, this is one big 'ol mess. Butler counted for $9.28 million on the Chargers' 2016 cap—a massive number for a presumed backup—but that pales in comparison to his dead money. By releasing Butler just two years into his massive deal, San Diego will eat an $18.69 million charge in 2016, per Spotrac. That dead-money number is based on the early bonuses paid to Butler, which are spread over the life of a contract.
Even if 2015 wasn't his best season, Butler shouldn't have any shortage of suitors on the open market. He's still young, has four otherwise solid seasons under his belt and has been nothing but a consummate teammate despite being replaced. Smart teams will try to target him while his market value is at its lowest.
Don't be surprised if he signs a one-year "prove it" deal with a team in hopes of landing a second big contract next offseason.