Chargers, well over the salary cap, release longtime WR Mike Williams

Mike Williams spent the first seven years of his career in the league with the Chargers

Mike Williams of the Los Angeles Chargers was released in a salary cap move. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
Mike Williams of the Los Angeles Chargers was released in a salary cap move. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Chargers woke up Wednesday with a significant issue to solve.

The Chargers were the last NFL team to make moves to get under the salary cap. As of Wednesday morning, with the league year officially starting at 4 p.m. Eastern, the Chargers were $24.6 million over the cap according to Spotrac. Only the Cleveland Browns and New Orleans Saints were above the cap on Wednesday, at much more manageable figures of $3.5 million and $357,000 respectively.

There was going to have to be some startling moves by Jim Harbaugh's new team to get cap compliant.

So later on Wednesday, the Chargers released longtime wide receiver Mike Williams, the team announced. Williams has two 1,000-yard seasons but also played in just three games last season due to injury. Injuries have been a big part of Williams' NFL story.

In addition, Khalil Mack agreed to a restructured contract that will keep him with the Chargers and helped the team get under the cap, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Mack was another cut candidate if he didn't restructure.

Cutting Williams saved $20 million on the cap, but it also cost the Chargers one of their best offensive players. For those who think the salary cap is a myth, the Chargers likely disagree.

Chargers had huge cap numbers

The Chargers' problem was they had too many huge cap figures for a handful of stars.

When Wednesday started, the Chargers had four of the top five cap hits for non-quarterbacks in the entire NFL: Mack, Joey Bosa, Keenan Allen and Williams.

The bigger problem is the Chargers had nothing to show for those contracts. Since January of 2014, the Chargers' only playoff win is a wild-card round victory over the Baltimore Ravens at the end of the 2018 season. The biggest highlight since then is blowing a 27-point lead in the wild-card round and losing to the Jacksonville Jaguars. They haven't won a division title since 2009.

That's a lot of wasted talent and money.

The Chargers had underachieved for years with a roster many considered one of the best in the NFL. Even without much success to show for it, the bill came due on Wednesday.

Williams was the first to go. Cutting him created a $12.4 million dead cap hit. But the Chargers had to do something bold to start to dig out from their cap issues.