Jim Harbaugh on Chargers trading Keenan Allen, value of the No. 5 pick and more


ORLANDO, Fla. — The NFL owners’ meetings are underway, and Los Angeles Chargers coach Jim Harbaugh took questions Monday morning at the coaches’ breakfast.

They were Harbaugh’s first public comments since the NFL combine in late February. In the month since, Harbaugh and general manager Joe Hortiz have started to remold the roster. The Chargers cut receiver Mike Williams and traded receiver Keenan Allen to the Chicago Bears earlier this month. They cut linebacker Eric Kendricks. They retained edge rushers Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa on restructured contracts. They re-signed two internal free agents in quarterback Easton Stick and safety Alohi Gilman, and they also signed eight external free agents.

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Harbaugh addressed these early-stage moves. He also talked about the approach to the No. 5 pick, Justin Herbert, the offensive line and, yes, his time living in an RV while his family transitioned from Michigan to Southern California.

Here is everything you need to know.

1. The Chargers dealt Allen to the Bears for a fourth-round pick on March 14. They drafted Allen in the third round in 2013. He will now play in a different NFL uniform for the first time as he enters his age-32 season.

Harbaugh said he wanted to keep Allen. But he attributed the trade to the “business part of the NFL.” The Chargers saved $23.1 million by trading Allen.

“Everybody does what’s best for them,” Harbaugh said. “It’s just very transparent. I’ve asked where you love the NFL. It’s the business part of it, and everybody does what’s in their best interests. And Keenan, he made $23 million a year, and (now he will) play in Chicago. Who’s got it better? Happy for Keenan.”

When asked if he had a conversation with Allen either before or after the trade, Harbaugh said, “You assume you are when you’re talking to the representative.” Harbaugh said Hortiz and Allen’s agent, Joby Branion, “were having a lot of conversations.”

“Heck of a deal for him,” Harbaugh said of Allen.

Herbert and Allen, of course, were prolific in their four seasons together. Allen finished with at least 100 catches in three of those four seasons, including a franchise-record 108 receptions in 2023. Harbaugh said he has been talking to Herbert “every chance” he gets since taking the job. On Allen specifically, Harbaugh said he and Herbert had “the same conversation that we’re having right now.”

“The NFL has a business side to it, and guys, they do what’s best for them,” Harbaugh said. “You do what’s best for your family, you do what’s best for yourself professionally and personally, and everybody understands that.”

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Jim Harbaugh said the “business part of the NFL” led to the Chargers trading Keenan Allen to the Bears. (Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press)

2. The Chargers moved on from their top two receivers in Allen and Williams. They have pieces on the roster in fourth-year receiver Joshua Palmer and 2023 first-round pick Quentin Johnston. They also have 2023 fourth-round pick Derius Davis, who was a second-team All-Pro as a rookie at punt returner.

Still, they are lacking both talent and depth in that room. There are remaining options in free agency, like former Cincinnati Bengals receiver Tyler Boyd. The Chargers will also potentially have a shot at a premiere receiving prospect with their first-round pick at No. 5.

Harbaugh on the plan at receiver moving forward: “I’m really excited about Quentin, his opportunity. Josh Palmer, Derius. And then it’s not even April yet. We got the draft coming, and free agency, too. Free agency lasts before the draft, after the draft. Right now, just couldn’t be more excited about getting the players in the building.”

Players will be back at the Orange County facility April 2 for the start of Phase 1 of the offseason program.

3. Allen and Williams are gone. Mack and Bosa are back. Both edge rushers took pay cuts to remain with the team. The edge rusher group is shaping up as perhaps the most talented group on the roster. Tuli Tuipulotu, a 2023 second-round pick, is coming off a promising rookie season. He showed he is capable of taking on a starting role in the league with how he played last season. With Bosa and Mack both returning, Tuipulotu will remain in that third edge rusher role.

The three rushers were a dominant force on the snaps they played together in 2023. Those were limited, though, as Bosa only started five games because of injuries. He strained his hamstring in Week 1. He broke his toe in Week 3. And he suffered a season-ending foot sprain in a loss at the Green Bay Packers in Week 11. Bosa had rounded into form after the early-season injuries, playing his best football of the season from Weeks 7 to 10. But then came the foot sprain.

A month ago, defensive coordinator Jesse Minter said he was hopeful he would be coaching all three edge rushers. At that time, the Chargers were still navigating a precarious cap situation, and Mack and Bosa had the two highest cap hits on the team. Now Minter has gotten his wish.

“Thrilled to be coaching Khalil Mack,” Harbaugh said. “You watch what Khalil did, the kind of year he had, playing every game. Joey was having a better year than Khalil, through that stretch until he got hurt. I tell you guys, really thrilled (for) Jesse Minter and what Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa and Tuli are going to be in this system. Really excited about that. Can’t wait to see that come to life, starting April 2.”

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4. The Chargers in an enviable spot in the first round. If they stay put, they will have a chance to draft a potential difference-maker. They also could have opportunities to trade back — with a team moving up for a quarterback, or a team moving up for one of the top receivers — and compile more draft capital for 2024 and/or beyond.

Harbaugh said the Chargers will have “some real possibilities” at that spot.

“We’ll see how it plays out,” Harbaugh said. “There’s going to be a great player at five. In some ways, there’s talk of four quarterbacks going in the first four picks, where if that happens, then that pick really becomes like the No. 1 pick in the draft. If four quarterbacks go in the first four picks, that’s not like the fifth pick anymore. That’s like the No. 1 pick of the draft for teams that have a great quarterback already.”

One of those four quarterbacks could be Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy, who Harbaugh coached in the Wolverines’ national championship run in 2023. Harbaugh reiterated that he believes McCarthy is “the best quarterback in the draft.”

Trading down would give the Chargers more chances to build depth. If four quarterbacks go in the first four picks, the Chargers could take what they view as the best position player in the draft. If a top quarterback is still available at five, then the Chargers would be an attractive trade candidate for a team that needs to fill that position, like the Minnesota Vikings, who moved on from starter Kirk Cousins this offseason. The Vikings traded for an additional first-round pick, No. 23, earlier this month.

“If it comes around to us and we’re on the clock at No. 5, we know we got a great player that’s going to be there for us,” Harbaugh said. “I haven’t determined who that is going to be, but it’s an exciting pick.”

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As a team already with a quarterback in Justin Herbert, the Chargers are well positioned with the No. 5 pick in the draft. (Gary A. Vasquez / USA Today)

5. Harbaugh said he has watched “all” of Herbert’s throws on tape over the past couple of months.

On what excites him most on coaching Herbert: “Just how much it’s about the team and about winning. How much he puts into it, how much he cares about it. There’s that part of him that he wants it to be about the team. Just being able to make that step to winning.

“There’s a piece, too, where it’s just like, ‘Hey, am I man enough to coach this guy?’”

Harbaugh extended that thought process to facing off against the Super Bowl-champion Kansas City Chiefs twice a season.

“Are you man enough to go be in the division with the Chiefs and Andy Reid, and Sean Payton, and the Raiders?” Harbaugh said. “Antonio Pierce, great guy, great coach. Great players, Patrick Mahomes, world champions. All that. Like, yeah, let’s step up. Let’s see. I want that challenge, and I know Justin Herbert wants that challenge. So it’s all those feelings. It’s all those emotions.”

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6. The Chargers signed Bradley Bozeman in free agency. Bozeman is in line to start at center. Corey Linsley, the Chargers’ starting center for the past three seasons, is expected to retire this offseason because of a heart-related medical issue. For now, Bozeman is the lone new starter on the offensive line. Left tackle Rashawn Slater, left guard Zion Johnson, right guard Jamaree Salyer and right tackle Trey Pipkins III are all returning. Same with reserve lineman Jordan McFadden, who started the final two games of 2023 while Johnson was out with an injury.

At his introductory news conference in February, Harbaugh spoke of two elements when discussing his vision for the offense: protecting the quarterback and improving the running game. The offensive line will be paramount in bringing that vision to life.

Harbaugh’s assessment of the group: “Rashawn, really good, Excited about Zion. Bradley Bozeman, signed him. Salyer. Pipkins. I really like McFadden, too. Just can’t wait to get in the room, get in the weight room, get on the field and coach guys and be around him and build that group.”

Salyer has played guard and tackle for the Chargers. Harbaugh said it’s still “to be determined” where he sees Salyer fitting. “He’s versatile,” he added. “You love guys that are versatile like that.”

On McFadden, Harbaugh said the 2023 fifth-round pick could fit “as a possible center.”

“He’s got versatility. He’s got the athleticism. He’s got the feet. He’s got the intelligence and intangibles, I’ve been told,” Harbaugh said. “So there’s all kinds of possibilities that you think about and anticipate. But, hey, we all got to get together here in the same room, and, au naturel, we’ll go about it.”

7. Harbaugh confirmed has been living in an RV — a Thor Motor Coach — for the past two months. At his introductory news conference in February, Harbaugh said he was planning on doing so, channeling the 1970s television character Jim Rockford. He apparently followed up on that idea, and Harbaugh said Monday that he has been living “100 feet” from offensive coordinator Greg Roman.

“He’s got a better RV,” Harbaugh said of Roman. “G-Rome’s got a really, really good RV.”

So Roman has it better than Harbaugh?

“Well, I’m not as fancy,” Harbaugh said. “My Thor Motor Coach, it hits me just right. It’s been awesome. It’s been really good. I got to go back there, and there’s just some good time to think. It’s been great. All that’s coming to an end, happily coming to an end because my family is coming to California. They’re all here on this trip, and we’re all going to California together. So we’ll be moving into our rental house. That’s even better to me.”

(Top photo: Nathan Ray Seebeck / USA Today)





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