Why the Chargers Traded Keenan Allen – What's Next for Jim Harbaugh, Joe Hardys

Keenan Allen is headed to Chicago, and the Los Angeles Chargers are now firmly in the lead in their perilous salary-cap situation.

After months of speculation about the deals of the Chargers' big-four players — Kahlil Mack, Joey Bosa, Mike Williams and Allen — we have our answer, at least initially, on who's staying, who's going, and at what cost.

The Chargers cut Williams on Wednesday, freeing up $20 million in cap space. Mack and Bosa agreed to restructured contracts, according to league sources. Mack agreed ahead of the new league year on Wednesday. Bosa agreed to his Thursday before the roster-bonus deadline. As part of those restructurings, Mack took a $4.25 million pay cut and Bosa took a $7 million pay cut, according to NFL Network. Mack's realignment saves the Chargers $12.92 million in space, according to statistics from Over the Gap. According to an NFL Network report, Bosa's reinstatement will save the Chargers about $11 million in cap space.

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Then came Alan. The Chargers traded one of the best players in franchise history to the Chicago Bears for a fourth-round pick Thursday night. According to league sources, the Chargers approached Allen about taking a pay cut, which he declined. The structure of the proposed pay cut was similar to the adjustments Bosa and Mack had agreed to — reduce some salary before renegotiating the contract by turning a portion of the new gross salary into a signing bonus. That would have allowed the Chargers to use bonus cap in two years to clear cap space. A league source said the Chargers and Allen were unable to come to an agreement, and that's when trade talks escalated. The trade saves the Chargers an additional $23.1 million in cap space.

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Bosa and Mack, two edge rushers, return. Alan is gone. Williams is now on the open market.

Factoring in projected savings for Bosa, the Chargers are working with $30 million in effective cap space, which includes money needed to pay draft picks and reach the minimum 51-man roster. If we budget $8 million for offseason moves — a rough estimate for things like the practice squad and injury settlements — the Chargers work out to about $21.5 million in pure spending cap space.

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Which brings us to the big question: What's the plan for coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Joe Hardys?

Until the Allen trade, every move the Chargers made had a cohesiveness and purpose. The cap situation dictated that they move on from any of the big-four contracts. They made that move by releasing Williams, which allowed them to become cap-compliant by the new league year deadline. They return safety Alohi Gilman, who played well as a starter last season, along with Derwin James Jr. They agreed to terms on running back Gus Edwards and signed tight end Will Disley, two additions that helped football player Justin Herbert create a reliable rushing attack. .

Harbaugh and Hortiz have publicly stated their desire to win in 2024. Hortiz made it very clear in early February: “We want to compete to win a championship every year. And that's going to start now. By rebuilding Bosa and Mack, the Chargers have two very good players (when healthy) at a premium. Both will help new defensive coordinator Jesse Minter execute his plan in Los Angeles.” They provide weapons to work with him.

The Chargers seemingly avoided the entire tear. The San Francisco 49ers went 6-10 in 2011 before hiring Harbaugh as their head coach. Harbaugh went 13-3 in his first year in San Francisco and made the NFC Championship Game. He's had a quick turnaround in the NFL before, and based on the moves, it looked like he was going to try to do the same in Year 1 with the Chargers.

It all made sense. Until the Allen trade.

The move created a stir on several levels.

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Of course, there is an emotional aspect to it. Allan Chargers is a lifer. He said in January that he wanted to retire from the organization. Has more yards than any wide receiver in franchise history. He is a fan favourite. Now, like Junior Seau and LaDainian Tomlinson and Eric Weddle and Philip Rivers before him, Allen is set to finish his career in another uniform.

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It also has a roster planning feature. Why get rid of two receivers while keeping two edge rushers? Allen was one of four Chargers players Harbaugh mentioned at his introductory news conference Feb. 1. He's a very talented player. If the goal is to win in 2024, how does Allen playing in Chicago help the Chargers get there?

Keenan Allen had the best season of his career in 2023 despite missing four games due to injury. (Kevork Janchessian/Getty Images)

Allen is coming off the best season of his career: 108 catches for 1,243 yards and seven touchdowns (a franchise record) in 13 games. He sat out the final four games with a heel injury he suffered in Week 14 against the Denver Broncos — the same game Herbert suffered his season-ending broken toe. Allen was never a match for backup quarterback Easton Stick. The Chargers lost 63-21 to the Las Vegas Raiders in the first game Allen missed. Coach Brandon Staley and general manager Tom Delesco were fired the next day.

The day after the regular season ended, Allen discussed his injury. “There's no shot at the playoffs, so it's kind of a let's-don't-hurt thing,” he said. “Maybe played in a playoff-type game or something like that. Maybe struggled.”

The Chargers paid Harbaugh at the top of the coaching market to reset the culture. A parallel to that quote is something to consider.

The Chargers' financial position must also be considered. They pay Harbaugh. They have built a formidable staff of 29 assistant coaches, including executive director of player performance Ben Herbert, whom Harbaugh brought with him from Michigan. The cap is the equalizer for the teams. However, the cost of money is not equal. Each team operates on a different cash budget. Between the Bosa and Mack salary cuts and the Allen trade, the Chargers save nearly $35 million in cash.

Some of that money will surely be spent on building the depth of the roster. That process is already underway. Chargers Poona agreed to terms with Ford, his Agent confirmed at X. tight end Hayden Hurst said AthleticJoe Person visited the Chargers on Thursday Intention to sign. They reportedly signed former Minnesota Vikings linebacker Troy Dye, who played for special teams coordinator Ryan Ficken in Minnesota. They are also said to have re-signed the stick.

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More moves are on the horizon. They still need to sign a center. Bradley Bozeman, a 2018 draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens, was cut by the Carolina Panthers earlier this week. Hardys spent 26 years in the Ravens front office. Former Los Angeles Rams starting center Brian Allen is still available.

Now the Chargers have significant wiggle room to attack in the lower tiers of free agency. Depending on how Williams' market plays out, there's nothing stopping them from re-signing him.

as AthleticDiana Rusini reported last week that the Chargers were weighing the trade market for their veteran players, including Mack and Bosa, ahead of the new league year. They ultimately felt that a fourth-round pick was fair compensation for Allen. With Mack and Bosa returning, it's reasonable for the Chargers to assume both players hold more than the hypothetical offers they received.

The Chargers could have been more aggressive in the upper tiers of free agency if they had moved their cap forward earlier. The timing of all this will have to be explained by Hardys and Harbaugh when they speak to the media. However, with the number of holes on the roster, negotiating to create depth has been a sensible approach.

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A more precise plan should crystallize over the weekend and next week.

After firing Staley and Telesco in December, owner Dean Spanos said he was “reimagining” his process to “build and maintain a championship-caliber organization.”

The Chargers brought in Harbaugh and Hardys to do just that.

Trading Allen was a bold move. That's the opposite of how the Chargers have operated for more than a decade. But that was kind of the point, wasn't it?

It causes pain and anguish to the fan base.

Change is not always easy.

Change doesn't necessarily mean success.

That's the weight and responsibility Harbaugh and Hardys now carry after moving on from a franchise legend.

(Top image: Ryan Kang/Getty Images)

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