3 moves the Chargers need to make to set Jim Harbaugh up right

The Los Angeles Chargers landed Michigan's Jim Harbaugh as their next head coach, but there is still plenty of work to do during the upcoming 2024 NFL offseason.

Rose Bowl Game - Alabama v Michigan
Rose Bowl Game - Alabama v Michigan / Ryan Kang/GettyImages

The Los Angeles Chargers had an electrifying start to their offseason, landing the most coveted candidate of the coaching carousel. It's no shock that the arrival of former Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh has stirred optimism, but the Bolts have a lot of work ahead of them.

Quarterback Justin Herbert has been one of the best young talents in the league, but the snake-bitten Chargers have failed to become legitimate contenders in a tough AFC West division. Herbert has the most passing yards (17,223) through four seasons in NFL history, but also has a losing record through those four seasons (30-32). Harbaugh has a history of turning organizations around for the better, but he'll have his work cut out for him.

After a disappointing 5-12 campaign during the 2023 NFL season, the Chargers' franchise has more questions than answers. Herbert will be the quarterback, left tackle Rashawn Slater will protect his blindside and receiver Joshua Palmer will catch his passes. Beyond that, everything is up in the air.

Here are three things the Chargers need to focus on during this offseason.

1. Finalize general manager and coaching staff hires

While hiring Harbaugh was a great start, the Chargers need to fill out their leadership positions after parting ways with much of its current staff.

The Bolts are currently searching for their next general manager. Baltimore Ravens director of player personnel Joe Hortiz was recently brought in for a second interview. Horitz was the director of college scouting when the Ravens drafted Lamar Jackson, Orlando Brown and Mark Andrews in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore's short stint in Los Angeles is over after injuries derailed a once-promising offense. The Philadelphia Eagles are hiring Moore as their offensive coordinator, according to Ian Rapoport. With Moore heading to Philadelphia, Eagles' senior offensive assistant Marcus Brady could be headed to Los Angeles. The Chargers requested to interview Brady for their offensive coordinator vacancy. Brady began his NFL journey as an assistant quarterbacks coach with the Indianapolis Colts in 2018, where he helped Andrew Luck during one of the best seasons of his career.

Harbaugh would love to have another Raven join him in Los Angeles — his former Michigan defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald led the Ravens defense to a record-setting season in 2023. While acquiring Macdonald is unlikely, the Chargers could bring in Jesse Minter, who succeeded Macdonald as Michigan's defensive coordinator. With Minter, the Wolverines defense allowed a nation-best 10.4 points per game.

2. Fix salary cap issues by moving on from aging stars

The Chargers seem poised for a transitional year during the 2024 NFL season. The team's upcoming free agents include key starters such as running back Austin Ekeler, tight end Gerald Everett and linebacker Kenneth Murray. Center Corey Linsley may be forced to retire due to a medical condition, while aging stars like edge rusher Khalil Mack and wide receiver Keenan Allen have significantly high cap numbers. Harbaugh will have to decide if he wants to keep them on restructured contracts or find younger talent to fill those key positions. Moving on may be the best option for the Chargers, considering former general manager Tom Telesco left the team in a dire salary cap situation.

The Chargers are currently $45 million over the projected salary cap, which makes all of their roster concerns even more challenging to figure out. Mack has a team-high $38 million cap number. Three other star players — Joey Bosa, Mike Williams, and Allen — have cap numbers over $30 million.

Restructured contracts for Bosa, Williams and Derwin James would be ideal. Moving on from Ekeler, Mack, and Allen may be tough but necessary decisions. The Chargers don't have to look far to see what happens when salary cap issues force a team to strip its roster for parts: the Los Angeles Rams entered the 2023 NFL season with unknown players throughout their roster. The Rams, however, at least had a Lombardi Trophy to show for it.

3. Make the most of Harbaugh's college experience during the NFL Draft

One of the benefits of hiring a college coach is that they are usually more familiar with upcoming NFL Draft prospects. After USC head coach Pete Carroll was hired by the Seattle Seahawks, he infused the roster with star players through the draft. From 2010 to 2012, general manager John Schneider and Carroll acquired players such as safety Earl Thomas, safety Kam Chancellor, cornerback Richard Sherman, outside linebacker Bruce Irvin, middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and quarterback Russell Wilson.

Harbaugh will need to do something similar with the Chargers if he wants to get his hands on a Lombardi Trophy. Nothing would help turn the franchise around like hitting on draft picks, especially with the salary cap in poor condition. One easy place Harbaugh could start? Drafting Michigan running back Blake Corum. Harbaugh is already familiar with the Michigan star, and he could help Harbaugh instill his culture in the locker room. Corum, who topped 1,000 rushing yards in each of the past two seasons, would help minimize the impact of losing Ekeler.

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