GM Joe Hortiz says lack of roster flexibility forced Chargers to trade Keenan Allen

Chargers new general manager Joe Hortiz speaks at a media conference.

The move was easily the most jarring of Joe Hortiz’s short stretch so far as Chargers general manager.

Trading the most productive wide receiver in franchise history also was something else in the context of the team’s sorely needed roster rebuild:


When the Chargers and Keenan Allen failed to reach an agreement on a reworked contract last week, the six-time Pro Bowler was dealt to Chicago for a 2024 fourth-round pick.

“We kind of went down every path,” Hortiz said Thursday in his first public comments since the trade. “In the end, this is the one that fit us best and fit him best.”

Allen still could be a Charger today had he been willing to accept a 2024 pay cut or another option that would have afforded Hortiz the financial flexibility the rookie general manager considers vital to assembling a consistent contender.

Chargers defensive stars Joey Bosa (left) and Khalil Mack kneel on the goal line.

Veteran edge rushers Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack recently agreed to deals that cost them money this coming season in exchange for other future assurances. Both remain Chargers.

But the talks with Allen turned in another direction, leaving Hortiz little choice but to move a player coming off perhaps his finest season for the sake of constructing a more complete roster with greater depth and less bulk at the top.

The Chargers, facing significant salary-cap issues, entered the offseason knowing they had to find solutions relating to Allen, Bosa, Mack and wide receiver Mike Williams, who was released.

“The possibility existed of keeping three out of four if things went differently,” Hortiz explained. “But they didn’t go that way. So we had to make decisions, with the idea of not just this year but next year and the year after that.”

The financial wrangling has the Chargers with $35.3 million in cap space, according to That’s the fourth-most in the league, a short time after the Chargers were in the NFL’s poorest financial position.

The buffer gives Hortiz room to continue making moves, not just in the immediate future but stretching into the summer and even into the season, an option the Chargers didn’t often possess or exercise under their previous regime.

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Horitz said the importance of roster flexibility is something he learned working under Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta in Baltimore, where he spent more than a quarter century.

“That is a goal of mine and will always be a goal of mine,” Hortiz said. “I don’t want to ever be in a situation like we were in this year, where you’re having to make hard decisions. I understand why it was done. And they knew the hard decisions were coming before I got here. It was just the role I stepped into and [I] made the decisions.”

Last offseason under the previous leadership of general manager Tom Telesco and head coach Brandon Staley, the Chargers restructured the contracts of Allen, Bosa, Mack and Williams.

The moves allowed the team to retain some of its top talent but also led to the cap headaches Hortiz inherited. He and new coach Jim Harbaugh hope to establish a kind of success that’s more sustainable.

“It’s fun to go all-in one year…” Hortiz said. “I’d like to be all-in every year.”

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Perhaps under more ideal conditions, the Chargers would have made their cap-freeing moves sooner, giving Hortiz and Harbaugh the opportunity to shop earlier in free agency when the best players were available.

But, Hortiz explained, the timing was impacted because the rest of the NFL’s teams — as well as the players involved — were waiting to see what the Chargers would do.

He said conversations with Allen, Bosa, Mack and Williams predated the combine at the end of February and continued as the free agency negotiating period arrived last week.

“You’re not just sitting there hoping something falls in your lap,” Hortiz said. “You have to work it.”

And working it, in this case, meant parting with Justin Herbert’s No. 1 target, Hortiz making sure to note that the Chargers would continue to add at the receiver position, specifically mentioning the depth in the upcoming draft.

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Hortiz said he had spoken with Herbert and indicated the quarterback was OK with whatever decisions were made. He also said Harbaugh talked with Herbert following the Allen deal, calling their interaction “a good conversation.”

“Listen, it’s my job to build a team that Justin can win with,” Hortiz said. “You do that on both sides of the ball and at all positions, not just wideout.”

The Chargers’ newfound roster flexibility should allow for a more aggressive approach in regards to in-season trades, an approach Telesco never took.

Hortiz said making deals around the deadline is “something I believe in. If you have a chance to trade for a good player mid-season … I think you have to give yourself the flexibility to do that.”

He also suggested depth — a glaring issue for the Chargers in recent years — will remain a priority.

“It’s great to have talented starters,” Hortiz said. “But it’s better to have a lot of good players behind them. As you know, football players get hurt. We’ve seen that with a number of the players here.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.