Chargers GM Joe Hortiz on trading No. 5 pick: ‘They have to make it attractive for us’


COSTA MESA, Calif. — With the draft only a week away, Los Angeles Chargers general manager Joe Hortiz held his pre-draft news conference Thursday at the team facility.

Hortiz discussed the possibility of trading down from the No. 5 pick, the wide receiver class and coach Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan connection.

Here are notes, quotes and takeaways.

1. Hortiz said he has already had “communication, conversations” with other teams about the potential of moving down from No. 5. But he said he has not received any sort of “concrete” offer involving specific picks.

“On draft day,” Hortiz added, “that’s when it will really pick up.”

Hortiz said he is “anticipating” various first-round scenarios, including four quarterbacks being selected in the first four picks. In that case, the Chargers would be in position to select who they see as the best non-quarterback in the draft. They would also be in position to trade the pick to a team that wants to draft its top-graded non-QB.

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“If four quarterbacks go, we believe strongly that we have the first pick of the draft,” Hortiz said, echoing what Harbaugh said at the league meetings in March. “So what are teams willing to give us?”

The Chargers will have leverage regardless. They could maximize their leverage if four quarterbacks do not go in the first four picks. A top prospect could still be on the board at No. 5, say Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy. Teams trading up for quarterbacks specifically tend to pay a tax.

In any trade-down scenario, the big question is this: What is an acceptable return for Hortiz and Harbaugh?

Hortiz said the Chargers will have a benchmark for what they are looking for in a trade return package. He did not provide specifics. But he was asked more generally: If the Chargers trade down, what would be the hypothetical reasoning?

“That we’ve gotten a nice result in picks and value,” Hortiz said. “That’s going to be the reason. Because there’s really good players, great players that we’re going to be staring at. And so if we’re going to trade away from great players, there’s got to be a reason in terms of value for us.”

Hortiz said the Chargers will have a value for every pick and will make their value determinations based off that charting.

“They have to make it attractive for us to move away from those players,” Hortiz said. “The whole, ‘It’s a fair trade, it’s a wash’ — I don’t think that’s a trade that we’re interested in.”

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Last year, the Arizona Cardinals traded up from No. 12 to No. 6 with the Detroit Lions. Based on the trade value chart from Over the Cap, the Lions gained 89 points in value in the swap — a very slim margin. What Hortiz is saying is the Chargers would not accept this type of deal. If they are going to pass on an elite prospect at No. 5 in a trade down, the value gained must be significant.

“When you’re trading away from the No. 1 player in the draft,” Hortiz said, “I don’t know if it’s necessarily always going to be a fair trade.”

The other important component of a trade down is whether Hortiz and Harbaugh will value 2024 capital or 2025 capital. Interestingly, Hortiz said, “We want to create some more picks, as many picks as we can this year.” And that aligns with the stated goal from Hortiz and Harbaugh to build a winning roster every year, including in 2024.

At the same time, Hortiz admitted that “you do look forward, too, and if you get a chance to get a high-round pick next year, sometimes that creates more value.”

When asked what the rationale would be for prioritizing picks in 2024, Hortiz said, “The more at-bats you get, the more chances you have for hits.”

2. If the Chargers stay at No. 5 and four quarterbacks go in the top four picks, they would have the chance to draft either Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr. or LSU’s Malik Nabers, the top two receivers in rankings from The Athletic’s draft expert Dane Brugler. Harrison is Brugler’s No. 2 overall player. Nabers is No. 3.

The Chargers moved on from their top two receivers, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, earlier this offseason. As such, they have a glaring need at receiver. The value makes sense. The roster fit makes sense. But Hortiz and Harbaugh have both talked about their desire to build through the trenches and create a reliable running game.

Would the Chargers take a receiver at No. 5?

Hortiz was asked how important the receiver position is to building a championship roster.

“I think it’s important. I do,” he said. “But I don’t place an increased importance on any position other than, obviously, the quarterback position.”

Hortiz also had this to say on the depth of this year’s receiver class: “I can promise you wide receiver is going to be a deep position in the draft every year. It’s just the way the game has evolved and changed.”

The Chargers are very thin at receiver, and it is a position they will have to address at some point between now and the start of training camp. Considering the depth at the position, they might feel like they can wait on taking a receiver until Day 2 — or later.

On multiple occasions, though, Hortiz mentioned the best-player-available approach he learned in Baltimore. If the Chargers stay at No. 5 and take an offensive lineman — like Notre Dame’s Joe Alt — over Harrison or Nabers, that would at the very least raise questions about whether Hortiz is truly bringing that approach to Los Angeles.

3. In the end, what happens on the trade front will dictate a lot. If the Chargers move back from No. 5, the logical move is targeting an offensive lineman. Brugler has seven offensive linemen in his top 20.

The Chargers do have offensive line pieces on the roster. They have a franchise left tackle in Rashawn Slater. Guard Zion Johnson has considerable untapped potential. Trey Pipkins has started 31 games at right tackle over the past two seasons and has shown stretches of starter-level play. Jamaree Salyer was functional at left tackle in 2022 while Slater was injured. Jordan McFadden displayed flashes in two starts at guard late last season, and the Chargers believe he could have center flexibility.

The cupboard is far from barren. As Hortiz said, “There’s a lot talent in there.”

Does he believe the Chargers still need to add a starting offensive lineman?

“I think we could go out and play football today,” Hortiz said. “I do believe that 100 percent. (But) the best players, you just take them. Because what you do is you create great depth and you create great competition, and then the best players play.”

4. The Chargers officially signed former Baltimore Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins on Thursday. Dobbins is coming back from a torn Achilles. Hortiz said Dobbins “should be” ready for training camp. He also said that the Dobbins signing is not likely to change their draft approach at running back: “You don’t want to turn away from a good player because you’ve signed someone.”

5. Cornerback is a big need entering this draft. In particular, the Chargers are lacking both top-end talent and depth at nickel. Ja’Sir Taylor is the only corner on the roster with substantial experience playing there. Derwin James Jr. can also play nickel, something he did periodically under the previous regime.

“His versatility is outstanding,” Hortiz said of James.

Will James’ potential role at nickel be more rotational or a full-time assignment?

“Derwin is a full-time football player,” Hortiz said. “He’s going to play where he helps us best.”

Cornerback Mike Sainristil played nickel in coordinator Jesse Minter’s defense last year at Michigan. He is an intriguing option on Day 2.

6. Speaking of Michigan, Harbaugh obviously has intimate knowledge of the prospects coming out of Ann Arbor in this year’s draft. Brugler has six Michigan prospects in his top 100, including Sainristil.

Hortiz was asked about the possibility that Harbaugh might have an affinity for the players he just got done coaching to a national championship.

“Sure, absolutely, and why wouldn’t you?” Hortiz said. “They’re national champs for a reason. They have a bunch of great players on that team. … Certainly, we know the players better than anyone, and that’s a major advantage for us.”

7. A couple of comments on two other positions of need.

Hortiz on inside linebacker: “That’s a position where we certainly need numbers.” The Chargers have only four inside linebackers on the roster: Denzel Perryman, Daiyan Henley, Troy Dye and Nick Niemann.

Hortiz on interior defensive line: “You can add either the two-gapper run-stuffer, and then if you get the chance to add a pass rusher, a guy that’s maybe more of the one-gap penetrator, that helps us, too. So I don’t think you pigeonhole yourself to a specific type of player.”

8. Slater is eligible for an extension. When asked if the Chargers have started any negotiations with Slater, Hortiz said, “Right now, the focus has been on the draft.” The Chargers have until May 2 to exercise Slater’s fifth-year option for 2025.

(Photo: Kirby Lee / USA Today)





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