New Chargers GM Joe Hortiz outlines his vision: ‘Build a winner every year’


COSTA MESA, Calif. — The Los Angeles Chargers introduced new general manager Joe Hortiz at a news conference Tuesday inside their team facility in Orange County.

New head coach Jim Harbaugh, who the Chargers introduced last week, was in attendance. He sat in the front row for the first couple of questions. President of football operations John Spanos delivered opening remarks. Owner Dean Spanos observed from the crowd.

Hortiz discussed his 26 years with the Baltimore Ravens, his team-building philosophy, the Chargers’ salary cap situation, finalizing the coaching staff and more.

Here are my takeaways.

The salary cap approach

In his first offseason on the job, Hortiz must navigate a relatively challenging cap situation with the Chargers. As it stands, edge rushers Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack and receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are projected to account for close to 60 percent of the Chargers’ 2024 cap, according to data from Over the Cap. The Chargers are effectively $55.4 million over the 2024 projected cap when accounting for space needed for the draft class and reaching the roster minimum.

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How Hortiz maneuvers over the coming months will hinge largely on the timeline he and Harbaugh want to be on. In perhaps the most inspired moment of the news conference, Hortiz responded to a question on how willing he would be to tear down the roster if that was the best decision for cultivating sustainable winning in 2025 and beyond. A tear-down scenario would likely mean moving on from a majority of those four pricey veterans.

“Our goal is to build a winner every year,” Hortiz said. “We want to compete, to win a championship every year. OK? That’s going to be starting now. That’s not going to be, let’s gut it and start over. … What balance of players gives us the best opportunity to go out there and compete this year? I know what we’re trying to be, all right? We know what we’re trying to be, all right? And we’re gunning. We’re going that direction. We’re not mailing in a season. No way. We’re going to try to win this year. But you make the right decisions and the best decisions that gives us flexibility this year and going forward.”

The Chargers will need to make tough decisions. It is hard to see a path in which they can keep all four of these players and create the type of “flexibility” Hortiz mentions. However, if the goal is truly to be as competitive as possible in 2024, then the Chargers have options as far as using cap mechanisms to hold onto maybe three of these four players. Like void years or extensions, as we touched on last week.

Ed McGuire is remaining in his role as executive vice president of football administration and player finance. McGuire has been the Chargers’ primary salary cap manager for over a decade. As Hortiz said Tuesday, “Ed is a wizard. I know that. His reputation preceded him with me walking in the building. So I’ll rely heavily on him with that.”

It is worth mentioning that Harbaugh has specifically mentioned Allen multiple times since being hired by the Chargers — first during an interview on CBS, and again during his introductory news conference last week.

“Certainly there’s some work to do,” Hortiz said. “But it’s not unattainable.”

An emphasis on comp picks

Hortiz made it four words into an answer on his overall team-building philosophy before he brought up a notable strategy. “I’m a big fan of comp picks,” he said.

This will be a change from the previous regime. For the uninitiated, comp picks — short for compensatory picks — are awarded to teams each year based on how much value they lose in free agency and can fall in any round between 3 and 7. Successful front offices have typically been able to utilize the comp pick system to acquire young talent and build depth. Under previous general manager Tom Telesco, the Chargers did not take advantage of this strategy as much as other organizations.

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Let’s compare the Ravens and Chargers over Telesco’s tenure. Comp picks are awarded based on the value lost in the previous offseason. So 2024 comp picks will be based on the 2023 free agency period. For a player to factor into a comp pick formula, they must check off a few criteria, per the NFL CBA:

1. They must be in the top 35 percent of all league players (i.e. they must sign for a certain amount of money).

2. They must have completed the contract with the previous team. Players who were cut by their previous team do not factor into the formula.

3. They have to sign during the designated free agency window, which is the start of the new league year until the Monday following the draft for that year. Players who sign after that window, like say during June, do not factor in the formula.

Telesco’s first season was 2013. So the first draft in which he was eligible to acquire comp picks was 2014. His 2023 free agency window will be used to calculate the Chargers’ 2024 comp picks, which have not yet been announced by the NFL.

From 2014 to 2023, the Chargers were awarded seven total comp picks, according to Over the Cap, and are projected to receive one this year. Only one of those picks was in the third or fourth rounds. That was when Philip Rivers left. They used that pick to draft tight end Tre’ McKitty, who is no longer on the roster. Only two of those picks were in rounds 3 through 5.

From 2014 to 2023, the Ravens were awarded 22 total comp picks, according to Over the Cap, and are projected to receive one more this year. Of those, 12 were in the third or fourth rounds and 15 were in rounds 3 through 5. Their one projected pick this year, according to Over the Cap, is in the fourth round.

“Let’s create that chain,” Hortiz said Tuesday. “Let’s create that cycle of comp picks. How do you do that? You gain as many picks as you can early, and then you develop, draft, develop, and then make smart decisions on who you re-sign. Obviously you want to extend your core players. And then there’s some players we’re not going to be able to because of the cap. But you want to create that cycle of comp picks, and you’ve got to manage your signings in free agency to do that. … You do those summer signings, the cap casualties, things to do to protect comp picks.”

Acquiring more comp picks is one way an organization can build depth, something that was lacking at times during the Telesco era. It is quite clearly an important part of Hortiz’s philosophy, a lesson he learned over 26 years working for Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore.

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Joe Hortiz, right, with owner Dean Spanos and coach Jim Harbaugh, wants to see the Chargers take advantage of the comp pick formula. (Kirby Lee / USA Today)

Notes

• Hortiz echoed Harbaugh’s comments from last week and said the “main priority” for the organization is finalizing the coaching staff. Hortiz added that he and Harbaugh have been “working nonstop” to complete that important task. Shortly after the news conference, the Chargers announced the hiring of Jesse Minter as their defensive coordinator. Minter spent the last two seasons as Harbaugh’s defensive coordinator at Michigan and also coached with the Ravens from 2017 to 2020.

The Chargers are also expected to hire Greg Roman as offensive coordinator, a league source confirmed to The Athletic’s Jeff Howe. The Chargers have not formally announced that hire yet, but expect some additional announcements in the coming days. Roman served as Harbaugh’s offensive coordinator during his four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and most recently was John Harbaugh’s offensive coordinator with the Ravens from 2019 to 2022.

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• The Ravens have been at the forefront of the analytics revolution in football, and Hortiz said he is planning to bring that same philosophy to the Chargers. “It’s valuable,” Hortiz said of applying data to decision-making. “I’ve seen the output and I’ve seen how it helps us in Baltimore, and we’re going to try to build that here.”

Hortiz added that he has already been in contact with members of the Chargers’ existing analytics staff, which was built out during previous coach Brandon Staley’s tenure. That group includes director of football research and analytics Aditya Krishnan and research analyst Alex Stern. As we reported last week, the Chargers are also expected to hire Ravens player evaluation and analytics manager Corey Krawiec.

• Hortiz’s pre-existing relationship with the entire Harbaugh family made him an attractive candidate for the Chargers. Hortiz worked alongside John Harbaugh, Jim’s brother, for 16 seasons in Baltimore. Interestingly, Hortiz revealed he actually met Jim before John. Jim Harbaugh was the Ravens’ starting quarterback in 1998, which was Hortiz’s first season with the organization. Hortiz told a funny story about Harbaugh inviting him to play racquetball that season.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God. This is cool,’” Hortiz recalled. “I’m 22 years old. I’m a kid, right? It’s the coolest thing in the world. I’m getting ready to go play with a starting NFL quarterback and his backup. I’m going to show them I’m an athlete. I’m gonna show them I can hang. And I swear to you, I’m so blessed to be here today that I got out of that room. I was getting thrown around. I’m getting ready to hit a ball off the wall, Jim comes in and just chucks me into the middle of the court.”

• Hortiz said that most — and potentially all — of the additions and changes to the scouting and personnel departments will happen after the draft. “Our scouts here have done a great job through my transition here, and I know a good number of them,” Hortiz said. “I’m going to evaluate our entire scouting staff. There are people that I’d like to bring in — and as soon as I can get them in, I’ll get them in here — that will help me impart my vision on how we want to run our personnel department. But I certainly know there’s talented people already in this organization, and I’m going to be able to evaluate them through the draft process, through the free agency process and make decisions as needed.”

(Top photo: Joe Reedy / Associated Press)





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