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Chargers Group Chat: What's In Store for 2024?

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The Chargers Group Chat is back, and plenty has happened since we last conveyed.

The Bolts are currently searching for a new head coach and general manager. And they also have the No. 5 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.

In other words, there was plenty to discuss when we got a few of the Chargers beat writers together.

Here's what Daniel Popper (The Athletic), Jeff Miller (Los Angeles Times), Joe Reedy (Associated Press) and Eric Smith (Chargers.com) had to say:

Sum up the Chargers 2023 season.

Popper: This Chargers season was defined by missed expectations. The organization made several cap-related moves last offseason to give this version of the roster one more chance at a playoff run. The Chargers had real belief that they would be legitimate contenders. Instead, they lost eight of their final nine games, fired their head coach and general manager and have the fifth overall pick in the draft. Pretty much the exact opposite of contending. The Chargers should not have finished 5-12 given the talent on the roster. A lot of that was rooted in how many close losses the Chargers had, especially early in the season. I think offensive coordinator Kellen Moore framed it best last week when he was asked what he would take away from 2023: "It's just a good example of just how small the margins are in this league." The Chargers lost seven games by three points or less. If they get a few more breaks — like Khalil Mack recovering his sack fumble late in the loss to the Packers — we might be having a very different discussion right now.

Miller: I mean, a 5-12 finish that featured significant injuries to Justin Herbert, Keenan Allen, Joey Bosa, Mike Williams, Austin Ekeler and Corey Linsley; the firing of the head coach and general manager; the trading of the highest-paid cornerback; the release of a team captain; the underwhelming achievement of the first-round draft choice; a 63-7 deficit in one game; AND a loss to Blaine Gabbert! Come on, man.

Reedy: Everything that could go wrong did – injuries, 0-7 in games decided by three points or fewer, only two wins against a team's primary starting QB, some position groups taking a step back and then the team's performance on a national stage at Las Vegas.

Smith: Disappointing. Back in August, I wasn't alone in thinking the Bolts could contend for an AFC West title (and possibly more) in 2023. And even if you were more on the pessimistic side, nobody envisioned a 12-loss season. The Bolts struggled out of the gate and simply never found their footing as a team, which is why we're covering a head coach and general manager search in mid-January.

Whose on-field performance will you remember from this season?

Popper: Mack. He was the best player on the Chargers this season. He was the most consistent player on the Chargers this season. Quite frankly, it was one of the best all-around seasons I have seen from any player at any position in my time covering the league. Everyone will point to the 17 sacks. But Mack's impact stretched far beyond that. He was among the best run defenders in all of football this season. Mack was truly a pleasure to watch on tape every week, and there were not many Chargers players you could say that about this season.

Miller: Khalil Mack is the obvious answer, so I'll leave that to someone else. Keenan Allen is the second most-obvious choice. Can the performance of a kicker be memorable on a last-place team? Sure, that happened, too. But - going WAY outside the box - I'll say Gerald Everett. I'm sure fans were frustrated at times with Everett's overall play, but there's no questioning how hard he competed when he had the ball in his hands. I've never covered anyone who seemed to more consistently draw violent and car-crash-quality contact than Everett. Even on a team going nowhere, he barreled his way for every inch he gained.

Reedy: Khalil Mack's six sacks against the Raiders in Week 4, which served as the launch point to his 17-sack season. Mack seemed to be the only star player who avoided an injury and everyone saw it in his play.

Smith: Mack is the obvious choice and deserves all the kudos given to him above. I'm going to take this a different direction, however, and go with Corey Linsley. The Bolts center played in just three games before it was revealed he had a non-emergent heart issue. Linsley said Monday that he's "99 percent" sure he will retire this offseason. The center position is often goes unnoticed, but Linsley was among the best of the best in his era and was an exceptional leader for the Chargers. He'll be missed in the locker room and on the field.

Check out the best shots from the Chargers Week 18 game against the Kansas City Chiefs at SoFi Stadium

What's the top trait the Bolts new head coach needs to have?

Popper: I would say "leadership," but that is kind of a nebulous concept. Leadership can come in different shapes and sizes. So will be more specific: I think the Chargers need a head coach who prioritizes accountability above all else — and who applies the same level of accountability to all members of the team, regardless of position or role or contract or reputation or anything else.

Miller: Leadership. That's clearly the answer here. The irony of all these ongoing searches is that being a great coordinator has little, if anything, to do with being a great head coach. The assignments are completely different. A head coach has to be the CEO who pulls it all together and keeps the operation moving forward on the straightest line possible. You're not coaching football as much as you're leading the group. Mike Tomlin - no losing seasons in 17 years - is a great leader. I think everyone would agree with that. But, one thing to remember here: Even with all those wins, Tomlin has only one Super Bowl title, and it came 16 YEARS AGO. This is a tough league.

Reedy: Head coaching experience. The organization's track record with first-time coaches (no head coaching experience in college or the NFL) is not good. The only runs of success since the Spanos family has owned the team have been with Bobby Ross, Marty Schottenheimer and Norv Turner.

Smith: I'm going to go down a similar path that Popper said. The word "leadership" will certainly be brought up, but perhaps the Bolts next head coach needs to be a CEO-type who instills a strong culture and level of respect in the organization.

Give a way-too-early prediction on what the Bolts will do with the No. 5 pick.

Popper: The Chargers need a pretty dramatic pivot in terms of how they build their receiver room. Team speed at that position needs to be a driving force, and so I would look for a game-breaking receiver at No. 5. Malik Nabers out of LSU, for example. I think back to how Ja'Marr Chase changed the entire complexion of the Bengals offense when Cincinnati drafted him fifth overall in the 2021 draft.

Miller: Unpopular opinion warning! Trade back and acquire more draft capital. The Chargers are going to need an influx of young - read: less costly - talent and the surest way to do that is by maximizing the number of higher-end picks. This franchise has picked higher than fifth only once since 2004, and that was Joey Bosa at No. 3 in '16. So it's hard to pass up the opportunity to take a premium talent in the top five. But the roster and salary cap situations awaiting the next GM and coach make trading back in 2024 very possible.

Reedy: With the number of needs on the team and salary cap issues, if there is a team with a QB need that can offer multiple picks and the drop in the first round isn't major, I would trade.

Smith: An elite wide receiver makes sense at No. 5, as does an offensive tackle or tight end. But if a team five to 10 spots below the Bolts wants to get their quarterback of the future, the Chargers could get a haul and still select a top-tier player in the top half of the first round. If the first four picks of the draft end up being quarterbacks, however, the Bolts would then have their pick of the top non-QB in the entire draft.

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