Trade down or stay put: What the Chargers should do with the 5th overall pick

Chargers could select a highly-coveted player with the 5th pick, or trade down to obtain value.
2023 NFL Draft - Rounds 2-3
2023 NFL Draft - Rounds 2-3 / David Eulitt/GettyImages

Naturally, the main topic among Chargers fans currently is the head coaching search. The Chargers have interviewed several candidates, including Jim Harbaugh. Nevertheless, they also hold a top-5 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, and it is not clear how they might use it.

Roster decisions must be made prior to deciding on the 5th pick, as iconic players could leave due to the Chargers being $45 million over the salary cap. In addition to Austin Ekeler, wide-receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, and defensive ends Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack, might not come back for 2024, per ESPN.

As a matter of fact, the Chargers would save $8.9 million with Corey Linsley likely retiring after a heart-related injury. This would reduce the salary cap deficit to approximately $36 million. That being said, they must cut at least two of the aforementioned players to be under the cap.Moreover, Allen, Williams, and Bosa, despite their talent, have been banged up the last two seasons. Chargers fans question their true value.

Although the simplest decision for Chargers fans would be getting rid of injury-riddled Bosa, he is the least likely to be traded or cut. He has the lowest salary cap of the four, and he would incur the greatest dead money. Trading Mack is my recommendation, despite his huge 2023 production. The Chargers would have to release Mack to keep one of Justin Herbert's favorite weapons: Keenan Allen or Mike Williams.

Keeping Allen or Williams is a hard decision, as both carry similar salary caps and are prime targets for Herbert. Allen is an excellent route-runner, while Williams is one of the best-contested catches receivers in the NFL. However, I would keep Keenan Allen for his year-to-year consistency. Mike has battled injuries the last two seasons and we don't know if he can regain his level after the ACL injury.

Among the options to replace Mack and Williams is the 2024 NFL Draft. Having lost the final five games, the Chargers got the fifth overall pick. It is an enviable situation for quarterback-searching teams. Therefore, the Chargers might listen to offers to trade down and receive more players. With this clarified, let's review the trade-down possibilities.

Chargers selecting a player with the fifth pick

With Herbert as the franchise QB, the Chargers are in an ideal situation to complement the roster with the 5th pick. There are several positions in which the Chargers lacked talent last season, and where they could use that selection. Those roles include cornerback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, linebacker, and center (after Linsley's retirement, though centers are generally drafted starting on Day 2).

Recent mock drafts have highlighted Malik Nabers (WR, LSU) and Brock Bowers (TE, Georgia) as the two most likely prospects to be taken fifth overall. Chargers experts have analyzed them both, as Marvin Harrison Jr. may no longer be available by then.

Other elite prospects that the Bolts could target to reinforce the most vulnerable positions are Dallas Turner (OLB, Alabama), Rome Odunze (WR, Washington), and Nate Wiggins (CB, Clemson), who stands out with his speed and coverage ability according to 247Sports. Michael Davis, had a disastrous season in both aspects.

The list of first-round candidates is wide and diverse in positions. But, could the Chargers put aside their 5th pick and decide to trade it down?

Chargers trading down with a QB-needy team

The Minnesota Vikings and the Denver Broncos could be interested in trading up for a franchise quarterback. Located in the 11th and 12th positions, respectively, both teams may not keep their veteran QBs. Kirk Cousins is now a free agent, and it goes without saying that Russell Wilson is not Sean Payton's preferred option, who would select a quarterback to mold in his own way.

It's a mystery what will happen with the Raiders and their 13th overall pick. Interim Head Coach Antonio Pierce's continuity– or lack thereof– could determine the starting quarterback for 2024.

Although attractive to select at the top of the draft, it is sometimes convenient to negotiate downwards to receive more draft picks both now and in the future, in addition to receiving current star players from the other team. It has not been common for the Chargers to trade down, since they never did so under former GM Tom Telesco. The new general manager could bring a fresh perspective.

A deal with the Raiders or Broncos would be more complicated because they are divisional foes. However, the Bolts may strike a deal with the Vikings if they are looking for a better QB prospect, mainly, Jayden Daniels. One option would be to get their first-round selection and additional picks.

The other option could be WR Justin Jefferson, who potentially could be looking to be traded if the Vikings don't extend him. Interestingly, Jefferson's cap hit in 2024 is almost $20 million, compared to Keenan Allen's $34 million and Mike Williams' $32 million. Moreover, the Chargers would get a younger receiver.

What the Chargers should do with the fifth pick:

The Chargers would be $7 million under the salary cap after Linsley's retirement, and Mack and Williams' exit. They would now be tasked with replacing Mack and Williams. Chargers' second-year outside linebacker, Tuli Tuipulotu, would be the ideal "in-house" replacement for Mack. Tuipulotu had an outstanding rookie season, so the franchise doesn't have to look elsewhere.

On the other hand, after Mike Williams' departure, the Chargers would be left with wide receivers Keenan Allen, Quentin Johnston, Joshua Palmer and Derius Davis. Additionally, Donald Parham would be the starting tight end, as Gerald Everett is now a free agent.

Even a Justin Jefferson trade would not make economic sense. Though Jefferson would have a lower salary than Williams, the Chargers would remain over the cap. On the other hand, if the Chargers trade down with any other team, they would not be able to recruit top-tier receivers.

Nabers and Bowers, and even Rome Odunze, would no longer be available. To maximize Justin Herbert's talent, the Chargers should use their 5th pick to replace any lost wide receivers, either Allen or Williams.

The debate now turns to selecting Malik Nabers (WR, LSU) or Brock Bowers (TE, Georgia) — undoubtedly the best WR and TE prospects that would be available in the 5th pick — who would fill a void on the Chargers roster. Malik Nabers, who stands out for his speed and route running, according to NFL Draft Buzz, was QB Jayden Daniels's main target. He is another wide receiver from LSU selected in the first round, joining Ja'Maar Chase and Justin Jefferson.

On the other hand, Brock Bowers was a fundamental piece in the back-to-back Georgia Bulldogs championships. He stands out for his ability to make plays after the catch as well as his talents as a blocker both in pass protection and run protection.

Though Bowers offers both tight end and wide receiver capabilities, the Chargers should take Nabers with the 5th pick. Not only does he rank above Bowers on the "Big Board" from Pro Football Focus, but he would be Keenan Allen's ideal successor, whose contract ends in 2025.

Both Allen and Nabers are excellent route runners, in addition to playing predominantly in the slot. Nabers would learn from Keenan in 2024, and he would also learn the Chargers' offensive system. Finally, if the Chargers wanted to go after free agents, there are better tight ends (e.g., Dalton Schultz, Hunter Henry, Mike Gesicki) than wide receivers available (Tee Higgins, Michael Pittman Jr., Mike Evans).

This would be the second consecutive time that the Chargers go with a wide receiver in the first round (Quentin Johnston). Malik Nabers has the speed the Chargers have lacked in recent years, and his college has produced great receivers lately.

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