The 2023 NFL season still has two more weeks but for LA Chargers fans, the season has essentially been over for three. After losing the game and Justin Herbert for the rest of the season in Week 14 against the Denver Broncos, fans started to look ahead to the future of the team.
One huge question was answered as the Chargers fired Brandon Staley following Week 15's embarrassment. Now, the biggest storyline surrounding the Bolts is whether or not Jim Harbaugh is going to make the jump to the NFL to coach the Chargers.
The next-biggest storyline is the upcoming 2024 NFL Draft. The right foundation is there in Los Angeles; if the team can hire the right coach and hit a home run in the 2024 NFL Draft then it absolutely can contend next season. This has many fans jumping over to various mock draft machines to predict what the Bolts will do.
Los Angeles currently has the sixth-overall pick in the draft with many fans and pundits alike projecting the team to draft an offensive tackle after watching Herbert get pressured this season. While that may make sense to many on paper, that is not the route the Chargers are going to take.
Why a first-round tackle is off the table for the Chargers:
There are multiple reasons why a first-round tackle simply doesn't make sense for the Chargers — at least in 2024. It is impossible to overlook several key factors that point the team in a different direction, regardless of how much Herbert was pressured this season.
First we have to look at the prospects that the team could take. Joe Alt and Olu Fashanu are the two tackles projected to go in the top 10. Both are left tackles and while either player could likely move to the right side, their true value is in being a franchise left tackle. The Chargers already have one of those (Rashawn Slater) and there is no chance the team is moving him to right tackle.
Let's talk about the team's current right tackle, Trey Pipkins. Pipkins has had an up-and-down 2023 season that has not built on his strong 2022 season. It is fair to say that the Chargers should look to upgrade from Pipkins, but fans have to consider the entire picture of Pipkins next season.
Pipkins just signed a three-year deal with the team and there is no way to get out of it. Per Over The Cap, Pipkins has an $8.75 million cap hit next season and if the team were to cut him, Pipkins would have a $9.25 million cap. A trade would cost even more money. Thus, Pipkins is a lock to be on the roster next season and the fact of the matter is that the Chargers are not going to pay $8.75 million for a swing tackle. It just isn't going to happen.
Plus, there are reasons to be optimistic about this Chargers offensive line in 2024. Yes, it has been bad at times, but a lot of the issues with the line have been coaching-based. The fundamental talent is still there for the Bolts, where the team really struggled was recognizing pressure packages and picking up free rushers.
That can be fixed with coaching. That is not to say that the Chargers will suddenly have a top offensive line next season but if the team can hire the right coaches and get a better center in place then this can still be an offensive line that is in the top half of the league. The foundational talent is there and four of the five linemen are young, so they should naturally improve with more reps and better coaching.
And finally, the cherry on top is the fact that the Chargers simply have bigger needs. Tight end is a huge need and Brock Bowers would solve a lot of problems. Heck, he would help solve the team's blocking issues as the tight end position has been barren in that department (and has been worse than Pipkins ever was).
Cornerback is a big need if the Chargers fall to the back-half of the top 10 and even wide receiver would be a better pick than tackle, although that feels like a second or third-round need. Regardless, tackle should not be in the cards for the Chargers in round one, so adjust your mock drafts accordingly.