Peers welcome Chargers coach Jim Harbaugh back to NFL

INDIANAPOLIS -- There was no sign of Chargers head coach Jim Harbaugh in and around Lucas Oil Stadium as the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine kicked off Tuesday, but the welcome committee was ready to celebr

Peers welcome Chargers coach Jim Harbaugh back to NFL

INDIANAPOLIS — There was no sign of Chargers head coach Jim Harbaugh in and around Lucas Oil Stadium as the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine kicked off Tuesday, but the welcome committee was ready to celebrate his return.

“He’s gonna do great,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said Tuesday at a podium session his brother declined. “We’ve been together the last couple days. He’s fired up, enthusiastic, talking to players, he knows a lot of these guys. It’s been fun.”

Jim Harbaugh is operating in a dual capacity in a sense this week with a record 18 prospects representing national champion Michigan at the combine. Harbaugh left Ann Arbor in January to become head coach of the Chargers, marking his return to the NFL.

As a housewarming gift of sorts, the Ravens didn’t block personnel director Joe Horitz from interviewing with the Chargers, clearing the way for Horitz to leave one Harbaugh for another.

“I don’t know how you can be in a room with Jim and feel rubbed the wrong way. He cares, he’s a great person and he’s competitive. He wants to win ball games,” Horitz said Tuesday. “It’s all about getting better and being the best. I don’t know. I love him. It’s been a blast. I’m talking about the enthusiasm that he has brought to the building. Every day, I come in in the morning, coming into his office, you feel his energy. Our players feel it, our coaching staff feels it. When he walks into the draft room when we’re in meetings, the scouts feel it. It’s exciting, it certainly is.”

Horitz and the rest of the NFL are chasing AFC West bully Kansas City. But for now, Horitz has his hands full balancing the books in Los Angeles.

Individual cap hits of more than $20 million create uncertainty around pass rushers Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack and wide receiver Keenan Allen. Running back Austin Ekeler is a free agent and wide receiver Mike Williams could be a candidate for a renegotiated deal or be moved.

“Certainly, we’re going to be taking a draft-centric approach. I believe in that,” Horitz said. “But, free agency, June free agency, signings right before August, turning the roster during the season. The roster should never be where you want it. … In terms of the cap, I’m confident we can get there because you have to get there (under the NFL-enforced spending limit). I have no choice but to get under the cap, so I can promise you that we’re going to do that.”

The Chargers have the No. 5 pick in the draft, the highest pick the franchise has had since selecting Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert at No. 6 in 2020.

When Horitz makes the draft selection in April, it will be his first as the primary decision-maker in the personnel department. He’s been in a seat alongside Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta since 1998, when Horitz began a scouting apprenticeship under Ozzie Newsome.

DeCosta will notice the change with Horitz calling the shots for the Bolts.

“Joe is just one of my best friends,” he said Tuesday. “I think Joe started in 1998, and I was an office guy and a young scout and took Joe under my wing, and we did a lot of stuff together. Our kids went to school together; he was my pickleball partner; sat next to me during the draft; helped me over the years, run the meetings and assess talent. Joe has got a great eye for talent. He’ll do an amazing job as an evaluator for the Chargers. He’s got good opinions, he’s a consensus builder. The scouts are going to love him. The coaches are going to love working with him, and he’s going to do a fantastic job.”