Los Angeles Chargers' Joe Hortiz, Jim Harbaugh pass first difficult test

Joe Hortiz and Jim Harbaugh made their toughest decision to date as Los Angeles Chargers general manager and head coach.

The team decided to part ways with highly productive but oft-injured wide receiver Mike Williams a few hours before the start of the new league year. Williams’ release saved the Chargers $20 million against their cap. The Chargers entered Wednesday approximately $25 million over the salary cap, per Over The Cap. But parting ways with Williams and the reported restructuring of pass rushers Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa's individual contracts, the Chargers begin the new league year cap compliant.

“Let's get this thing right, let's get this thing good,” Harbaugh said of the Chargers this offseason. “When players come in here, then everything is organized and they're going to see that things are changing, things are different.”

The Chargers got worse at wide receiver by losing Williams. The 6-foot-4 wideout thrived at contested catches and was a big-time playmaker. He averaged 15.6 yards per catch in seven seasons as a Charger. But the team had to release or trade either Williams, Keenan Allen, Mack or Joey Bosa to get under the league mandated $255.4 million salary cap by 4 p.m. ET Wednesday. All four starters had cap hits over $30 million for the 2024 season. The Chargers had four of the top 12 largest cap hits in the NFL.

Los Angeles Chargers head coach Jim Harbaugh (left) and general manager Joe Hortiz.
Los Angeles Chargers head coach Jim Harbaugh (left) and general manager Joe Hortiz.

Williams, though good, was the most expendable of the four players, based on overall production.

Allen, who broke the Chargers' single-season reception record with 108 catches in 2023, is Justin Herbert’s favorite target. Mack’s career-high 17 sacks last year ranked fourth in the NFL and Bosa, who has battled his own fair share of injuries, has 67 sacks in 93 career games and is still one of the better edge rushers in the NFL.

The Chargers still have plenty of work and roster building to do as they attempt to rebound from a lost 5-12 season -- improving a poor pass defense, running game and offensive line being chief among them. The team added downhill running back Gus Edwards and blocking tight end Will Dissly in free agency to help shore up the rushing attack. But by only letting go Williams and restructuring Mack and Bosa's contracts, the Chargers appeared to indicate they want to retain most of their core. That isn't necessarily a bad thing for a club that drastically underperformed last year under former head coach Brandon Staley.

"Our goal is to build a winner every year. We want to compete to win a championship every year, OK? That's going to be starting now," Hortiz said this offseason. "That's not going to be, 'Let's gut it and start over.' Those are the decisions. What balance of players give us the best opportunity to go out there and compete this year?

"I know who we're trying to be, we know who we're trying to be, 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 give us flexibility this year and going forward."

Harbaugh has built a winner at all of his stops and Hortiz came from a very well run organization in the Baltimore Ravens. This week, the two illustrated they are ready to reinvent what’s been a historically underperforming franchise by passing their first difficult test.

Follow USA TODAY Sports' Tyler Dragon on X @TheTylerDragon.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Chargers leadership passes difficult test with Mike Williams release