Why the Chargers traded Keenan Allen after a career-best year

Mina Kimes praises 'underrated' Gus Edwards (1:07)

Mina Kimes shares on "NFL Live" why she likes Gus Edwards' move from the Baltimore Ravens to the Los Angeles Chargers. (1:07)

LOS ANGELES -- Keenan Allen planned to retire with the Los Angeles Chargers.

It's the only team the wide receiver had known for his first 11 seasons in the NFL. He was drafted in the third round by the Chargers in 2013 and was the team's longest-tenured player. It's why, following the conclusion of the 2023 season, Allen stood in one corner of the team's locker room with a confident smirk as reporters peppered him with questions about his future.

By that point, the Chargers were projected to be $27.5 million over the salary cap in 2024 and Allen was high on the potential cap casualty list, with a $34.7 million cap hit for this season.

But Allen was confident he would be in Los Angeles. He was eager to keep playing with the Chargers, despite being 32 years old and coming off the best season of his career on a 5-12 team that had just fired its head coach and general manager. Whoever the Chargers hired wouldn't change Allen's mind, he said then. He wanted to be in L.A.

"I don't want to go nowhere else," Allen said, telling reporters it would potentially mean retiring if the Chargers traded him to another team.

On Thursday, they did. Allen was sent to the Chicago Bears for a fourth-round pick (No. 110).

For coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Joe Hortiz, the trade saves the Chargers $23.1 million. It marked the most notable and polarizing move of a franchise-altering offseason that will mark a new era for the Chargers, whose focus now turns to the NFL draft in April.

"What Keenan Allen has meant to the Chargers for more than a decade cannot adequately be expressed through mere words," team president John Spanos wrote in a statement. "Keenan's impact lives in the hearts of our fans, in the communities which he has served and amongst the countless teammates who have formed a brotherhood with him.

"There will only be one Keenan Allen, and we cannot thank him enough for the contributions he has made to our organization both on and off the field."

In February, at Hortiz's introductory news conference, he detailed his process for roster building; Hortiz emphasized not keeping players on the roster when they begin a decline while weighing a player's value against their salary. The latter appears to be why Allen will be playing elsewhere in 2024.

Because of Allen's contract, the Chargers didn't have much leverage, resulting in the team relinquishing perhaps the best receiver in franchise history for a fourth-round pick, drawing the ire of current Chargers players and fans.

Linebacker Daiyan Henley wrote, "Nah" on X and told a fan he was still "trying to convince myself first" that Allen's trade was true.

Tight end Donald Parham wrote on Instagram after the trade, "[We're] just playing musical chairs."

There were thousands of comments on the Chargers' social media accounts expressing heartbreak.

"Keenan deserved so much better. Who's got it better than us? Everyone else but us," one user wrote on the Chargers Instagram page.

For the past two seasons, the Chargers have trotted out Allen, wide receiver Mike Williams, tight end Gerald Everett and running back Austin Ekeler as a part of their offense that featured one of the better skill position groupings in the league.

Since quarterback Justin Herbert entered the NFL in 2020, he had relied heavily on that group; they were responsible for 57% of his passing yards, passing touchdowns and completions.

But that entire group is gone. Everett and Allen will play together in Chicago, Ekeler signed with the Washington Commanders and Williams is a free agent after being released by the Chargers this week.

Now, the Chargers are down to an inexperienced and unproven crop of skill position players.

Joshua Palmer, a third-round pick in the 2021 draft, had been the No. 3 receiver behind Williams and Allen. Last season, Palmer missed seven games with a knee injury and a concussion, but he had the most yards in a game in his career when he caught five catches for 133 yards against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 7.

The Chargers used the No. 21 pick in last year's draft on wide receiver Quentin Johnston with a plan for him to eventually be the team's top receiver. But Johnston had a rocky rookie season, marred by drops. While others in his class flourished, Johnston shuddered and didn't show signs of a player the Chargers may be confident in as the team's uncontested No. 1 or 2 option. The fact that Hortiz and Harbaugh didn't draft Johnston gives them even less reason to be committed to him.

When Harbaugh and Hortiz took these jobs, they talked about winning multiple championships, and trading or releasing talented players to keep the Chargers salary cap compliant would always be a convoluted requirement.

But in a division with players including wide receivers Davante Adams of the Las Vegas Raiders, Courtland Sutton of the Denver Broncos and tight end Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs, the Chargers' top targets are unproven players.

With Allen's departure, all signs point to the Chargers selecting a receiver with the No. 5 pick.

Draft analysts have lauded this class for its talented group of receivers; and with such a high pick, the Chargers could take one of the top players at the position. The conundrum for L.A. is that they have needs at almost every position but quarterback.

The Chargers have nine picks in the draft, and they could always opt to take a receiver, or multiple, later. But the franchise has had good luck with the No. 5 pick, selecting two of the best players in franchise history: linebacker Junior Seau (1990) and running back LaDainian Tomlinson (2001), both in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.