Though there had been rumblings for a couple weeks, most notably with the star quarterback selling his California home, the Los Angeles Chargers officially announced the end of their relationship with quarterback Philip Rivers after 16 seasons.
Rivers, 38, went 5-11 with the Chargers last season. But even at an advanced age, make no mistake: as long as he wants to play, there will be suitors. Just a season earlier, Rivers led the Chargers to a 12-4 record en route to a wildcard berth. In 2019, Rivers passed for 4,615 yards, 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions while completing 66% of his passes.
Signing Rivers wouldn’t be as much of a desperation move as say, signing Tom Brady, but at the tail-end of his career, both Rivers and the team that will serve as his suitor will likely both be thinking win-now.
Here are five realistic to semi-realistic landing spots for the veteran quarterback.
Las Vegas Raiders
Rivers could stay relatively close, both in geographic proximity and within the AFC West. Jon Gruden and the Oakland (very-soon-to-be Las Vegas) Raiders had a decent season in 2019. Derek Carr isn’t a bad NFL starter, but he might not be the kind of player to lead his team into the playoffs. The Raiders have been linked to a potential pursuit of Tom Brady, alongside the Chargers themselves. Gruden isn’t all-in on Carr, and from a football standpoint, Rivers could have a bit more left in the tank than Brady.
With Rivers at quarterback, the Raiders would attempt to break into the playoff picture. Patrick Mahomes and the defending-Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs would present a likely roadblock within the AFC West, but the Raiders could still contend for at least a wildcard position.
New England Patriots
Obviously, this would be contingent on Tom Brady becoming a free agent and moving on from the only NFL franchise he’s ever called home.
But if he did, it would create an instant opening at quarterback for a perennial playoff team. Though Bill Belichick would have no shortage of options in an increasingly growing quarterback market, Rivers would likely fit the mold of the New England Patriots system.
New England would stay favorites atop the AFC East, though the Buffalo Bills could continue to inch closer towards dethroning them. It would be intriguing to see how the Patriots offense fared with Rivers, one of Brady’s long-time contemporaries. Even more interesting would be if Brady and Rivers swapped homes, with Brady heading to Los Angeles as some rumors may suggest.
I’d see the Patriots with a fighting chance in a somewhat loaded AFC, having to deal with the Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs, and Houston Texans, among others.
Something about the Brady-Patriots marriage seems too good to actually break up. Jerry Jones would reportedly salivate at the opportunity to get Brady in Dallas. An early breakup between Dak Prescott (who relatively, has been a successful quarterback for the Dallas) and the Cowboys would be more believable.
With a pretty good defense and some weapons on offense, a veteran quarterback like Rivers could fill in as the Cowboys continue their search for a deep playoff run. With a strong running game and Amari Cooper making almost anything catchable, Rivers could thrive and not be asked to do too much. He’d be more than a boring “game manager,” but he wouldn’t have to put the team on his back either.
Still, I’m not sure Rivers would come at a much cheaper price tag than Prescott. If Rivers were to take significantly less money, it would open more roster flexibility to build an even stronger team. But if Rivers demands a salary in the same range as Prescott’s desires and/or franchise tag, then adding Rivers wouldn’t really make the Cowboys much better or worse.
Jacoby Brissett was just fine for the Colts is 15 starts for the Indianapolis Colts in 2019, going 7-8. If your star quarterback retired abruptly before the season began, and you got Brissett’s play, you’d be just fine with it. But will Indianapolis settle for “just fine” in 2020?
Brissett finished 27th in the league in passing yards (2,942) despite missing just one game. Drew Brees (2,979 in 11 starts) and rookie Daniel Jones (3,027 in 12 starts) outpaced him in less games.
Brissett isn’t handcuffing the offense completely, but he’s holding it back to a degree. Rivers could lead a slightly more-pass happy offense while also keeping a balanced rushing attack.
The Colts could be in AFC South, or at least playoff contention, with Rivers under center in 2020. They were in the playoff hunt until late December in 2019, and have the tools in place to compete right now.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers were a feisty team in 2019, finishing the season strong as well as losing some extremely tight games. They may be on the cusp of contention, and while quarterback Jameis Winston led the NFL in passing yards (5,109,) he also had a league-high 30 interceptions, nine more than 2nd-leading interception thrower (Baker Mayfield, 21.)
While Rivers didn’t exactly have a stellar touchdown to interception ratio in 2019, he could be seen as a safer and more consistent option at quarterback than the erratic Winston.
The New Orleans Saints are the de-facto favorites in the NFC South, but they face some uncertainty of their own with Drew Brees future in question. Whether or not he’s Sean Payton’s quarterback, the division would be an intriguing race with Rivers in Tampa Bay.
This offseason, Rivers moved with his family from their home in Southern California to the opposite coast, purchasing a home in Florida. While this should’t really be seen as an indicator of where Rivers wants to play, it certainly doesn’t hurt.
- Chicago Bears: The Bears are married to Mitch Trubisky for at least one more season, so it would be hard to get Rivers on to the roster in 2020. It’s unlikely Chicago would find a trade suitor for Trubisky either. It’s an agonizing position for a team that feels just a step away from contention.
- Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars could go all-in at quarterback with Rivers, but may be more naturally suited to stick with either Nick Foles or Gardner Minshew for now. Rivers would make Jacksonville competitive in the AFC South, but I’d still favor Deshaun Watson and the Texans even in that scenario.
- Washington Redskins: The quarterback position is, was, and likely always will be a mess in Washington. They don’t fit the mold of a contender, and have both young (Dwayne Haskins) and experienced (Alex Smith, Colt McCoy) quarterbacks on the roster. I’m sure the Redskins would still jump at the chance to add a star quarterback to a sinking ship.
Header Photo: Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff via Getty Images
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