Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is not certain where he’ll be playing in 2016 and not just because of the team’s shaky stadium situation in San Diego.
In case you missed it, Rivers talked with the U-T San Diego about his future with the team.
Basically said he’s committed to playing out his contract with the Bolts, which expires after the 2015 season, but is unsure whether he’ll sign a new contract or try to work out an extension before training camp starts in July.
One of the reasons is, of course, family. Philip and his wife Tiffany have built a family in San Diego and if a move is necessary they will likely try to make it back South (both are from Alabama) instead of Los Angeles.
Add that revelation to the fact the Chargers are bringing in Oregon QB Marcus Mariota for a workout in April, and all of a sudden you have grounds for some serious speculation on a major overhaul of the Chargers offense.
So, let’s remove the emotion from the situation and sort some of it out logically.
First and foremost, the Chargers want to keep Rivers in place. General Manager Tom Telesco came from Indianapolis. His first year there was 1998, when the Colts drafted Peyton Manning. His last year there was 2012, when they took Andrew Luck. If anybody understands the importance of having a franchise quarterback in place, it’s Telesco (You can hear for yourself how Tom feels about Rivers in the video attached to this story, which was recorded December 31, 2014).
Telesco says he thinks Rivers has a number of good years left in him. The recent signings of Stevie Johnson and Orlando Franklin would suggest the Bolts still consider Rivers the key to their offense. For now, at least. Telesco also said he’s committed to Rivers retiring as a Charger.
But, what if Rivers is not? Then what do the Chargers do?
Bolts fans don’t have to think too far back to see what happened the last time the team let a QB walk out of town while getting nothing in return. In about 10 years they’ll see it on the bust of Drew Brees in Canton, OH. Rivers blossoming into a star eased the pain of Brees’ success, but the odds of having three Pro Bowl (and possibly Hall of Fame) caliber passers in a row are astronomical.
Here’s where Mariota enters the mix.
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner is going to have a private workout for the Bolts’ brass. Mariota’s athletic skill set could not be more different than Rivers, but having him learn for a year under #17 (who has already spent time coaching the youngster before the NFL Combine) would not be a bad thing.
If Telesco gets the vibe he’s not going to be able to retain Rivers long-term, he needs to be looking out for his franchise, and he could certainly do worse than adding someone as talented as Mariota.
Of course, that opens the question of … how would the Chargers get their hands on Mariota? He’s projected to be long gone before the Bolts make their selection in this year’s Draft (and no, the irony of that pick being #17 has not been lost). So, the Chargers would have to make a trade up.
Assuming Tampa Bay selects Jameis Winston first overall (which they’ve said publicly they’re leaning towards), the next team up also has serious QB issues: Tennessee. The Titans are quite the interesting possibility.
Ken Whisenhunt is their head coach. In 2013, he had a tremendous relationship with Rivers while serving as San Diego’s offensive coordinator. He would love to get his hands on Philip. However, sources close to the Titans tell me they’d be “shocked” if Tennessee traded the second overall pick for Rivers.
The Titans have a bunch of holes to fill. They are not one QB away from being true contenders. So, if they do deal the number two pick, it will be to stockpile other picks, and the Chargers are not likely to make that kind of gamble when they have as many issues to address as they do (o-line, d-line, running back, linebacker, etc.).
Looking at the rest of the NFL Draft order, there aren’t many teams who will use a pick on a quarterback:
3) Jacksonville – took Blake Bortles last year
4) Oakland – took Derek Carr last year
5) Washington – still don’t know what to do with Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy
6) NY Jets – ABSOLUTELY NEED A QB
7) Chicago – Possibility here. Jay Cutler could be released in another year
8) Atlanta – Matt Ryan
9) NY Giants – Eli Manning
10) St. Louis – just traded for Nick Foles but still a possibility
11) Minnesota – took Teddy Bridgewater last year
12) Cleveland – took Johnny Manziel last year
13) New Orleans – Drew Brees
14) Miami – Ryan Tannehill, although it’s possible they’re not 100% sold on him
15) San Francisco – Colin Kaepernick, basically the same style as Mariota
16) Houston – definitely in the market for a QB
So, the Chargers might not have to deal Rivers to get their hands on Mariota. If he falls far enough in the first round, they could conceivably move up just a couple of spots and not sacrifice too much (of course, the Eagles are lurking at #20 and, despite what Chip Kelly says about Sam Bradford, he’d make a more for his former recruit).
So you see there are a lot of moving pieces in play that would have to line up for Marcus Mariota to land in San Diego.
The other part of this whole scenario is this: The Chargers offense is built around Philip Rivers. If he is shockingly dealt before this year, or allowed to leave after the 2015 season, a whole lot of guys will go with him.
Antonio Gates, also a free agent, will leave. Eric Weddle, also a free agent, will leave. Those guys are not going to wait around for a rebuild; they’ve been through enough already. The entire identity of the Chargers, the franchise as we know it, will cease to exist. It will signal a complete personality change for the franchise.
Now, you can crack your jokes about that being perfect for a team playing in a new city, but the fact is this is a defining moment in Chargers history, not just off the field, but on it, as well.
It took almost a full season but the San Diego Chargers are finally starting to become the team we envisioned at the beginning of the season. The possibility of a team that would once again become playoff relevant looked good but not great as the Chargers took a 4-3 record into the bye week. The bye week came as the Chargers had won two straight games against Indianapolis and Jacksonville. After the bye, the Chargers dropped three straight games to fall to 4-6. With that losing streak, all hope for a return to prominence looked lost.
The Chargers went to Arrowhead to face the Chiefs. The Chiefs were 9-1 and coming off their first loss at Denver. The Chargers took it to the Chiefs and won a shootout 41-38. That win began a Chargers run that has seen them win four of their last five games. The Chargers now sit at 8-7 with a shot at getting into the playoffs if they can beat the Chiefs at home and the right teams lose on Sunday.
What has been the reason for this turnaround? The offensive line has solidified and while it isn’t a list of marquee names, the same guys are suiting up every week and staying on the field. Last season the offensive line was a turnstile with a new starting five almost every week. First round draft pick D.J. Fluker has done a great job at right tackle, helping open holes for the running backs. When starting left tackle King Dunlap missed games because of a concussion, Fluker moved to left tackle and played just as well. Jeromey Clary has found new life at right guard, Nick Hardwick hasn’t missed a game at center. Rich Ohrnberger, Johnnie Troutman and Chad Rinehart have all played well at left guard. The unit is playing better as the weeks go by and it shows. Rivers has been sacked 27 times through 15 weeks this season. Last season, Rivers was sacked a league high 49 times, a drastic improvement.
Ryan Mathews has found his stride and has put together his best season as a pro. Whether it was a change in philosophy or the new system implemented by head coach Mike McCoy, Mathews has run with a purpose and was one yard away (he had 99 against Oakland) from tying LeSean McCoy with six 100-yard rushing games this season. Mathews has more 100 yard games than higher profile backs like Jamaal Charles(4), Arian Foster(2), DeMarco Murray(3), Alfred Morris(3), Matt Forte(4) and has as many Adrian Peterson(5).
Mathews has run for over 100 yards in five of the last ten games and has a 99 yard game as well. For the first time in his career, he is set to play all 16 games and has already posted a career best 1,111 yards rushing. The Chargers are 4-1 when Mathews rushes for 100.
As a result of the first two factors, Philip Rivers is having an All-Pro season. Only Peyton Manning has more 400 yard games(4) than Rivers(3). Rivers is the fourth highest ranked quarterback in the league.
Wide receiver Keenan Allen was rushed into the starting lineup after a season ending injury to Malcolm Floyd. Allen quickly became the number one receiver and has burst onto the scene over the last 11 games. If Keenan Allen isn’t the Offensive Rookie Of The Year, the award should be discontinued due fraud. Allen is going to be a big name in the NFL as he gets years under his belt.
A who’s who of big names on defense hit the injured list before the season began including Melvin Ingram, Dwight Freeney, Larry English and draft pick Steve Williams. Out of that necessity, lesser names have had to fill greater roles, thrust into the spotlight as starters. As a result, unknowns such as Thomas Keiser, Andrew Gachkar, Bront Bird, Sean Lissemore and rookies Tourek Williams and Mantei Te’o have logged significant playing time and thrived. Now the defense has solidified and become a cohesive unit. The defense now has 33 sacks, 74 passed defensed, 11 interceptions and forced 11 fumbles (recovering 6).
The Chargers have finally all come together and look like one of those teams no one will want to play should they get into the playoffs. They played as close to a perfect game as possible in beating the Giants at home and Broncos in Denver with only five days between games. They played sloppily in the first half of the Raiders game but took over the game in the second half and cruised to victory.
The story of the season is the Chargers have beaten Denver, Kansas City, Dallas, Indianapolis and Philadelphia. Each are teams who are now or were at the top of their division. Their quality of wins are excellent. They have lost to Washington, Oakland, Tennessee and Houston. Those teams are now or were last in their division. Questionable play calling, poor execution and mental lapses have made the difference in the Chargers being in the playoffs now as opposed to fighting for a spot at the end of the season.
The good news is the Chargers are finally playing together. The offense is on track and all the moving pieces on both sides of the ball are set in place and formed a solid wall instead of a Jenga building. The new faces on defense are making fewer mistakes as they get valuable playing time in and that on-the-field experience has made all the difference here at the end of the season. Those unknowns will make the Chargers a dominating defensive unit once the injured players like Freeney, Steve Williams and Ingram start next season healthy.
At 8-7 the Chargers are guaranteed at least a .500 season. Most (not me) expected the Chargers to finish with fewer than eight wins. The McCoy/Telesco era is already off to a promising start and as this program is reshaped, will only get better.