Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Chargers and quarterback Philip Rivers announced that they will be mutually parting ways. Ironman Rivers has managed 228 consecutive games including playoffs while other teams have struggled through recycled castoffs lead their respective teams. Needless to say, his departure leaves Chargers fans with mixed emotions. Yet, fans should be all too familiar with having mixed emotions when rooting for the them on Sundays.
Many Chargers fans (yes, an intentional oxymoron) will rightfully believe that the Chargers’ all-time passing leader deserves to play until his heart is content. He has always been a competitor. He is also the cleanest trash talker whose attitude attracted a fanbase. During his tenure, the Chargers always stood a chance going into a game. Rivers usually kept the Chargers in games and playoff pushes, gave fans hope and then inevitably broke hearts in spectacular fashions. Yet, fans always came back for more even while Rivers-led Bolts continued to fall below aspirational expectations.
Rivers is also the man who has not led the Chargers to a Division Title in 10 years and only one 10+ win season in that period. Unless the Chargers are not committed to winning championships, this lack of progress is impossible to deny. Furthermore, three out of the past five seasons have had either four or five wins. In a league where wins are essential, something needed to change. Regardless of the myriad of opinions, this decision has been made.
So, what is next and exciting move for the Chargers?
Veterans on the Move
The upcoming offseason may have the most fluid quarterback market in recent memory between trade candidates, possible cap casualties, free agents and the draft. Free agents include Rivers, Tom Brady, Jameis Winston, Dak Prescott, Marcus Mariota, Teddy Bridgewater and Ryan Tannehill among others. Trade candidates and/or cap casualties may be Andy Dalton, Josh Rosen, Nick Foles, Gardner Minshew, Joe Flacco, Derek Carr, Alex Smith, Matthew Stafford and potentially others.
The names most often matched to the Chargers are Tom Brady and Cam Newton. Head coach Anthony Lynn wants a mobile quarterback. At the same time general manager Tom Telesco only has $49 million in cap space with to allocate to his players. Making a splash in the quarterback market would mean that less pennies to pinch for Hunter Henry, Austin Ekeler and Adrian Phillips. This doesn’t even factor in Joey Bosa’s looming mega-extension or incoming free agents and rookies. Neither of these options suit the Chargers need for a cheap and more mobile quarterback to build their new offence around. Additionally, Telesco has made a habit of not making big splashes in free agency outside of a few cases. With so many options, it is doubtful that the Chargers would pursue a more expensive option.
The 2020 NFL Draft
The Chargers also hold the 6th overall pick in a draft with promising quarterback prospects in Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Jake Fromm, Justin Herbert, Jordan Love, Jalen Hurts and others. Perceptions of these prospects range widely; however, from a team perspective, there is no better time than now to move on from Rivers. Head coach Anthony Lynn and general manager Tom Telesco want to bring in their guy to kickoff the new era. According to the Lightning Round Podcast, the Bolts wanted Deshaun Watson, but Rivers talked them out of it. Lamar Jackson was also on their wish list, but they couldn’t let safety Derwin James fall any further. Now without Rivers, the Chargers seem destined to pick a quarterback in the top 2 rounds of the upcoming draft.
“Internal Options” for the Chargers
In the 2019 offseason, the Chargers gave Tyrod Taylor a 2-year, $11 million deal. This was a stark contrast in comparison to below average backups like Geno Smith, Kellen Clemens, Charlie Whitehurst and Billy Volek. Furthermore, Taylor had one of his best years with Lynn in 2017-2018 season by leading the Buffalo Bills to the playoffs. If the Chargers opt for a rookie over a veteran, it is likely that Taylor is the Chargers first starter not named Philip Rivers since Drew Brees in 2005. Easton Stick is purely a developmental prospect. His place on the roster depends on if the Chargers elect to keep two or three quarterbacks on the roster.
How could the Chargers do this to a man who has given 16 seasons and nothing but professionalism?
This Is Good for Rivers, Too
While he has adapted well to the team that has been built around him, Rivers doesn’t move in the pocket. He relies on pre-snap reads, quick decisions and a rapid release to move the ball down the field. For Rivers to be effective, he needs an offensive line that he can trust. He hasn’t been able to trust the offensive line to protect him for too many years. Finally, it seems Rivers knew he would be a free agent soon for a while. He moved his entire family across the country during the school year in January. That is not a plan that is made lightly by anyone, let alone a family of 11 (9 kids!).
Moreover, by announcing their intentions early this offseason, #17 gets a head start on making his pitch to his favoured teams leading up to the legal tampering period. As such, the timing of the announcement of this divorce is intentional and beneficial to both parties. Other teams that are in need of quarterbacks are also able to factor in his availability in their offseason plans.
Fans can appreciate what Rivers has given to this team; yet, there is no denying that now is the time to move on from him. Rivers knew he would be leaving and the Bolts have been preparing a succession plan since they signed Taylor. The Chargers seem poised to draft a quarterback early and allow the rookie to learn under Taylor. If (when) the Chargers start to struggle offensively, the new era of Chargers football will begin with the yet-to-be-named rookie. Until then, all that remaining Bolts fans can do is try to build the brand back up, demand increased accountability and hope they don’t fumble it away at the goal line, both figuratively and literally.