It's Time for the San Diego Chargers to Bench Philip Rivers

Donald Miralle

With 4 games left and the playoffs out of reach, it's time for the Chargers to start planning for 2013. Step one in that process is protecting their franchise QB.

Some people question my fandom. They say that I'm not a very good fan of the San Diego Chargers, because sometimes I criticize the moves they make and the things they do. They say that I should support my team and the players more than I do.

In response to that, I say this: I am a fan of the San Diego Chargers football organization. I'm on my third Head Coach and probably my 7th starting QB. I rooted for Jermaine Fazande the same way I root for Ryan Mathews. I gave David Boston far more time than I should've. However, when push comes to shove, I don't attach myself to any one player or coach. I want what is best for the organization. Right now, on December 3rd, benching Philip Rivers is what's best for the organization. Here's why:

Season's Over

The AFC Wild Card race currently looks like this:

Colts (8-4)
Steelers (7-5)
Bengals (7-5)
Jets (5-7)
Bills (5-7)
Dolphins (5-7)
Browns (4-8)
Chargers (4-8)
Titans (4-8)

There are two Wild Card spots open. There are 4 games left in the season and the Chargers are 4 games behind the Colts, 3 behind the Steelers and Bengals, etc.

The Chargers are 5 games behind the Broncos with 4 games left in the season, so winning the division is a statistical impossibility. I'm confident in saying that they're not going to leapfrog the Steelers, Bengals, Jets, Bills, Dolphins and Browns in the next 4 games. San Diego is just playing out the season now. No reason to take any risks.

Safety

The starting offensive line for Sunday, as of right now, is Rex Hadnot, Nick Hardwick, Louis Vasquez, Kevin Haslam (getting his first NFL start) and somebody that isn't currently on the Chargers roster. They'll be trying to block the Pittsburgh Steelers, who probably lead the league in penalized hits. There is roughly a 100% chance that James Harrison's helmet collides with Philip Rivers' helmet if El Capitan plays this game.

Charlie Whitehurst, on the other hand, is mobile and can do a better job of escaping from pressure. He also isn't known for holding onto the ball so long that he welcomes violent sacks (like Rivers). If San Diego's #1 priority at this point is the safety of their best players in preparation for next season and beyond, Whitehurst should be starting this game.

We all remember what happened the last time the Chargers started a QB in a meaningless game, don't we?

Drew_brees_injury_medium_medium

Draft Picks

Do you think there were fans of the Colts last year that wanted to root for victories? Sure. There were also those that were rooting for losses each week as a means to an end, a way to land themselves a franchise QB (which they did). Now, the latter group can gloat about how their strategy of rooting against their team in 2011 ultimately will end in a playoff berth in 2012. We should be learning from this.

Want to know the last time the Chargers had a top 10 pick in the first round of the NFL Draft? It was 2004, when A.J. Smith turned the #1 overall pick into Rivers, Nate Kaeding and Shawne Merriman. You could argue that the Chargers' "Super Bowl window" from 2006-2009 was a direct result of this trade, which was a direct result of Smith having a high-value pick.

Winning franchises, more often than not, are built on the pillars of first round draft picks. The higher the draft pick, the more likely they are to work out and make a large impact. The Chargers have a need for a highly-touted prospect on their offensive line or in their secondary. The more they win this season, the worse chance they have of landing such a prospect in the 2012 NFL Draft.

Building Value for Clipboard Jesus

If San Diego benches Rivers, one of three things happen:

  1. They lose the majority (or all) of their remaining games and finish with the best possible draft position and a healthy Philip Rivers.
  2. Charlie gets battered around and Rivers has to come into the game. We'll chalk this up to "Oh well, we tried" if this happens.
  3. Charlie Whitehurst's mobility negates the porous offensive line and brings a spark to the offense. The Chargers rattle off a few impressive victories and a QB controversy looms over the offseason.

None of those options are bad. Even the third one. If Charlie is great and they want to keep Rivers, they can just trade Charlie away again and bring in someone else to be the backup that never plays.

Evaluation Period

Benching Rivers sets a precedent. It says "We are not going to put our stars in harm's way just for the sake of getting meaningless wins." It shows that the organization is intelligent instead of reckless. If you bench Rivers, you probably have to bench (or at least limit) the other star veterans on your team.

For instance, Antonio Gates can be taken out of everything but red zone situations (he is, after all, going after Alworth's TD record). In his place? Ladarius Green. Gates' job for the remainder of the season would be to coach Green and catch TDs (or be a red zone decoy).

Takeo Spikes can switch spots with Jonas Mouton, and Corey Lynch can give his snaps to Brandon Taylor. Or, whatever, if you want to evaluate Lynch than Weddle can sit. Jarret Johnson becomes Melvin Ingram's backup for at least the remainder of the season. Shareece Wright takes somebody's job, either Antoine Cason's or Quentin Jammer's. Maybe both Wright and Gilchrist become the starters.

Here's what I'm getting at: The best way to evaluate the young talent you have on your team is to throw them into the fire in a meaningless game and see how they perform. If they're bad, then you know they're bad and your draft position gets better. If they're good, now you know just how good they are and you can count on them in the future. No matter how much you watch them in practice, you have no idea how the Jonas Moutons of the world will play once they're in a regular season game situation.

Now is the Chargers' chance to evaluate the young talent that they've been keeping hidden away all season.

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