Perhaps more than any athlete not named Tony Gwynn, I care about Philip Rivers. More than once this season, I have stood in front of my television and screamed loud enough to startle the neighbors, as I try to use my sheer will to get through to the coaches that their number one objective should be to protect whatever future Rivers has in the NFL.
It hasn't worked. Philip Rivers is on pace for more than 37 sacks this year. It would be the third most he's ever been sacked in a single season. Currently, he's tied for 5th among NFL QBs for the most times sacked this season. To summarize, Philip Rivers gets hit a lot.
Philip Rivers is 34 years old. He recently signed a four-year contract extension that keeps him with the Chargers through his 38th birthday. Whether the team will be playing in San Diego or Los Angeles for those four years remains, for the moment, up for debate. Whether the team will be playing in the playoffs for those four years does as well, and if head coach Mike McCoy isn't fired three weeks from now it will be due entirely to the arrogance of a blind and inexperienced front office that is running the team...it will also all but guarantee that the team won't be in the playoffs next year.
This is no way for a hero to go out...
Philip Rivers can't really be compared to his peers. At least, not the obvious peers.
Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger may have come out in the same draft, and they may be at about the same point in their careers in terms of performance, but Manning and Roethlisberger can glide softly into their twilight years in the NFL knowing that they each have two Super Bowl rings.
They've also had more stable rosters, coaching staffs, and front offices around them. Manning and Roethlisberger were, as franchise QBs are meant to be, given the tools around them to lead their franchises to glory. Rivers was given some of those tools, but not enough and not for a long enough period of time.
To summarize, the San Diego Chargers have failed Philip Rivers, and they're not doing a great job of trying to make up for it in his later years. He still has a chance to John Elway the end of his career, but that's not likely to happen at this point.
Without a great deal of luck, this year's team will win 3 or 4 games over the course of the season. Seeing as how they're restricted by existing contracts and the salary cap, the Chargers won't have an opportunity to give the entire roster an overhaul in the offseason. Even if health and a few balls bounce their way, expecting the 2016 Chargers to be any better than 8-8 would be foolish at this point, and even that may be stretching things a bit.
This is Rivers' 12th season in the NFL, and will be just his second losing campaign. That's good! My fear is that, with the direction the team appears to be going, there's a chance to make that number worse before Rivers retires (or is forced to retire due to major injury).
I don't want to see Philip Rivers lose. Nobody takes it harder. Nobody wears it more on their face and body. The same guy that dances and talks trash during games when things are going good seems absolutely apoplectic when his team can't get it done. Seeing that a few times a season is good, it's a reminder that Rivers may take the game more seriously than any of us do, but seeing it every week or every year would be too much to handle.
I think it's up to the Chargers to find Rivers a better situation. One he can win in. One that doesn't rely so heavily on luck.
Los Angeles Looms
Here's the other issue, but I'm not one of those crazies that thinks that Philip Rivers hates Los Angeles so much that he might just retire if the team moves there.
Just because Philip Rivers has shown appreciation for San Diego does not mean he hates L.A. Seriously. It's not a one or the other proposition. Rivers has been seen at many events in Los Angeles over the years, including several non-NFL sporting events.
So, can we get past that lunacy?
Philip Rivers would probably be just fine living in some nice suburb of Orange County, and so would his family, if the Chargers were to move to Los Angeles.
That being said, this is all just one more headache for him to deal with. I'm sure, as a father, he's worried about how a move would change the dynamic of his family. I'm sure, as a husband, he wants to make sure his wife is happy possibly moving to a new place. That puts enough on his plate already.
Now, let's add in the other side of the move. The Chargers side of things.
Rivers, as the face of the franchise, will be expected to talk about a potential move. If a move happens, he'll be expected to lead the charge to build a fanbase in Los Angeles.
Rivers' contract extension is laid out in a way where the team could, realistically, cut him two years into it (if they drafted somebody to replace him). After three, it gets downright easy to do. What are the chances that he would even get to play in the new stadium in Los Angeles?
There's a distinct possibility that Rivers could end up spending his final years playing on a bad team, in a stadium that doesn't live up to NFL quality, trying his best to build a fanbase instead of being embraced in his final years by the fans who have grown to love him. That would be a tragedy, and not just because it would probably hurt the feelings of some San Diegans.
A Trade Partner
Let's try to find a happy home for Mr. Rivers, shall we? One where he can spend his final years with dignity....
Philip Rivers himself has said that he promised his family that, if they were to ever leave San Diego, it would be to move to the south. Let's make him a man of his word and keep it to teams in the southern United States that aren't far away from competing.
An obvious pick. They're tied for 1st place in their division and they don't really have a QB. Bill O'Brien is the type of "QB guru" that Rivers has had success with (Whisenhunt, Chow, Turner). The Texans would probably have to cut Arian Foster to make it work, financially (maybe not with an increased salary cap), but that's not difficult to do.
A dark horse pick. This one only works if the Titans bring in a coach who prefers a veteran pocket-passing QB over Marcus Mariota, which wouldn't be too dissimilar from when Josh McDaniels got to Denver and immediately traded away Jay Cutler. This is a long shot at best.
How fitting would this be? Rivers was drafted to replace Drew Brees in San Diego, perhaps he could replace him in New Orleans as well. The Saints could save $20 mil of cap space by releasing Brees this offseason.
This is the crazy pick. This is the one that would blow the doors off of the league and every media outlet that covers it. This idea only works if Tony Romo retires (which he probably won't, but he'll be 36 by the time the 2016 season starts and he has major injury issues), and then it makes a crazy amount of sense because Jerry Jones is in charge.
The goal, in any of these deals, would be for the Chargers to rebuild. Get as many draft picks, or players still early on in their rookie deals, as you can in the trade. Let guys like Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd, and Eric Weddle walk. Draft a QB early and rebuild the foundation of the franchise around him and a new head coach. Push reset on the whole damn thing.