After another fourth quarter collapse, the San Diego Chargers sit at 1-3, at the bottom of the division with a lot of questions surrounding the team. One that has continued to pop up is ‘Is it time to restart and trade Philip Rivers’? This topic was sparked by retired Chargers great LaDainian Tomlinson. Below is his quote on the NFL Network after Sunday’s game.
"Let's just call it what it is, the Chargers are rebuilding right now, OK. They're rebuilding, guys. And Philip only has about three or four years left. If you keep him there during this rebuilding process, you just wasted his entire career. He will have no chance to win.”
Some interesting thoughts from the Chargers Great a week after he came out and said if Drew Brees was the quarterback in the 2006 season the Chargers would have won the Super Bowl. This new topic LT presents has some merit to it. The Chargers did not win last year and continue to struggle this year despite Philip Rivers playing well. Are the Chargers wasting his career away? Would they be better off just throwing in the towel on this season and probably the seasons of the near future by trading Rivers? I will break down the factors in the decision to trade Philip Rivers
There is no question that Rivers is in the twilight of his career. At age 34 (turning 35 on December 8) we are looking at potentially 3, maybe four, years left of elite quarterback play. Statistically, a quarterback enters his prime from age 26 to about 31. Production begins to drop off in their mid-30s. However, production drops off dramatically, there really isn’t any gradual decline. This was the case last season with Peyton Manning in his age 39 season. Yes, his numbers were down in his age-38 season, but he really fell off last year, his accuracy and physical strength declined leading to his retirement.
Rivers is not quite there yet at age 34/35. Average quarterbacks usually retire or stop starting in their mid-thirties. An example I use here is Matt Hasselbeck. Hesselbeck started for the Seahawks in his last season with the team in 2010 at age 35. After that season Hasselbeck served as a formable backup for the Titans and the Colts. Now Rivers does not correlate to Hasselbeck. Rivers is in the elite group of quarterbacks that started and played relatively well until at least their age-37 season. This group includes John Elway, Dan Marino, Brett Farve, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady. Rivers is a Hall of Fame quarterback. He has stayed very healthy in his career starting in every game since 2006 (148 games). Compare that to Manning and Brady where they each missed one season to injury. Indicating to me Rivers still can be a top ten starter in this league for the next couple of years.
Rivers just signed his contract extension last year. Phil is under contract until 2019 with an average salary of $20,812,500. He is guaranteed $65,000,000 of $83,250,000 which ranks ninth in the NFL. The question for the Chargers is if they even had the thought of trading the long-time signal caller wouldn’t it have been last year? It would have been an easier separation last year as his contract was expiring and his age made it reasonable for a change. Now things will be complicated trying to trade Rivers. Trading a player away is effectively the same as cutting him from a salary cap standpoint, and Rivers still has a lot of bonus money that would count as dead money.
On top of the cap hit, Rivers is owed he also has all the power over the Chargers. He has a no-trade clause which now cripples the team in finding a trade partner. Rivers can reject any trade even if the offer is too great to pass up. With the Chargers’ current situation with Rivers‘ contract, now is not the time to trade Philip Rivers. The team missed their window of opportunity for a trade.
LT suggests that this team is in a rebuilding mode and that is why the team should trade Philip now. The roster suggests the bulk of the “rebuild” has already happened. The Chargers rank as the 9th youngest team this season with an average age of 25.73. In particular, the defense is relatively young with cornerstone pieces that are hopefully on the team and are successful for years to come. On paper, most of the positions are filled for the at least the next couple of years. Players like Jason Verrett, Corey Liuget, Joey Bosa, Denzel Perryman, Casey Hayward, Jatavis Brown, Jerry Attaochu, Kyle Emmanuel, Jahleel Addae, and Dexter McCoil. Not including pending free agents Manti Te’o and Melvin Ingram who could be a part of this young core for years to come.
On offense, it’s mostly the same. All your skill positions are basically set. Receivers Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin, and Tyrell Williams should be on this team for the next few years. Hunter Henry looks the part as the future tight end and I expect him to be on this team for a long time. The same can be said of Melvin Gordon who has played well so far. The oldest position group on the field is the offensive line, but even that unit hopefully has some young cornerstones in DJ Fluker, Max Turek, and possibly undrafted rookie Spencer Pulley.
If the Chargers were truly “rebuilding” then this roster would have more turnover than people expect. Most of the guys on this roster are young enough and have enough potential to feel good moving forward. It is too soon to give up on these players that were drafted recently if winning as soon as possible is the goal for this organization they have no choice but to see how this core plays out. General Manager Tom Telesco has already rebuilt a team that a couple of years ago was the 12th oldest and is now the 9th youngest.
If the Chargers are going to trade the best franchise quarterback in their team’s history they have to like a prospect coming out in this year’s draft right? I would hold off on that as no quarterback coming out of this draft looks like a bonafide star. Deshaun Watson of Clemson is close but appears to play strictly in a spread scheme. I’m not sure the Chargers would be comfortable moving forward with a player that needs the learning curve Watson will need when you have someone as elite as Rivers already on your roster. Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya could become a productive player and has the size and skills but I am not sure he is worth a top pick either. Chad Kelly of Old Miss is productive but not a for sure talent for the NFL.
This year in the NFL people are excited about the rookie quarterbacks and are in awe of their success this season (Carson Wentz/Dak Prescott). But what has not been talked about is the sophomore slumps of last year’s successful rookie quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. It is a long road for these young quarterbacks to success and none of them are for sure successes. I don’t see the Chargers licking their chops to draft an Andrew Luck-like prospect because right now that does not exist.
Like stated above Rivers has a full no-trade clause; he can deny any trade that he wants. The Chargers would have to try to work with Rivers to find a destination where he would want to go. What teams would that be? Well according to LT the reason to trade Rivers is to give him a chance to win somewhere else instead of wasting his career on the Chargers. If that is the logic we are basing this off of it would have to be a team that might be a quarterback away from seriously contending. How many of those teams are there? The answer is not many. I looked at teams that have a QB need and can contend with Rivers. This small list includes the Houston Texans, Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, and Denver Broncos. These teams are not perfectly matches and some are reaches.
The Texans just invested a lot of money in Brock Osweiler; would they already be ready to give up on the new free agent acquisition? Probably not. The same can be said about the Redskins with Kirk Cousins (Ed. Note: Oh, but Kirk chose not to sign that deal). Dallas has an older QB who hasn’t played but they also have a rookie that many feel is the future at the position. Would they really bring in Rivers and risk ruining the development of Dak Prescott? (Ed. Note: No, they wouldn’t) The Jets could use a change at QB but would Rivers want to go play in New York? I would think no, Rivers does not strike me as a flashy media guy and I could not see him sharing a stadium with his draft classmate Eli Manning. Miami is close to his Alabama home but would most people think their roster is better than the current Chargers roster? Probably not. Arizona is intriguing, but are they ready to give up on Carson Palmer? And if they continue to struggle this season, is it guaranteed Rivers will get his shot at a ring with them? Again probably not. The last team on this short list is the Denver Broncos, I am sure Elway would love to make a deal for Rivers (Ed. Note: Even after they just spend a first on Paxton Lynch?) but I don’t see the Chargers trading their best player to their division rival who just won a Super bowl.
On top of finding a team Rivers can contend with the Chargers are also looking for a team that can give a nice package of picks to rebuild this team. The Chargers would not be looking at getting an extra top 5 picks as most teams close to contending have a roster that puts them in draft limbo. The reason they would trade for Rivers is because they are not able to get the top QB prospect with a mid-draft selection. What compensation is Philip Rivers worth? Is he worth the first and fourth rounder Minnesota sent to Philadelphia for Sam Bradford? Probably a little more than that. What about a first round pick, a second round pick, and a third round pick on top of the following draft year’s first and third round picks? That is what the Rams gave up to Tennessee to get Jared Goff. Probably not, Rivers’ limit to a few more seasons makes that price go down. The Chargers probably end up with something in the middle of those two deals for Rivers. Maybe a first rounder with a fifth in one draft, and a second rounder in the following draft. But is that enough for the Chargers best player?
The Chargers should not (and probably can’t) trade Philip Rivers. It just does not make sense in the current situation. There are some big factors that make LT’s claim to trade the future Hall of Famer difficult. His contract is the biggest obstacle, added with the current state of the roster, Rivers’ age, a contending team willing to trade that is appealing to Rivers, and no quarterback ready to take Rivers place. A quarterback is the most valuable position on the field, good ones can mean the difference between many wins and losses. At this point, Rivers is too valuable to this team to let him go. The Chargers have a better chance to retool and add pieces to Rivers and winning, then to restart and hope they can build an overall roster that is strong to carry a load despite average quarterback play. This team is not built like Denver or Minnesota and are not close to being as dominant on defense as that team.
LT’s comments strike me as regret from his own situation. Trading Rivers does not make sense for this franchise but LT is looking at his old teammate/friend and feeling sympathetic. He feels sorry that he has to play his last few years on a team that so far does not look good enough to compete.
Chargers fans should slow down thinking it is time to trade Philip Rivers. If he is not on this team are you really that inclined to watch any games? I personally watch this team because of 17, he is one of the best in the business. Instead of wanting a restart, enjoy the time we have with Rivers, because once he is gone it is hard to find quarterbacks as good as Rivers.