In this series, the Bolts from the Blue staff will be taking a closer look at each position group on the Chargers. The Review: What they did in 2019. The View: Where they stand as of today, as far as contracts and viability for 2020. And The Preview: What the Chargers could do to upgrade or change the group, if anything.
As is the completely agreed-upon standard in the sports blogging world, we open this segment with poetry:
“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.”
—Theodore Roosevelt, repeated during a fever dream. March, 1914.
The Chargers in 2019 were a team that had every expectation of succeeding. This belief was bolstered, largely, behind the unerring trust of their quarterback’s talent and lengthy resume. Indeed, Philip Rivers is incredibly talented. No single season of regress will change that truth, but he’s not the young man he used to be.
If you will humor me but a little, this situation reminds me of the life and adventures of one of my favorite historical figures: former President Theodore Roosevelt. A legend in his own time, Teddy won over the masses with his risk-taking, adventurous spirit, and strong personality. Roosevelt’s successes were hard won, and rooted deeply in his own personal conviction and ceaseless drive for action. He was a polarizing figure, but largely well-loved and always entertaining.
According to a Harvard classmate, “he zoomed, he boomed, he bolted wildly.” A journalist said “After you went home from a meeting with the President you had to wring the personality out of your clothes.”
He wasn’t perfect—far from it—but it was a force to be reckoned with. Above all, he had a complete and utter belief in his own self and talents. In his own mind, there was nothing he could not do, and anything that might be possible could again be done with enough self-determination and grit. In these ways, Philip Rivers has the same burning personality as T-R.
Philip Rivers, the Chargers organization, and the fans and pundits all believed in Rivers’ raw talent. In fact, they had every expectation that he would continue to carry the team as he often has over his entire career. While Rivers’ grit and determination are as strong as ever, age begins to catch up with all of us.
We can not for certain say that age was the variable that made 2019 so different from 2018, but we do know that it is ceaseless. There is every reason to believe that a stronger offensive line and a little luck would have changed the narrative completely, but that does not change the fact that, without a doubt, there will be a tipping point in every player’s talents and career. 2019 might be anecdotal, but it came at a time when the Chargers are at a crossroads with their star QB.
Philip Rivers was still very good, but also more erratic than ever before. He started all sixteen games (again), threw 4,615 yards, and had 23 touchdowns in 2019. He also rushed only 12 times for 29 total yards, a stat that seems very out of place in the modern NFL. Even with QB sneaks, that’s less than an attempt per game to try and grab a first down.
Of course, there have been 3 seasons where Rivers has had a negative rushing total for the year (2 of which were his first two seasons as backup), and last year he only nabbed 7 positive yards for the year.
Rivers’ knack for interceptions this season has been the main headline, but I think that that stat can be largely forgiven in a single season sample. In fact, 2019 is very, very comparable to another 5-11 season—2016.
He also rushed 14 times for 35 yards in 2016. These years are nearly identical! The big difference? Touchdowns.
It sounds so silly to say, but Rivers really needs to score more touchdowns. The pronouncement of Philip Rivers’ death are greatly exaggerated, but deep down we know that we are all mortal. It’s also fair to say that Rivers, though talented, isn’t among the top QBs in the league at this time. Perhaps he was; perhaps he will be, but in 2019 he was closer to serviceable than remarkable.
In 1904, Teddy Roosevelt surprised even himself when he said that two terms would be enough for any President. This was an off-the-cuff remark among many during that year, but he considered it binding once printed. For that reason, he ceded his party’s nomination in 1908 to his hand-picked successor, William Howard Taft.
Today, Philip Rivers is a free agent quarterback. He is not on the Chargers roster, nor is he on any other team’s. The same is not true for Tyrod Taylor, a talented journeyman that could theoretically bridge a QB gap on any team in a trade.
The only other quarterback on the roster is Easton Stick.
After the Roosevelt boom years, there really was only one option for the country to vote for Commander in Chief: whoever T-R left in the field. Today, Taft is best known for being so large that he once got stuck in the White House bath tub. That’s not a summary, just his best known ‘stat.’ That alone should be ample summary.
If Easton Stick is our William Howard Taft, we can expect another exciting draft pick in 2021.
Taft’s administration had been a disaster compared to the two terms of growth and excitement prior. Teddy begged his party to nominate him for the 1912 election, but even his popularity couldn’t convince them to nominate T-R over the incumbent Taft.
That’s fine. There’s never been a mountain he couldn’t climb if he put his mind to it. To heck with them—to heck with them all! Theodore Roosevelt would do it by himself. He split off to form what he dubbed the Progressive Party (no relation to the modern party of the same name), but which the nation referred to as the Bull Moose Party (Teddy proudly proclaimed he is as fit as a bull moose, and the name stuck).
Philip Rivers is at the same crossroads as the Chargers organization at this time. He has a resume of success, he is the NFL’s leading starting player iron man, he believes in himself, and polls better alone than the organization he has been affiliated with. If the Chargers refuse to nominate him as their leading representative going forward, he could very well sign with almost any other team and he believes he can will them to victory.
The Easton Stick experiment is not a roadmap to success. Tyrod Taylor is not going to sign for a $6m contract again whether they keep or trade, so the Chargers have some tough choices ahead. Whether it is Philip Rivers or Tom Brady, they would be paying top tier money for a relatively known commodity to compete today. Whether it is Taylor or Stick, they would force themselves to draft a QB in round one and look toward the future. There is a third, perhaps most likely possibility that they hold on to a seasoned veteran QB and still draft their successor, hoping that the Green Bay magic isn’t an anomaly.
In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt was shot in the chest by an anarchist while on the campaign trail. He assessed the wound, decided that his lung wasn’t likely punctured, and continued to the campaign stop to give a riveting speech while he bled. Despite his bravest face, T-R would still split the vote and lose the election. Woodrow Wilson would take the reins and navigate the country into the jazz age and the Great War. A mixed time.
In this comparison, that would imply that the Chargers go another direction in 2020. There would be highs and lows (perhaps the Chargers can look forward to the Roaring Twenties as well, but that was quickly followed with a global depression).
What of Theodore Roosevelt? He jumped at the chance to rouse one more adventure and delightfully signed on for an expedition to explore an uncharted tributary of the Amazon: the mysterious Rio da Dúvida, or River of Doubt. Every scourge of the jungle challenged the group. Teddy jumped into the water to save the canoes from capsizing and cut his leg, soon falling into a fevered trance. “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan, A stately pleasure-dome decree...” he repeated over and over, quoting a Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem. He was on the knife edge of death and, when he briefly came to consciousness, he begged to be left behind to save the rest of the group. Instead, his son and the surviving members of the expedition persevered and navigated the whirlpools, waterfalls, jungle, and animals to reach civilization. The river was re-named the Rio Roosevelt in his honor.
The experience aged T-R terribly, with the tropical fever having ravaged his body. He would die within five years of his voyage up the River of Doubt (though not before being denied volunteer soldiering in WWI). He was a warrior and had lived an incredible life, but the sunset of his career was painful and difficult.
Philip Rivers seems equally stubborn and confident, and he might even be embarking on his own trip into the unknown. The family is loaded up and headed for Florida.
The future is impossible to tell. There are some things in our past that can help us predict the events yet to come, but ultimately every waking second is a new one for us, the Chargers, Philip Rivers, and the world.
As far as the quarterback position for the LA Chargers, it looks like there are going to be some significant changes in the near future. It is only a question of when, exactly, those changes take place.
-Jason “Poetic License” Michaels