On Wednesday, I evaluated all 32 teams and their situation at quarterback so that we could have a better idea of potential destinations for the litany of potentially available QBs in 2020. Among the most prominent of course is Philip Rivers.
Though the LA Chargers have not made their intentions with Rivers publicly known yet, nor do they have any real reason to, many assume that a change is coming. A change for an organization that has started either Rivers or Drew Brees for each of the last 18 years but made only one AFC Championship game appearance. And a change for a quarterback whose Hall of Fame case includes sixth all-time in career passing yards and passing touchdowns, plus eight Pro Bowl appearances.
We’ve speculated a bit already on what the Chargers could do during that transition, but what about Rivers? Here are some possibilities based on what we know about the 32 QB situations.
Connections: Well, you know.
Simple. What if Rivers just returns for a 15th season as the starter? Two years ago he was an MVP candidate under Anthony Lynn and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. Current OC Shane Steichen has been with the team in an offensive capacity since 2016, so he’s also familiar with Rivers in a way that few active coaches are. The team has a need at quarterback, nobody waiting to replace Rivers, and even if they drafted one early could do the sit and wait plan as long as everyone was on board with that idea at the time of signing.
With the belief that Tom Brady is leaving growing stronger, of course New England will be scouting for a replacement. Now, they can either let that be Jarrett Stidham or they could make a play for a veteran. Brady and Rivers are not too similar, but if Bill Belichick signs Rivers, we can assume he had some sort of plan on how to make it work. I’m not saying this marriage seems likely, but obviously it could appeal to Rivers, who surely wants to focus his efforts on finding a destination that will give him the best opportunity to make the Super Bowl.
Connections: Head coach Frank Reich was his QB coach in 2013, and OC in 2014-2015; OC Nick Sirianni was the Chargers Offensive Quality Control coach in 2013 and then QB coach from 2014-2015, then WR coach from 2016-2017; TE coach Jason Michael held that job in San Diego from 2011-2013
The destination seen as the most obvious because of Reich and his staff having significant familiarity with Rivers. Not only that, the Colts have nearly the most cap space in the NFL (estimated at $87 million before cuts), two 2019 Pro Bowlers on the offensive line (Ryan Kelly, Quenton Nelson), and maybe the best under-25 linebacker in the NFL (Darius Leonard). The one position that seemed to be holding them back the most: Quarterback. Not that Jacoby Brissett was terrible, but the limitations between him and someone like Andrew Luck were immediately evident, as seen in the Colts losing in Week 1 to ... the Chargers.
The Colts could find a trade partner for Brissett and save $16 million more (a team would be kind of stupid to not trade for Brissett if they only have to pay his $6 million base salary), putting them over $100 million under the cap. They could sign Rivers for $25 million and still have more cap space than almost every team in the NFL. With that money, they could re-sign Anthony Castonzo, add A.J. Green, make a play for a couple of high-end defensive free agents like James Bradberry and/or Jadeveon Clowney, and still make a push for someone like Hunter Henry if Rivers wanted a familiar face to throw to. I mean, I’m going full-push dream scenario for the Colts, but they’re setup pretty well.
Even without Rivers, Indianapolis seems to be sitting pretty well in the AFC South for 2020 — I’m highly skeptical of the Titans repeating their efforts and always skeptical of a Bill O’Brien team — which is what could make Rivers feel comfortable that this is in fact a decent shot at an AFC title. It’s hard to identify much of a downside other than the fact that the Colts were actually just an average team last year and super non-competitive in the second half of the season; they only beat the Jaguars and Panthers following a 5-2 start.
That’s just picking nits. The Colts have ammunition to make a play for any available quarterback. Does Reich want Rivers? Does GM Chris Ballard, who has no connection to Rivers, want him?
Connections: DC Chuck Pagano’s brother John was on the Chargers staff from 2002-2016
If the Bears cut Akiem Hicks, Prince Amukamara, Taylor Gabriel, and Cordarrelle Patterson, they’ll have $31 million in cap space. As of now, they’re looking at more like $4 million. Just saying, they’ll get the space eventually, but Chicago doesn’t have nearly as good of a situation as Indy. They do, however, have a really good team.
The Bears defense looks good enough to win them the NFC North again next year if they just don’t repeat the play they had at quarterback. Chicago has to be in the running for any QB, but can Matt Nagy still sell people on the idea that he’s an offensive guru?
Connections: Rivers moved to Florida
I think Tampa presents almost as compelling of a case as Indianapolis, if not more so. They have a head coach who likes to air it out. They have two of the best receivers in the NFL and a pretty good tight end. Two pretty good tight ends. They quietly had a really good defense. They play in a division where the Saints’ future with Drew Brees is uncertain, the Panthers’ future with Cam Newton is uncertain, and the Falcons, who are mixed results every season it seems like. To top it off, Tampa Bay also has $79 million in cap space, with only the Dolphins, Colts, and Bills having more. They could afford to sign Rivers, re-sign Shaquil Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh, and still play the market. It all really comes down to their decision on Jameis Winston at this point. It’s not “Winston or Bust” because with all these options it could be “Winston or Rivers” or “Winston or Brady.” That hurts Winston’s leverage at this moment.
The Colts are an attractive option. Are they as attractive as the Bucs though if they don’t tag Winston?
Dark Horse Teams: Titans, Panthers