The Chargers on Monday confirmed what most already assumed was true about Philip Rivers’ status in 2020: The 38-year-old quarterback will enter free agency for the first time in what will be his 17th NFL season.
This is an interesting scenario for the man who ends his Chargers tenure as the franchise’s all-time leading passer. The free-agency market for a quarterback of Rivers’ age is limited, especially since his last season in LA was the second-worst of his career in terms of average QBR (48.9). Still, Rivers is just a couple seasons removed from his eighth career Pro Bowl nod. He can still play, and reports indicate he is willing to push off retirement if a Super Bowl contender is willing to sign him.
So we have a good idea of the kind of team with which Rivers will want to sign. But who will want to sign Rivers?
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SN’s Vinnie Iyer ranks Rivers No. 12 in his list of the top 50 soon-to-be free agents. Only three quarterbacks — Dak Prescott (likely to stay in Dallas), Drew Brees (certain to stay in New Orleans) and Tom Brady — are ranked higher. That means Rivers is right there with Brady as the top options for teams that might feel they’re a veteran quarterback away from a Super Bowl run.
Which is why the five teams listed atop SportsLine’s odds to land Rivers are all teams that would benefit from an enhanced passing game.
However, we can poke some holes in the idea of Rivers landing in Tampa Bay, Indianapolis, Carolina, Las Vegas or Miami.
Below we expand on whether those teams make sense for the veteran quarterback.
IYER: Why the Redskins are ideal for Rivers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+150)
The Rivers-Bruce Arians pairing is intriguing, and according to ESPN, “The Bucs’ interest in (Rivers) is legitimate.” The fact that Rivers and his family recently moved to Florida obviously is a plus, though reports indicate that relocation had nothing to do with Rivers’ football career.
Tampa Bay hasn’t indicated whether it will move on from Jameis Winston, who in his fifth season led the NFL in passing yards but also led the league with his 30 interceptions. At this point in Rivers’ career, it’s fair to question whether he would be a legitimate upgrade over Winston; Rivers, like Winston, threw only three more touchdown passes (23) than interceptions (20) in 2019.
Rivers likely would be cheaper and could be signed to a shorter-term deal. That could be enough to get him to Tampa.
Indianapolis Colts (+200)
If the Colts were able to find a trade partner, they could deal quarterback Jacoby Brissett and be left with a dead cap charge of $5.5 million in 2020 while also freeing $15.875 million in cap space. They should strongly consider searching for that trade partner.
When Indianapolis extended Brissett’s contract in September, it did so on the heels of Andrew Luck’s shocking retirement. Now general manager Chris Ballard and Co. are no longer operating in scramble mode, and an overview of their current situation might lead them to believe Rivers gives them a better chance to contend in 2020 than Brissett does.
“I thought Andrew Luck was gonna be our quarterback starting Week 1 this (last) season, so I won’t make that prediction,” Ballard said last month during a radio interview when asked whether the Colts’ QB is currently on the roster.
Keep in mind Colts coach Frank Reich was the Chargers’ quarterback coach in 2013 (one of Rivers’ best seasons) and their offensive coordinator in 2014 and ’15. They could reunite in Indy for Rivers’ last run at a title.
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Carolina Panthers (+500)
This might be considered ideal for Rivers, who played his college football at nearby N.C. State. But it would make little to no sense for the Panthers.
According to Spotrac, Rivers’ market value is a little more than $24 million per season. The Panthers are scheduled to pay Cam Newton just north of $21 million in 2020, the last year of his current contract, and the team is in the process of deciding whether to move on from the 30-year-old quarterback this year, rather than next, given the minimal cap ramifications.
If Carolina wants a veteran quarterback for a season in which it’s unlikely to contend, why wouldn’t it just hold onto a franchise icon for another season before turning the page to Newton’s true replacement?
Las Vegas Raiders (+700)
Rivers defeated the rival Raiders more than any other opponent during his career with the Chargers (he’s 18-10 against Oakland), so leading them to a playoff push is the least he could do for what’s left of the fan base as the team moves to Vegas. Plus, the Raiders reportedly are considering moving on from Derek Carr in 2020.
But while Jon Gruden can certainly appreciate the “grinder” that is Rivers, there will be concerns about the veteran’s ability to push the ball down the field consistently at this point in his career. Somebody like Jameis Winston might make more sense for Vegas before it moves on to a younger passer, potentially as early as this year’s draft.
Miami Dolphins (+900)
The Dolphins, armed with tons of cap space and high-quality draft picks, are in position for a quick ascent if they use said cap space wisely and hit on said draft picks. They could be contenders in the AFC East sooner rather than later.
But can they become contenders quickly enough to sell themselves to Rivers in free agency? And, from Miami’s perspective: The team already has a fine bridge quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is due just $8 million in 2020. Why pay triple that amount for Rivers?