San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers will take the almost unheard of risk of playing out the rest of his current contract rather than signing an extension with the team. Rivers told the Union-Times San Diego of his plan Tuesday, and also said “nothing” could make him reconsider the decision.
Waiting to see what steps the team takes to improve after last year’s 9-7 finish with no postseason appearance, Rivers also evidently isn’t sold on the idea of the Chargers possibly moving to Los Angeles, with a joint stadium venture with the Oakland Raiders currently in the mix.
The 33-year-old and five-time Pro Bowler said he hasn’t totally “ruled out” the idea of playing in L.A., but also stated it’s a “good thing” he’s not under contract when the potential move could take place in 2016.
As of now, it stands to reason, that the Chargers might have to envision a future without Rivers.
“What I can control and all I know as of today, I am signed up for one more year,” Rivers said. “I guess things could change, but with all the uncertainty in many aspects, I don’t see it changing before camp gets here, and when camp gets here I’m even more certain to play it out.”
Quarterbacks, especially one’s as decorated as Rivers, typically agree to lucrative contract extensions before their previous deals expire. The latest example being the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger, who agreed to a five-year, $99 million extension last week and was part of the same 2004 draft class, along with the New York Giants Eli Manning. And even after their season ended in disappointing fashion, the Giants almost immediately wanted to sit down with Manning and talk an extension as well.
Rivers is scheduled to earn more than $17.4 million in salary and bonus next season, making him the 12th highest player in the league, and whatever extension he signed with the Chargers would likely equal that number on average throughout the life the deal.
By not agreeing to an extension, assuming one has been offered or negotiations have even taken place, Rivers does take on a tremendous amount of risk. Although he’s never missed a single start since he took over starting duties in 2006, compiling an 88-56 record with six 4,000-yard seasons and five trips to the postseason, Rivers was hampered by a rib injury last year and even dealt with a bulging disc in his back.
A more serious injury is always possible for NFL players, and Rivers could enter the season without a deal and suffer a knee or shoulder knock, and his phone won’t ring when free agency begins in 2016. Last year alone, Rivers took 36 sacks, the third highest total of his career and was hit or under pressure on 114 dropbacks, according to ESPN.
Chargers general manager Tom Telesco told ESPN after the season ended that the team was “committed” to bringing Rivers back while praising his franchise star's durability and talents.
“I still think he has a number of years left,” Telesco said. “I really do. He keeps himself in great condition. He’s always prepared. And he’s still playing at a high level. Now, anytime you have a star player that’s into his 30s, in my position you always have your eye on who’s the next guy. But I feel good about where Philip is.”
Telesco went a long way to protect Rivers next season by stealing guard Orlando Franklin away from the Denver Broncos for a five-year deal potentially worth $35 million, with $15.5 million guaranteed.
However, the Chargers and Telesco did lose several key players in free agency, a fact that probably hasn’t escaped Rivers. San Diego saw top strong safety and two-year starter Marcus Gilchrist sign with the New York Jets, cornerback Shareece Wright went north to the San Francisco 49ers on a one-year deal worth $4 million after tying for the Chargers lead with 10 passes defended, and No. 1 running back Ryan Mathews jettisoned off to the Philadelphia Eagles for $11 million over three years even though he’s likely to play second-fiddle to DeMarco Murray.
Telesco did plug most of those holes at cheaper rates. He snagged safety Jimmy Wilson from the Miami Dolphins for a $4.25 million over two years, but only half of that is guaranteed. And instead of giving receiver Eddie Royal $15 million ($5 million guaranteed) over three years, the Chargers agreed to pay veteran receiver Stevie Johnson $10.5 million ($3.5 million guaranteed) over the same span. San Diego also, perhaps wisely, decided not to overpay linebacker Andrew Gachkar, who totaled 49 tackles last season and got a $5.2 million deal from the Dallas Cowboys.
The Chargers largely held pat after the wild first few days of free agency, but it wouldn’t be right to say they improved. They owned the No. 4 pass defense in the league last year, which should likely hold, but were No. 26 against the run, and with only 29 sacks had the third-worst pass rush in the NFL.
The loss of Mathews, who’s correctly labeled as injury prone since he’s missed 20 out of a possible 80 games over five years, might not be considered huge, but San Diego owned the No. 30 rushing attack last season and thus far hasn't addressed the problem in free agency.
San Diego still has $19.8 million in salary cap space to use, according to Spotrac, so there is still time to fill out the roster to Rivers’ liking. There are several defensive ends available, but most are in their 30s or coming off injuries, meaning the Chargers won’t offer them the guaranteed dollars free agents want. There’s Dallas’ Anthony Spencer, 31, the New York Giants’ Mathias Kiwanuka, 32, or even the Green Bay Packers B.J. Raji, 28, but he missed all of last season with a torn biceps injury.
Receiver could also be an issue, with second-year wide out Keenan Allen slightly regressing in 2014, and veteran Malcom Floyd is now 33. San Diego did sign 30-year-old and former Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl hero Jacoby Jones, but after Allen, Jones, and Floyd no other receiver on the roster has more than two years of experience.
Maybe Telesco’s plan is to build through the draft. San Diego owns six picks, including the No. 17 overall pick in the first round, in the April-May draft and there’s a ton of potential in pass rushers like Nebraska’s Randy Gregory or Missouri’s Shane Ray. The Chargers could also find a new running back like Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah in the second round.
As for where Rivers could actually go, that’s only up for speculation. But considering how talent-poor the free agent market for quarterbacks was this month, many teams would jump at the chance to land Rivers. The Houston Texans handed former Cleveland Brown Brian Hoyer a two-year deal worth $10.5 million, half of which is guaranteed, and Hoyer tossed 13 interceptions and eventually lost his starting job to a rookie last year.
“The last time we talked was so close to the end of last season, and I was pretty banged up,” Rivers said to UT-San Diego. “It was more of the notion of I don’t know how much longer I want to do this. That was one of the scenarios. That has left, and I’m excited. I feel like I have a lot of good years left.”