One month and two days ago, jarring news emerged from San Diego: Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said he has no plans to extend his contract before it expires after the current season — and that he has real concerns about moving his family to Los Angeles. Coupled with the team’s decision to take a closer look at Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, the facts quickly and naturally led to speculation that the Chargers could trade Rivers to Tennessee for the second overall pick in the draft.
While the story and its potential implications failed to quickly resonate on a widespread basis, the media gradually has recognized the significance of the story. Left unexplored, however, is the notion that the story is more about laying the foundation for a new contract than it is about Rivers ending his career with a team other than the Chargers.
As one well-connected source explained it to PFT within the past two weeks, far more likely than an imminent divorce between Rivers and the Chargers is the likelihood that player and team have launched a mating dance aimed at getting him signed beyond 2015. Rivers knows, if the Chargers move to L.A., that he’ll instantly have more value to a team that will be trying to win hearts, minds, and wallets in the nation’s No. 2 market — possibly in direct competition with the Rams or the Raiders. The Chargers know it, too, but they also know that they won’t be getting extra salary-cap space to accommodate a player’s belief that he has more value to a team in L.A. than he does in San Diego, no matter how accurate that belief is.
Let’s consider one of the first quotes from Rivers, assuming that he’s not thinking about leaving but about leverage.
“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,” Rivers told Acee only four days after the Steelers gave quarterback Ben Roethlisberger a massive, market-value contract.
“Things could change,” Rivers conceded. But if things don’t change before camp opens, he’s not negotiating a new contract. In other words (possibly), if the Chargers give Rivers what he wants on a new deal before training camp, he’ll sign on the dotted line.
In more than a month, not much has developed in the way of potential suitors for Rivers. Some have suggested that he’d be worth two first-round draft picks, a package that a franchise desperate for a franchise quarterback should be willing to instantly sacrifice.
Without a long-term deal, however, it would be a one-year rental with the availability of the franchise tag thereafter. Besides, while a team like the Browns could be gung-ho about the possibility of adding Rivers to the very long list of starting quarterbacks since 1999, Rivers may have no interest in playing for the Browns or any other team that resides a long way from the land of contention.
Some have suggested Rivers wants out because of the quality of the team around him. But what other team out there is a high-end quarterback away from instantly contending for a Super Bowl? Maybe the Texans, possibly the Bills. Neither team’s name has come up — at all — in the past 33 days. For the most part, the teams that would be most interested in Rivers don’t have the kind of supporting cast that would help him get to where he never has been.
Which brings us back to the Titans. Apart from Nashville’s proximity to his hometown, why would Rivers want to play for Tennessee? Arguably, they’re improving on defense with the arrival of Dick LeBeau and several free agents, but they’ve got a long way to go on both sides of the ball to become competitive in the AFC South, and in the AFC generally.
From the Chargers’ perspective, how can they trade Rivers without getting a potential franchise quarterback in return? That’s possibly why the Chargers have created the impression that they would be interested in trading Rivers to the Titans. With the second overall pick, the Titans would be guaranteed to get a possible Rivers replacement.
Some wonder whether the end game for the Titans isn’t Mariota but Jameis Winston, with a Rivers deal getting them to No. 2 and then another deal getting them to No. 1.
Moving up to one of the first two picks becomes dangerous territory for the Chargers, who know a thing or two about using the No. 2 overall pick on a quarterback. In 1998, they climbed up one spot to get in striking distance for Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf. The Colts took Manning, the Chargers took Leaf, and the rest is a very ugly period in San Diego history.
Still, if the Chargers were intent on trading up to No. 2, it could have been accomplished by now. Rivers would need a new contract in Tennessee, but his agent represents Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt and Titans G.M. Ruston Webster. Which means that getting Rivers signed over the long haul in Tennessee arguably would be the easiest part of this process. The real question is whether the Chargers truly want to move Rivers, and whether Rivers truly wants to move to a new team.
The fact that more than a month has passed since the story first hit the NFL’s radar screen without anything tangible happening suggests that contract leverage remains the major part of the equation. Why else would writers in San Diego now be talking about Rivers retiring in lieu of moving to Los Angeles? With no serious trade discussions happening (yet) and the Chargers not throwing a huge pile of money at Rivers, his other potential ammunition for getting the team’s attention comes from the School of Favre.
Whether it’s Rivers, Mariota, or someone else, the Chargers can’t go to Los Angeles in 2016 without a franchise quarterback. The team knows it, Rivers knows it. But there’s currently no reason to credibly believe the Chargers plan to roll the dice on an unproven rookie and there’s currently no reason to credibly believe Rivers wants to roll the dice on an unproven team.
If both sides were willing to do that, the dice would have been rolling by now.