There is a very real chance that Philip Rivers is not back with the Chargers in 2020, according to sources with knowledge of the situation, with the longtime standout quarterback experiencing one of the worst seasons of his career and the team preparing for a move to a new stadium in Inglewood, California.
Rivers, who turns 38 in December, has continued to commute to work from San Diego, where the team formerly played, and is a free agent at the end of the season. There have been no inroads toward a contract extension, sources said, and none planned. Rivers is a potential future Hall of Famer, and one of the most impactful players in franchise history, but his relationship with some in the organization has frayed a bit in recent years. It is far from a foregone conclusion that he is back in 2020, and ownership may be inclined to go in a different direction, the sources said.
A team official cautioned that no decisions on personnel for 2020 had been made, with all evaluations ongoing. He noted the offensive line's injuries and poor play as a critical factor as well in trying to sort out the offense's collective woes. But no one in the organization is absolving the QB of blame either, and difficult decisions loom.
In a season in which the Chargers had high expectations of returning to the postseason, Rivers has struggled, with his tendency to force the ball up for grabs becoming particularly troubling. Repeatedly he has thrown crippling interceptions in critical situations -- something that had been chafing some within the organization even prior to last week's four-interception performance in a crucial loss to Kansas City. Firing offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, who had a long and close relationship with the quarterback, has not curbed things, and some in the organization believe it is possible backup Tyrod Taylor sees the field this season (a scenario that would not be unlike when the Giants sat down Eli Manning, albeit for just one game, two years ago).
Scouts and evaluators have detected a decline in Rivers' overall play -- which is hardly a knock on him after 16 years in the league and with 2004 draft contemporaries Manning and Ben Roethlisberger having challenging seasons as well -- with his arm strength, mobility (never a strong suit) and decision making all coming in question. "The deep ball has become a real problem for him," said one evaluator whose team faced the Chargers this season. "He doesn't look like the same guy."
Rivers is in the final year of a contract in which he is earning $21 million a season, and the Chargers have done exhaustive scouting on the top quarterbacks in the draft the past three years, ultimately choosing not to use a high pick on a passer but realizing that a change may have to come at that position sooner rather than later. Only Jameis Winston (22) and Daniel Jones (17) have turned the ball over more than Rivers (16) this season, and only Winston has thrown more than his 14 interceptions.
Rivers has thrown 57 interceptions over the past four seasons, many of them in the red zone and with the game on the line; only Winston (61) has thrown more in that span, and no one else in the NFL has thrown more than 44 picks in that span. Rivers' QB rating (85.5) is his lowest his 2007, his second season as a starter, and he is on pace for his fewest TD passes since 2007 (22).
Furthermore, Rivers's lack of interest in promoting the move to Los Angeles -- he spends upwards of four hours a day in his car commuting back to San Diego -- has not gone unnoticed, either, which some in the organization believe could be a critical element moving forward. The Chargers, and the Rams for that matter, are having great difficulty selling seat licenses and tickets for the new stadium Rams owner Stan Kroenke is building in Inglewood, and the feeling within the organization is that Rivers has not embraced the relocation. For the business side of the Chargers' operations, it's difficult to launch a campaign in a new stadium with a quarterback who is essentially not a part of that community.
"He doesn't seem like he wants anything to do with L.A., at a time when the team is actually completing its relocation to L.A.," one source said.
Rivers is beloved in San Diego, but those fans and that market have shunned the Chargers, understandably, while playing in Carson the past two seasons. Rivers is a devoted family man and has never displayed an interest to play anywhere else, though a league source suggested the Bears -- with a loaded defense and some pieces on offense as well -- might interest Rivers if he chose to play in 2020.
As for the Chargers, going with a novice quarterback as they move into a new stadium fighting for attention and support might not carry the day. The team will not pick high enough to land the top three quarterbacks in all likelihood, and having a veteran passer with a national profile could appeal to them. Should a potential free agent quarterback Tom Brady ever opt to play for someone other than New England, several sources close to him believe the Chargers would be his preferred destination, while former NFL MVP Cam Newton may end up available in trade this winter as another high-profile option should the Chargers move on from Rivers.