INDIANAPOLIS – If many of the national pundits are right, the Colts could be making a major splash in free agency this spring.
The Los Angeles Chargers announced on Monday that they will not be re-signing Philip Rivers.
So, after 224 straight regular season starts as the quarterback of the Chargers, the 38-year-old Rivers will have to find a new NFL home in 2020.
Chatter from several in the national media have pegged the Colts as the best free agent fit for Rivers.
What are the pros and cons of such a move?
-Frank Reich Connection: The connection of Frank Reich and Nick Sirianni both having past history coaching Philip Rivers is the most obvious reason the Colts would have interest in signing the 16-year vet. Simply, Reich loves Rivers. “Philip is an elite quarterback in this league. He has proven that year in and year out. He is a tough competitor. He is everything you want in a quarterback. He is elite – elite accuracy, elite toughness, playmaking.” Reich was Rivers’ quarterbacks coach in 2013, a year in which the QB had a career-high completion percentage. Reich then became the offensive coordinator for Rivers from 2014-15. That’s when Sirianni was promoted to quarterbacks coach in San Diego. The two most important decision makers for the Colts offense have direct familiarity with Rivers. Therefore, you wouldn’t have a huge hurdle in playbook/scheme, compared to other quarterbacks you’d bring in.
-Key Traits: Just last week, we talked about the specific traits the Colts see in elite quarterbacks. Over the years, Reich has often pegged Rivers as a QB having many of those traits (accuracy, cognitive ability, leadership). For his career, Rivers has completed 64.7 percent of his passes, with 68.3 percent and 66.0 completion numbers each of the last two seasons. For Reich, the ability to process things pre-snap is a vital component for a starting quarterback in his offense. Reich has previously called Rivers one of the smartest players in the NFL, regardless of position.
-Improvement Over Current Situation: While we can (and should) debate the long-term ramifications of a potential move, there are several aspects to Rivers’ game that point to the Colts upgrading at quarterback here in the present. Playing with far better skill talent, yet nowhere near the offensive line that’s in Indianapolis, Rivers had a significantly higher completion percentage and a much higher yards per attempt number than Jacoby Brissett last season. You would be getting a quarterback willing to take more chances down the field. Rivers is also one of the quicker rhythm throwing QBs in the league, which is an area Brissett struggled with in 2019. Saying Rivers is a current improvement over Brissett isn’t hyperbole, but how much of an improvement is a tougher question to answer.
-Band-Aid Move: Anytime you are signing a 38-year-old quarterback the fix is heavily weighted on the short-term (Rivers has said he will be playing another ‘two years’ at the most). Sure, the Colts could turn around this April and use a high-ish draft pick on a quarterback and then have Rivers start (and groom?) until that younger signal caller is ready. Although doing that would then limit the amount of high-end resources the Colts can use this offseason for other various needs. Would such a signing stunt the Colts moving on to a longer-term answer as the franchise QB in Indy? Signing Rivers (without addressing QB early in the draft) would still not provide the answer at quarterback past 2021. And it wouldn’t follow the ‘sustained success/homegrown’ path we often hear from Ballard.
-What’s Left In The Tank? If you are making a reference to golf, there’s no question Rivers is on the back nine of his career, and more so walking down the fairway of his last few holes. Rivers will have his career debated for Hall of Fame induction one day, but playoff success as of late has not been there. The Chargers have made the playoffs just once in the last 6 years (advancing to the Divisional Round 1-1 in 2018). That’s come with some notable playoff-caliber talent around Rivers. Are we seeing the downfall of Rivers as a player?
-Enough Of An Improvement? If you put Philip Rivers on the Colts last season what’s their record? 9-7? Better? Worse? While Rivers would be playing behind a more consistent offensive line in Indy, we have to acknowledge that scrambling and keeping plays alive with his legs is not a strength (and something Jacoby Brissett does really well). Rivers also threw 20 interceptions last season and has had a higher INT rate over the last two seasons. If the Colts are going to hand Rivers top-10 quarterback money in free agency, will that lead to a team getting back into the playoffs? Or would the Colts still be dangling in quarterback purgatory, while drafting later in rounds, with an inevitable question at the game’s most important position still there?