For the first time in his 16-year career, former NC State quarterback Philip Rivers is hitting the free-agent market. The 38-year-old recently finished his contract and has the chance to write his own ending to his Hall of Fame-worthy career. Rivers is coming off one of the worst statistical seasons of his career, throwing 20 interceptions, and will be looking to bounce back to his 2018 form. Rivers told Daniel Popper of the Athletic, “Retirement is not really an option.” The Chargers are in a rebuilding stage and may decide to move on from Rivers. They have the sixth-overall pick and may take a chance on Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama or Justin Herbert of Oregon.
Rivers joins a full quarterback free-agent class that includes Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Dak Prescott, Jameis Winston and Ryan Tannehill. This article will dive into Rivers’ free agency options and lists potential teams where he may finish his historic career. The Bengals, Saints and Cowboys are all excluded from this list because the Bengals are likely to draft Joe Burrow from LSU, and the Saints and Cowboys are expected to resign Brees and Prescott.
The Colts already have a former member of the Wolfpack under center in Brissett, but Rivers could add a strong veteran presence and leadership to a young, talented and inconsistent team. Colts head coach Frank Reich also has a history with Rivers, as he used to be the offensive coordinator for the Chargers. The Colts went 7-9 this season and were hampered by injuries.
Brissett threw 18 touchdowns and only six interceptions, which makes the case he should be given another season as the starter to see what he can do after getting more experience. Brissett also has a $21.6 million dollar tax hit, so all signs point to Brissett getting another year to prove he is the Colts quarterback of the future. Barring a trade of Brissett, it doesn’t seem like there is going to be space for Rivers unless he wants to compete with Brissett for playing time.
The Tennessee Titans have shocked the world by making the playoffs in week 17 and bringing down two powerhouses in the Ravens and Patriots the past two weeks. Tannehill took over as starting quarterback in week 7 and has earned himself a lot of money. However, he is a free agent after this season. The only way Rivers has a chance to play in Tennessee is if another team is able to lure Tannehill away from the only team that believed in him, which seems unlikely, especially if he is able to keep the magic alive and bring down the Chiefs next week.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In his first season as head coach, Bruce Arians was supposed to bring out all of the potential Winston had when he was selected with the first-overall pick back in 2015. Winston and the Bucs finished at 7-9, and Winston shockingly led the NFC in touchdowns (33) and less shockingly led the NFL in interceptions (30). Winston has only had one winning season in his five-year career, and Arians stated in his end of year press conference, "We can win with [Winston]. We can definitely win with another [quarterback].”
He also said that Winston’s season ending pick-six “didn’t help” his evaluation of Winston. It sounds like Arians might move on from Winston, and in a pass-heavy offense like the Bucs, Rivers is a great fit. Rivers fits Arians’ offense, represents a more consistent option over Winston, and gives Rivers two great targets in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
The Broncos have had a very hard time replacing Peyton Manning. After Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, Case Keenum and Joe Flacco, is John Elway finally going to try to develop a young quarterback like Drew Lock, who showed promise at the end of the season, or try another veteran? Rivers has a more impressive resume than any of those veteran quarterbacks and might be too promising to pass up for Elway. Rivers could mentor Lock for a season or two before handing him the offense and add stability to the position that Denver has lacked the last few seasons. The Broncos hold the No. 15 pick in the draft, so the top quarterbacks are unlikely to still be available.
The Dolphins are the definition of a rebuilding team. The Dolphins have the fifth-overall pick and will have their pick of the non-Joe Burrow quarterbacks in the draft. Rivers will likely not look to end his career on a rebuilding team, especially one that would draft his replacement a month after he signs there.
Chance: Very Unlikely
Las Vegas Raiders
Jon Gruden and his Raiders are moving from Oakland to Las Vegas next season, and it seems unlikely quarterback Derek Carr will come with them. Carr has struggled the past few years after breaking his leg, and after missing the playoffs by one game this season, the Raiders want to upgrade at quarterback.
Another division rival of the Chargers would give Rivers a chance to get revenge against his former team, but the Raiders have two first-round picks and could trade up to get ahead of the Dolphins and Chargers to get their quarterback of the future. Gruden would love to have Rivers mentor his potential new quarterback, but Rivers would just stay with the Chargers if he wanted his replacement right on his tail.
Chance: Very Unlikely
Rivers returning to North Carolina would make for quite the story. The Panthers seem like they have all the right pieces to be a contender and signed Baylor coach Matt Rhule to a megadeal last week. The Panthers still need to sort out who is going to play quarterback. Cam Newton missed almost the whole year after an injury, and his replacement, Kyle Allen, was too inconsistent. The Panthers hold the No. 7 pick in the draft, and Rhule may want to start his tenure with his own quarterback. Trading Newton would create cap space, but it’s hard to think the Panthers would move on from Newton, especially with so many quarterback-needy teams in front of them in the draft. So while Rivers to the Panthers would make for a great story and homecoming, the most likely scenario is for Newton to start the year as the starter for the Panthers.
Los Angeles Chargers
Rivers was very effective for Los Angeles even up to a year ago, so he may still have something left in the tank. The Chargers may very well draft a quarterback with the sixth-overall pick, but this exact situation did not stop Eli Manning from returning to the Giants even though he knew the Giants would use their sixth-overall pick on a quarterback.
Eli Manning and Philip Rivers’ careers have been connected since the beginning, when they were traded for one another in the 2004 draft, so it makes sense they would follow similar career paths. It’s hard to imagine Rivers on another team, just like it’s hard to imagine Manning in another uniform. Rivers most likely does not want to uproot his large family from the West Coast, so as long as the Chargers will take him back, I think he will return.
Chance: Very Likely
Rivers has played every game of his career as a Charger, and it seems unlikely he wants to move on. So unless the Chargers decide that Rivers is not a fit on their 2020 roster, he will be starting week 1 for Los Angeles. If the Chargers do decide to move on, the Broncos and Buccaneers are the best fits for Rivers. I’d rank the landing spots for Rivers as follows: