In a physically taxing sport that spits players out well before their time, Philip Rivers represented the exception.
Since he became their starting quarterback in 2006, Rivers was the face of the Chargers, always available, usually dependable, their defense against the unknown and inexperienced that has wreaked havoc over so many teams in the league.
Rivers’ 224 consecutive starts are second-most by an NFL quarterback, trailing only Brett Favre (297). He was always there for them.
“Through 16 seasons, 224 consecutive starts and more ‘dadgummits’ and ‘shoots’ than any of us can count, not only has Philip Rivers been our quarterback, he’s been the heart and soul of our organization,” Chargers owner Dean Spanos said in a statement.
Still, things do not last forever. Eli Manning just announced his retirement. Tom Brady and Drew Brees may be nearing the end of their stays in New England and New Orleans. And on Monday, the Chargers and Rivers announced he will become a free agent, ending his career with the only team he has ever known.
“After stepping back a bit from last season, we reconnected with Philip and his representatives to look at how 2019 played out, assess our future goals, evaluate the current state of the roster and see if there was a path forward that made sense for both parties,” Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said in statement.
“As we talked through various scenarios, it became apparent it would be best for Philip and the Chargers to turn the page on what has truly been a remarkable run. …This will allow everyone to put themselves in the best position for success in 2020,”
Rivers leaves the Chargers as the greatest passer in team history, surpassing even Hall of Famer Dan Fouts. Rivers is sixth in NFL history in career passing yards (59,271) and touchdown passes (397). He led the Chargers to the playoffs six times, including the 2008 AFC Championship Game when he played with a torn ACL.
But unlike his contemporaries – Eli Manning, Brees, Brady and Ben Roethlisberger – he never played in a Super Bowl.
“I gave it everything I had every week,” Rivers told reporters after their final regular season game this season. “And maybe it means an interception on 4th-and-18 when you’re down 10. … It’s just like, I ain’t quitting. I think that. Doing it with so many guys over 14 years and going to the locker room, win or lose, and I can say, dadgummit, we fell short, or we won, but, shoot, I couldn’t have tried any harder.”
Rivers – who set 30 team records – threw only 23 TD passes with 20 interceptions and 23 turnovers for the 5-11 Chargers in 2019. With his five-year, $83.25 million contract expiring, there was always doubt the team would want to commit to him for the future.
“I do feel I have some emotional fire and passion still left,” Rivers told the Los Angeles Times on Monday. “I know I have the passion for the game that I think is going to last my lifetime. And I think I have the ability left to go play at a high level.
“Some people might disagree that I can still play. But I would say I definitely can do it. I cleaned up a few of those other things, and if I’m playing consistently, I can still do it physically.”
Rivers certainly will have his chance. Although there are a number of high-profile QBs on the free agent market, there are many teams that would benefit from his experience and skill. Tampa Bay, Carolina, Indianapolis and Tennessee come to mind.
“I’m not sure what the future holds,” Rivers said in a statement. “But my family and I look forward to seeing what God has planned for us next.”
Obviously, the Chargers are now one of those teams searching for a QB. With the sixth pick in the draft, they have veteran Tyrod Taylor on the roster and its unlikely the team will want to head into the 2020 season with that journeyman in control as they begin play in their new downtown stadium in Los Angeles.
“There’s only one Philip Rivers, and we’ve been fortunate to call him our QB1 for the better part of two decades,” Spanos said. “ We cannot thank Philip enough for giving it his all on every single down and for the memories he created that will last a lifetime.”
It would have been nice if Rivers and the Chargers could have co-existed into the future. But the truth is, he had become too unreliable for coach Anthony Lynn to depend.
Many of his interceptions were clearly his fault, ill-advised throws into tight coverage or overthrows that were easy pickings. It’s not a stretch to say the Chargers could have won two or three more games in 2019 had it not been for Rivers. They lost nine games by a single possession.
“I do think that you can walk out of here with your head held high when you fight and compete and do it the only way you know how,” Rivers said after that final game. “And so that’s one thing I’ll never apologize for and never really feel ashamed of, because I do it the way I know how, as hard as I can do it, and sometimes it’s enough and sometimes it’s not. And that’s the only way I’ll continue to do it.”