Philip Rivers looking for best fit in free agency

Much speculation has encompassed Philip Rivers entering free agency and where he'd fit best in 2020. Between last year's tape and recent offseason whispers, it appears there's already a clear cut favorite to land the 16-year veteran.

After 16 seasons with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers, Philip Rivers will enter free agency for the first time, seeking a new team that best fits his playstyle. But what style is that exactly? And which team makes the most sense?

Coming out of Athens high school in Alabama, Rivers was labeled a pocket passer with a strong arm, decent footwork, and the ability to read defenses. In other words, Rivers was identified as a pro-style passer.

According to Ian Rapoport, however, Rivers’ playstyle is not what Chargers’ head coach Anthony Lynn envisioned from the beginning.

Rapoport goes on to explain that Lynn prefers a more mobile guy under center, and mobility isn’t Rivers’ strong suit, unfortunately. If that’s enough to move on from the franchise’s all-time leading passer, what’s next for Lynn and the Chargers?

Pro Football Network’s own Tony Pauline believes the upcoming draft is where the Chargers intend to address the quarterback position. Furthermore, PFN Insider, Benjamin Allbright, believes that Oregon’s Justin Herbert is their guy. And Herbert is markedly more athletic than Rivers.

Despite not possessing the elusiveness coveted at the position these days, Philip Rivers enters free agency having done his fair share of moving in the pocket, extending plays, and avoiding sacks. So, it depends on what mobility means to you, specifically.

In 2019, Rivers was sacked 34 times, which was less than 15 other quarterbacks in the NFL. However, the 56 hits he took were sixth-most among starting passers. Additionally, the fact he only surrendered an average amount of sacks is vital given the state of the team’s offensive line.

Last year, Chargers’ tackles Trent Scott and Sam Tevi, combined to allow 88 quarterback pressures. Only New York Giants’ Nate Solder and Mike Remmers allowed more. So if Rivers was one of the more pressured and hit passers in 2019, why wasn’t he one of the more sacked quarterbacks?

Pocket passing quarterbacks gain that title from their comfort within that space. Rivers may not be mobile in the sense of today’s dual-threat signal-callers, but he’s head and shoulders above many current NFL passers in his awareness and subtle movements within the pocket, effectively buying him that needed time.

Philip Rivers remains adamant ahead of free agency that he can still perform at a high level despite turning 39 this coming season, and most recently, he has proven that. While 2019’s 23 touchdowns to 20 interceptions may be cause for alarm to some, Rivers still completed 66% of his passes while throwing for 4,615 yards, despite playing behind one of the league’s worst offensive lines.

Undoubtedly, Philip Rivers can become a pivotal free-agent fit to the right team. More importantly, an upgraded offensive line would provide him the opportunity to add to an already prolific NFL career.

Pro Football Network’s Offensive Share Metric presents a telling story as well. Among all qualified quarterbacks, Rivers recorded the eighth highest OSM score (27.08) of 2019, putting him above the likes of Deshaun Watson (25.70), Lamar Jackson (24.01), and Super Bowl 54 MVP Patrick Mahomes (22.48). However, his score reveals a player asked to do too much given his turnover numbers and how often he was hurried.

Wherever he continues his career, Rivers would be better served to manage a more balanced attack, limiting his risk. So, let’s look at the possible landing spots for the wily veteran.

Tennessee Titans

I know, I know, this isn’t a popular pick throughout the media. Honestly, I’m not sure anyone is even bringing up the Tennessee Titans when speaking of Rivers’ future. However, if Rivers is looking for protection and a complimentary run game, the Titans are as good as any destination to provide him such things.

With protection and the ability to take advantage of the defense with play-action fakes, Rivers could be a slight upgrade over Ryan Tannehill and, obviously, Marcus Mariota.

In the above video, you get a sense that Rivers rushes the fake while procuring happy feet. Even so, the throw is good enough. But joining the Titans would bring that added protection. Combine that with the run threat of Derrick Henry, and these behaviors could easily be eliminated. Of course, the Titans would need to re-sign Henry in this scenario, making it about as far a longshot as any.

The second portion of the clip shows a progressing passer with great anticipation. And anyone who watched the Titans AFC championship run knew quarterback Ryan Tannehill held that offense back when it needed him the most. Tagging the 31-year-old would cost upwards of $27 million, and Rivers could end up being cheaper.

While far fetched, I wouldn’t be all that surprised to see Tennessee give Rivers a little less than that to retain Henry and make another run at a Super Bowl.

Las Vegas Raiders

So, why the Raiders? Why would general manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden replace a 28-year-old three-time pro bowl selection in Derek Carr with a borderline 40-year-old on the cusp of retirement? Not to mention, Raiders fans may struggle to welcome in the very guy who beat them consistently throughout his career.

While outlandish, initially, PFN’s Ben Allbright is hearing that Carr is “being heavily shopped.” And trading Carr would create a glaring need at the position heading into April’s draft where the Raiders currently hold the 12th and 19th overall selections. Not exactly the place to nab a day one starting quarterback.

Here against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 15, Rivers recorded his season-high OSM score (34.58), but he did so while throwing three interceptions.

The first of which was arguably a missed DPI. Regardless, the play may lean toward the argument of Rivers’ loss of arm strength while the last two interceptions, thrown on the final two drives of a 39-10 shellacking, were visible prayers.

Mayock has stated that he evaluates each position every year and that if they can improve at any position, they will. So, how would Rivers be an upgrade over Carr? First of all, the Chargers consistently put Rivers in a situation to carry their offense, leading to end of game prayers and an uptick in turnovers. So, don’t let those numbers deter you.

Plus, it’s not like the Raiders are hinging their future on adding Philip Rivers in free agency. It’s a strategy that would save the club money (outright cutting Carr would save $13.6 million) and allow for a young passer to learn behind the savvy veteran. The Raiders could use their second first-round selection on a quarterback.

Enter bridge quarterback Philip Rivers. With a blossoming young running back in Josh Jacobs and a potential first-round talent at receiver, Rivers would remain in the only division he’s known while also facing the Chargers twice in 2020. By the way, did I mention Gruden loves Rivers as a competitor?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Listen, just because Rivers and his family moved to the panhandle of Florida doesn’t automatically mean he wants to play football there. Of course, it’s gorgeous year-round and the absolute best destination for transitioning toward retirement, but people are reading too much into this portion of the story. However, that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t suit up close to home.

PFN Insider, Benjamin Allbright firmly believes the Buccaneers and head coach Bruce Arians are very much in the running for Rivers in 2020. With Arian’s play call brilliance and both Mike Evans and Chris Godwin at his disposal, Rivers could test his career-best numbers.

Against the Denver Broncos, Rivers displayed accuracy while throwing into tight coverage and in between multiple defenders. This is the type of gunslinger mentality that coach Arians tends to gravitate towards.


But what of the Buccaneers offensive line and run game, isn’t that equally as important? For the most part, Tampa Bay’s front five were middle of the pack protection wise. On the one hand, the offense was outstanding pass production-wise but allowed quite a few sacks in the process. So, it’s challenging to weigh the quality when the Buccaneers passed so frequently. Also, the running game was abysmal as the franchise continues its’ search for a three-down runner.

With an aging right tackle, Tampa Bay will need to solidify the offensive line and find a running back to take the pressure off whoever is under center. If Arians can persuade Rivers, the Buccaneers would need to fix a couple of things before automatically becoming AFC South contenders.

Indianapolis Colts

No team seems to make more sense for Philip Rivers in free agency than the Indianapolis Colts. There are multiple connections. First off, Colts head coach Frank Reich has a familiarity with Rivers from their time together from 2013-2015. Reich initially served as the Chargers quarterback coach before a promotion in 2014, making him the offensive coordinator.

Secondly, current Colts quarterback coach Nick Sirianni was also with the Chargers during that time where he too coached the quarterbacks when Reich moved to OC. With Riech and Sirianni, Rivers could have a seamless transition into a new program, speeding up the prospect of year one success.

And with each passing day, it appears the Colts are the overwhelming favorite to land number 17. PFN’s Tony Pauline recently stated that Rivers would be the perfect solution to the Colt’s quarterback conundrum created from Andrew Luck’s abrupt retirement. It’s reported that people at the NFL combine believe “this will happen.”

As far as playstyle goes, Riech and Sirianni know what they’d be getting in Rivers, so if signed, you’d have to believe the offense would suit him. And that offensive line? Talk about the perfect fit. In addition to better pass protection, the Colts run game was a top ten unit in yards (2,130) and averaged 4.5 yards per carry in 2019.

Coincidentally, number 17 will enter his 17th season. And while he isn’t the same player he once was, Indianapolis offers a guaranteed ten games played indoors, which will assist in the loss of arm talent. The Colts’ coaching staff will be on the same page as him, lessening the amount of new terminology to learn. Most importantly, the Colts are in a position, with a capable signal-caller, to compete for the division and make a postseason run.

Remember, the Colts were a Super Bowl candidate right before Luck’s retirement, so Rivers’ best fit, a familiar one, may also be his best shot at winning that elusive world championship.

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