Philip Rivers’ NFL future has become an increasingly hot topic, culminating with this week’s announcement that the free agent quarterback would not be returning for a 17th season with the Los Angeles Chargers.
But what about the Bolts?
They’ve been blessed with Rivers and Drew Brees for most of this century but now enter unfamiliar territory — and just a year removed from a 12-4 campaign that matched the AFC West rival Kansas City Chiefs and eventually landed L.A. in the divisional round of the playoffs.
But this year, those longtime rivals went in diametrically opposed directions, the Chargers finishing in the AFC West basement with a 5-11 mark — though nine of those losses were by seven or fewer points — while the Chiefs brought Kansas City its first NFL championship in 50 years.
Now the Chargers must decide how close they are to competing with K.C. – not to mention find a way to galvanize a stagnant fan base – as they chart a new course under center.
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Here are six options that seem (mostly) viable for 2020:
Stand pat: Los Angeles has highly respected veteran QB Tyrod Taylor under contract for 2020, and LB Thomas Davis mentioned multiple times this week on NFL Network how much Taylor’s teammates love him. Taylor is still only 30 and led the Buffalo Bills to the playoffs in 2017. He throws a beautiful deep ball, rarely is responsible for turnovers, is a major threat as a runner — a nice trait given the Bolts’ recent O-line issues — and would be a more-than-realistic option assuming head coach Anthony Lynn wants to continue emphasizing his ground game. Easton Stick, a fifth-round pick in 2019, is currently behind Taylor. The winningest QB in FCS history after leading North Dakota State to three titles, he has a game and build (6-1, 224) with uncanny resemblance to Taylor’s. Stick didn’t appear in the regular season as a rookie but struggled noticeably in his first pro preseason (4 INTs, 44.1 QB rating on 46 pass attempts).
Sign a free agent who could be a long-term solution: If you need a quarterback, this is the right year to be in the market. Teddy Bridgewater, Ryan Tannehill, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota might be options. Aside from 31-year-old Tannehill, none is older than 27. All come with first-round pedigrees … and, of course, reasons they didn’t develop into franchise passers with their original teams. Winston — a younger version of Rivers in some respects — will probably want to chuck it, but the other three could potentially meld nicely with Lynn’s run-first philosophy.
Draft a quarterback at No. 6: Since the Chargers landed Rivers in a 2004 draft-day trade for Eli Manning, they’ve picked this high — sixth overall — only once, four years ago when they took DE Joey Bosa. They’re in a very good spot to land an eventual Rivers-level replacement, and Oregon’s Justin Herbert is a favorite target in many pre-combine mock drafts. He’s 6-6 and 237 pounds, known for being highly intelligent, showed nice wiggle in this year’s Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin by running for three TDs … and, yep, he’s got an arm, too, throwing 61 TDs (against 14 INTs) over the past two seasons and generally displaying nice accuracy and velocity. And with Taylor on board, Lynn wouldn’t have to rush a rookie into the lineup.
Sign Tom Brady: Rivers is gone, and Brees probably wouldn’t return to the Bolts, most likely to re-sign with the New Orleans Saints or retire. But TB12? He might be in play. After 20 years with the New England Patriots, he’s hurtling toward free agency for the first time, and his expiring contract stipulates the Pats cannot tag him. And who better to jump start the Chargers’ atrophied fan base than a six-time Super Bowl winner and California native who, even at age 43 next season, might be able to hold down the fort for a year or two on a roster with plenty of supporting talent on both sides of the ball?
Trade up to draft a quarterback: By sticking at No. 6, the Chargers are unlikely to get a crack at the two college passers generally rated ahead of Herbert: LSU Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. Conventional wisdom — at present — would suggest the Cincinnati Bengals will take Burrow first overall, while Tagovailoa drops, perhaps to the Miami Dolphins at No. 5. Moving ahead of Miami wouldn’t be cheap. The New York Jets sent the sixth overall pick (plus three second rounders) to Indianapolis two years ago for the Colts’ pick at No. 3, a selection that eventually netted Sam Darnold for Gang Green. The Washington Redskins (No. 2 pick), Detroit Lions (No. 3) and New York Giants (No. 4) are unlikely to pick a passer this spring and might be worth early phone calls if the Chargers aren’t really in love with Herbert or do covet either Burrow or Tagovailoa — who are both more likely to spark a ticket frenzy than Herbert given their national profiles and tantalizing abilities. And, again, Taylor is insurance, especially if Tagovailoa’s injured hip isn’t ready for NFL contact.
Sign Dak Prescott: Crazy, right? Let’s play it out. If the Dallas Cowboys continue to drag their feet on a long-term extension for their two-time Pro Bowler, they’ll certainly place the franchise tag on him in the coming weeks. And if they put the non-exclusive tag on Prescott — unlikely, yes, if they go to the trouble of franchising him — the Chargers would be wise to start scheming. Prescott, 26, has further upside despite throwing for 4,902 yards and 30 TDs in 2019. There are a ton of Cowboys fans in Southern California (and everywhere), which is why Dallas holds training camp there annually — keeping Chargers Prescott jerseys in inventory might be tough. Lynn could continue to run the ball — just look at how well Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have complemented one another. If Prescott didn’t receive that exclusive tag, all it would take is an offer sheet — a stratagem usually dismissed out of hand because it costs two first-round picks if the player switches teams — the Cowboys wouldn’t be willing to match. Steep price considering a pair of Round 1 selections, including No. 6 this year, and the financial package? For sure. But when you consider that non-quarterbacks such as LT Laremy Tunsil and CB Jalen Ramsey were dealt last year in packages that included two first-rounders, wouldn’t Prescott easily be worth the investment given all he could potentially provide on and off the new field at SoFi Stadium?
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
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