While there’s plenty of talk about the Chargers and a need to put in place a viable succession plan for a post-Philip Rivers world, it’s worth noting the Los Angeles-based franchise has the best quarterback situation in the AFC West as we head into the offseason.
The Kansas City Chiefs may have made the playoffs on the arm of Alex Smith, as well as drafted their next franchise guy in Patrick Mahomes last season, but their playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans raises serious questions about the direction of the franchise.
In Oakland, or soon to be Las Vegas, Derek Carr underwent a dramatic decline from the gun-slinger who led the Silver and Black to the playoffs last season before injury. Carr’s bad season, coupled with a number of other key Raiders struggling, meant they would miss the playoffs this time around. Coach Jack Del Rio, the toast of Oakland 12 months ago, paid the price with his job.
At Mile High Stadium, the Denver Broncos and John Elway sit somewhere in the middle of a big pile of below-average quarterbacks. Whether you think Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch, Trevor Siemian or Chad Kelly is the right option moving forward, you can’t deny that the Broncos offense looks shaky at best.
At 36 years old, Philip Rivers is far closer to the end of his storied career than he is to the start of it, but as he showed this season, he is still a fine passer of the football, finishing with the second-most passing yards (4,515) behind only Tom Brady. In a league that rewards smart quarterback play and in an offense that boasts significant weaponry, Rivers stands able to make a big impact on the 2018 season.
Despite a shaky offensive line, which should see some love in either free agency or the draft this offseason, Rivers proved capable of getting the best out of a gaggle of talented offensive weapons. Hunter Henry has boomed into good pass-catching tight end, allowing Antonio Gates to take a secondary role. Melvin Gordon has grown into a strong runner from the backfield and with the support of surprise rookie sensation Austin Ekeler, he should continue to develop.
Amongst his receiving corps, Rivers has the world-class Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin, Tyrell Williams and intriguing rookie prospect Mike Williams, one of the more underrated receiving groups in the league. While it won’t be an immediate priority, the receiving group could see some love during the offseason with the addition of a veteran presence or even a talented rookie. The upcoming draft class is deep at wide receiver and could see some value in the later rounds.
Behind Rivers, Kellen Clemens is an unrestricted free agent and will likely not be brought back by the Chargers for 2018. Despite his veteran presence, the time is right to slot an heir apparent in to the depth chart behind Rivers.
In Cardale Jones, the Chargers have an interesting prospect. Coach Anthony Lynn spent time working with Jones in Buffalo and obviously thought enough to dangle a conditional seventh-round pick to bring him to Los Angeles. There are some interesting aspects to his game, and he’ll have the offseason and training camp to prove his worth as a No. 2 quarterback in the NFL.
With two years left on his deal with the Chargers and a small cap hit attached to him, the Chargers can afford to wait and see how Jones progresses.
As things stand, the Chargers can enter 2018 with the comfort of knowing any work done at the quarterback position is done as preparation for the future while Rivers continues to get the job done.
Around the rest of the division, intrigue around Smith’s immediate future, who the Broncos will choose to start with under center and whether Carr is as good as his paycheck suggests will dominate talk throughout the offseason.
During the first few weeks of the 2017 season, as the Chargers slumped to 0-4 and looked doomed for a completely fruitless campaign, Rivers and first-year head coach Lynn looked to be not so much on different pages as reading different books.
As the season progressed, the pair felt each other out and seemed to find the right groove, resulting in a 9-3 finish to narrowly miss the playoffs. With the progress of 2017 and another training camp together, things should click much earlier in 2018.
According to ESPN’s quarterback ratings for 2017, Smith led the AFC West passers with a QBR of 61.7, eighth overall in the league. Rivers was second with a QBR of 57.6, putting him 11th overall in the NFL. Despite Smith’s better numbers, the feeling that he was boosted by strong efforts from Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Career years from offensive weapons, coupled with a humbling exit from the playoffs, should spell the end of Smith’s time in Kansas and the jury is still out on how quickly Patrick Mahomes will adapt.
Drafted 10th overall out of Texas Tech, Mahomes looks like a good prospect, but only time will tell.
As things stand, the only genuine, consistent performer amongst the AFC West quarterback class of 2018 is Philip Rivers.