Life after Rivers could come sooner than you think

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Disclaimer: I’m a huge fan of Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and I do think they have a decent chance to make a postseason run in the next couple seasons, but there is a move that could change the direction of this franchise.

That title may be a little jarring to read. The Chargers have a seven-time Pro Bowler (he declined twice as well), 2013 Comeback Player of the Year and a top-10 statistical quarterback of all-time. The Chargers finished the year 9-7 and a tiebreaker away from the playoffs. It was a remarkable ending considering the 0-4 start in Los Angeles.

A lot of the late-season success was because of Rivers. He finished second in passing yards, fifth in touchdowns and ninth in passer rating. He was torrid in multiple games at the end of the season to keep the team alive, save the Kansas City “division title” game. Notice the importance?

Rivers is everything the team could want in a franchise quarterback and has been for the better part of 11 years. In the big moment, however, where has he been? The two losses to the New England Patriots early in his playoff career slowed down his fire hot come-up when he first began starting. A trend of regular-season success and postseason disappointment began. Mr. December lost his first game in his month in the 2010 season, his fifth year as a starter. But where are the wins in January?

Domination of the division ended as the rise of the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos, built on physical dominance and control, began. As the years continued, Rivers seemed to be fading. Turnovers seemed to become his calling card. A bad offensive line didn’t help. A career rejuvenation under Ken Whisenhunt fueled thoughts that maybe Rivers could defy Father Time, who is creeping up. Rivers turns 37 this year.

Whisenhunt left, Rivers struggled again and the Chargers were 9-23 in two seasons. We come up to present day. The return of Whiz put Rivers back in the upper echelon of quarterbacks this past season. But how long can it last? Age is something not many can defy. For every Tom Brady or John Elway, there are 10 Peyton Manning’s. It comes fast, and it doesn’t apologize. While Rivers has the IQ and touch to prolong its effects, we thought the same of Peyton.

Plus, just how good is Rivers? Where does he rank? Let’s break it down.

Tier 1: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck

These are the guys that can literally will their teams to victories. I know Luck has been hurt, but simply look at the Indianapolis Colts’ record with and without him.

Tier 2: Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson

These guys are so close to being able to shoulder the load by themselves but rely on others offensively and defensively enough that they can’t do it alone.

Tier 3: Carson Wentz, Philip Rivers, Matthew Stafford, Derek Carr, Cam Newton

These are the quarterbacks who need a very sound team around them to make a noise. All these guys are uber-talented but just need more around them. Wentz is very close to being Tier 2, just need to see another year of it. Nick Foles didn’t help his case.

Tier 4: Matt Ryan, Dak Prescott, Case Keenum, Alex Smith, Kirk Cousins

The “Andy Dalton” tier, even though he’s not even on it anymore. These guys can win you games and put up good numbers, but I’m not sure a Super Bowl can come from behind their arm.

Jury is still out on Jared Goff, Deshaun Watson and Jimmy Garoppolo. Ditto Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. I think Goff, Mariota and Winston end up in the fourth tier, Watson the third and Garoppolo the second.

As seen here, Rivers is in the third tier and is good enough to win a Super Bowl. But look at those around him. No rings, sporadic and inconsistent. They have MVP seasons one year, then are average the next. Availability is often said to be the best ability, but consistency is just as important. There’s a reason no one bats an eye when the Patriots, with a 40-year-old quarterback, are Super Bowl LIII favorites.

While teams like the Cleveland Browns or New York Jets would love a third-tier quarterback like Rivers, is it going to be enough to win a Super Bowl for contenders? He has to get through the guys above to get there, and that’s a tough task come January.

Nick Foles. Matt Ryan. Cam Newton. Colin Kaepernick. Joe Flacco. Eli Manning. Those are quarterbacks in the last decade that have started a Super Bowl, and I don’t consider them top two-tier passers. Foles won, but around a team that looked to have the MVP on the team in Wentz. Ryan and Newton had statistical outlier, albeit MVP, seasons and regressed. Flacco only won because he played Kaepernick, who defenses figured out after that Super Bowl. Manning, the best of these quarterbacks, is one of the most inconsistent, hot-and-cold passers this league has ever seen. He was hot those two postseasons.

I think sticking with Rivers will get the Chargers in the playoffs this year and possibly the next. The team around him is good enough and he is still playing at his best. That said, I think this draft has a top two-tier passer. And that is…..

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