The window of opportunity may have passed Rivers and the Chargers
Philip Rivers will never win a Super Bowl.
Okay, okay. That may be a bit harsh, so how about this:
Philip Rivers will never be the starting quarterback for a Super Bowl-winning team. He could always get traded and become the veteran backup to a young up-and-coming signal-caller and get a ring while on the sidelines.
But if you are thinking Rivers will lead the Chargers to the Promised Land, you have been watching The History Channel’s The Bible series a little too closely. Rivers would need divine intervention to free his people from the shackles of playoff poverty.
Rivers turned 31 in December. The Chargers are a long way from becoming a playoff team, which means Rivers won’t be back into the postseason until he is 33 at the earliest. There are too many holes for new general manager Tom Telesco to fill to realistically expect San Diego to make the playoffs in 2013. Even 2014 is a bit of a stretch.
Fixing the offensive line is going to take more than one free-agency season and one draft. It may take more than two offseasons and drafts, and that is even if former fifth-round draft pick Johnnie Troutman can become a starter despite missing his entire rookie year with a pectoral tear.
Basically, all five starting offensive line positions need to be overhauled.
King Dunlap and Chad Rinehart are great free-agent acquisitions as backups, but they are a scary proposition as starters. Center Nick Hardwick was close to retiring after the 2011 season, so his window is closing fast. Tackle Jared Gaither is not the most popular person in the locker room after suspicious injuries ended his season, and he could be on his way out of town. Jeromey Clary is the starting right tackle but is widely disliked by fans for his subpar pass protection skills.
Even if the Chargers are able to land a starting offensive lineman in the upcoming draft, the unit is far from fixed. Without a quality offensive line, Rivers and the Chargers have little to no hope of making the playoffs.
Even if the offensive line was magically fixed in one offseason, Rivers would still have a hard time getting this team to the Super Bowl. Wide receivers Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd are good, but not elite. Vincent Brown looks like he has the potential to be a difference-maker, but it is hard to tell considering he was out all of last season with a broken ankle.
Ryan Mathews has shown he cannot handle a full load as the featured running back. He injured his right ankle in the first quarter of his first regular-season professional game. He injured his groin in his second season, and broke his right and left clavicle in his third year.
Ronnie Brown and Danny Woodhead are good situational backs who should be able to relieve some of the work from Mathews, but neither one should be expected to be the main runner if (when) Mathews gets hurt again. Another running back is needed if San Diego expects to advance through the playoffs.
As Trent Dilfer can attest, an offense does not need to be outstanding for a team to win it all. If that is the case, the team better have a dominating defense. San Diego’s defense improved from 2011 to 2012 in points per game allowed and yards per game surrendered, but the Chargers defense is not a dominating, elite, historical defense like the 2000 Baltimore Ravens.
If the Chargers are able to get all of the pieces together and new coach Mike McCoy can get the team to play with passion week in and week out, something former coach Norv Turner did not do, Rivers could guide the team to the playoffs for the 2014 season.
Rivers will be 33 when the 2014 regular season ends and the playoffs begin. Only 10 quarterbacks have won the Super Bowl at age 33 or older, and only four have won it past the age of 35 (Johnny Unitas, Roger Staubach, Jim Plunkett and John Elway). The oldest Super Bowl-winning quarterback in the past 11 years was Brad Johnson with the Tampa Bay Bucs at 35 years old. Elway was 37 and 38 when the Broncos went back-to-back in XXXII and XXXIII.
It is a young man’s game, and 33 seems to be the edge of the cliff for quarterbacks to lead a team to a ring. Tom Brady was 3-0 in the Super Bowl when he was 27 or younger. He is 0-2 at 30 or older. That means the Chargers need to get to the playoffs in the next two years, and that is a long shot.
Rivers' best chance at winning a ring may be as the backup for some else. Chargers fans can only hope that comes when he is still with San Diego.