Now that San Diego is on the sidelines and watching the NFL’s final four duel it out, it would appear that this year will prove to be another bolt-free bowl. Yet one team has persevered this far that can give fans of San Diego at least one player to keep on cheering for: New Orleans.
For four years New Orleans MVP-candidate quarterback Drew Brees was at the helm of the San Diego Chargers. He overcame a shaky sophomore year that included five missed games and only 2,100 yards passing to put up two solid seasons before reality stripped Brees of his blue and gold.
The second-round draft pick of San Diego (in the same draft that landed Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson) was a free agent whose progress was going to warrant a solid payday. Behind him sat QB-in-waiting, Philip Rivers.
Rivers was drafted fourth overall in 2004 after Brees’ 11-game season leading up to the draft yielded a subpar quarterback rating of 68. With a big first-round contract, Rivers was already entrenched on the team and waiting for his opportunity. This forced the team to choose whether or not to attempt to retain Brees as the team’s quarterback.
In the end there was really no choice. The team would have burned through far too much of their total salary in attempting to retain both. Rivers was highly regarded and already signed. It was unfortunate, but the team elected to let Brees walk (a move that foreshadowed the departure of Marty Schottenheimer who steadfastly supported retaining Brees’ services).
A few bumps in the road later, either approach could be argued as the two have developed into the second and third place MVP candidates this year. Brees’ numbers have been gaudier to date, but so has his offensive system.
It could also be argued Rivers has three more years of development to catch up with Brees, being only 28 to Brees’ 31.
The tie was not contentious, however. The team simply did not have the situation around them to make a bid for Brees, who maintained a close friendship with draft-mate Tomlinson.
Brees narrowed his free agency down to two possibilities, Miami and New Orleans. Ultimately, the calling of what a rebuilt Saints franchise could mean to the shattered city made up his mind more than any business notions.
Brees took the job at the helm of the Saints, solidifying a quarterback position that had been a longtime question mark for the team. He embedded himself into the New Orleans community and continued to be a locker-room and community leader, a pair of trends started while still sporting the lightning bolts.
He remained classy, not bashing San Diego despite the failure to tender a contract. He kept ties to San Diego despite transplanting himself into the land of jazz and Mardi Gras.
Ultimately, the San Diego Chargers will need to wait for a different time and place to try and make their playoff run. But this doesn’t mean the Chargers are entirely out of this year’s playoff race. One Charger remains, and even if he wears a different uniform, he remains someone San Diego fans can rally behind and support (especially since winning the Super Bowl would translate into defeating either the Jets team that ousted the Chargers, or a Colts team San Diego was itching to face).