Realistic Landing Spot Predictions for Philip Rivers in 2020 NFL Free Agency
Mystery surrounds pretty much every NFL quarterback on the verge of free agency, most of whom could still return to their respective coops rather than take flight.
Would anybody be surprised if Tom Brady wound up remaining in New England? Drew Brees is certainly returning to New Orleans. Jameis Winston very well could get another year in Tampa, as could Ryan Tannehill in Tennessee. And few expect Dak Prescott to depart Dallas.
Where might he land come March 18? Looking mainly at football fit and talent in the supporting cast, we've ranked the eight-time Pro Bowler's five most likely landing spots.
Editor's Note: Speaking on FS1's The Herd with Colin Cowherd, Fox Sports' Peter Schrager reports there is a "crazy dark horse" in the mix to sign the veteran QB.
Looking for a complete 2020 free agency preview? The Stick to Football crew has you covered in their latest episode. Check it out here.
5. Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears have insisted that Mitchell Trubisky will remain their starting quarterback, but they very well could become the first organization in the history of professional sports to pull an about-face. After all, KOA Colorado's Benjamin Allbright tweeted in February that the Bears "are quietly looking at quarterback options" and that they'd be interested in Las Vegas Raiders signal-caller Derek Carr if he were available.
You'd think that'd make Rivers a candidate to replace Trubisky following a horrendous third campaign for the 2017 No. 2 overall pick.
Still, it's hard to envision Rivers climbing aboard without a guaranteed starting job, and the Bears might at least prefer to let Trubisky battle a veteran this summer. The 25-year-old's leash would likely be extremely short regardless, but Rivers might want to avoid any scenario in which he could wind up holding a tablet.
Of course, it's possible he won't have a choice. Again, Brady could return to the Patriots, Tannehill could stay with the Titans, Winston could get another year with the Buccaneers, the Colts could give Jacoby Brissett another shot, the Raiders could hang on to Carr, and the Panthers could stick with Cam Newton. In this game of musical chairs, the Bears might offer Rivers the only available seat.
And considering Trubisky's tenuous situation along with the talent they have on both sides of the ball in Chicago, there might not be a better spot to land as a non-starter right now.
4. Tennessee Titans
There are some caveats for the Tennessee Titans, who would provide Rivers with a near-perfect landing spot under two particular circumstances.
1. They move on from Ryan Tannehill in favor of Rivers, which at this point has to be considered unlikely. Rivers is the more decorated of the two former top-10 draft picks, but he's coming off a season in which his numbers plummeted. Meanwhile, Tannehill is coming off a breakout season in which he was the league's highest-rated qualified passer. And he's six years younger than Rivers.
2. They keep reigning rushing champion Derrick Henry and stud right tackle Jack Conklin, both of whom are slated to hit the open market. Without those two standout players, there's little point in signing a 38-year-old who is on his final few holes.
There's been no definitive indication Tannehill will be franchise tagged, and he's still scheduled to hit the open market in two weeks' time. There's also been no indication the team is out of the Henry or Conklin sweepstakes. In fact, a Titans source told ESPN's Matthew Berry at the combine that he expects the team to tag Henry and let Tannehill test the market.
So we'll include the Titans for now, mainly because they'd be a superb landing spot for Rivers.
He'd walk into a winning environment after Tennessee capped its fourth consecutive above-.500 season with an AFC Championship appearance, and he'd be well-supported by a talented offensive line, an exciting young receiving corps and the league's most dominant running back.
3. New England Patriots
Tom Brady's future with or without the New England Patriots continues to be clouded by smoke, but it's at least clear by now that Brady could wind up somewhere other than Foxborough in 2020. And the Brady-less Patriots would be an obvious target for any veteran quarterback.
The Pats might not offer their 2020 quarterback a top-notch receiving corps, but the supporting cast beyond that would be tremendous: elite defense, talented offensive line and the most revered and accomplished head coach in NFL history.
Rivers would undoubtedly jump at an opportunity to play for Bill Belichick and work with Josh McDaniels. And although the Patriots lost some luster in 2019, not many teams would offer Rivers a better shot at capturing his first Vince Lombardi Trophy. We're talking about a team that's been to the Super Bowl in four of the last six seasons.
Would the Pats want Rivers at this point in his career? That's up for debate considering his struggles in 2019, but you'd have to think he'd be cheaper than Brady (who comes with a brand), and Belichick might wonder if he can squeeze something extra out of the experienced and undeniably talented vet.
At the very least, he might make a good bridge in New England.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If not for some critical relationships between Rivers and those running the top team on this list, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would lead the way.
Special circumstances notwithstanding, the Bucs should be every available quarterback's preferred destination this offseason. Here's why:
1. Bruce Arians: The two-time Coach of the Year is a quarterback whisperer who helped bring along Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Ben Roethlisberger and got the best out of a late-career Carson Palmer. It's easy to see him doing the same with Rivers.
2. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin: Arguably the best 1-2 receiver duo in the NFL, they each caught 65-plus passes for more than 1,100 yards and eight or more touchdowns despite missing a combined five games in 2019. Neither has turned 27, but they were two of just four qualified players to average more than 85 receiving yards per game. With them, Rivers wouldn't miss Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.
3. The support doesn't stop there: Running back Ronald Jones II got hot late in his sophomore season, they have two quality tight ends in O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, and the offensive line has plenty of young talent.
4. They should be on the cusp: Tampa Bay suffered growing pains early in Arians' first season there before finishing strong. They went on a four-game winning streak in November and December, lost in regulation just once in the final six weeks and lost by more than one score just once after their Week 7 bye.
With all of that in mind, the Bucs might have their pick of the free-agent quarterback litter. But if they move on from Winston after a 30-interception walk year and don't wind up with Brady or Teddy Bridgewater, a Rivers-Tampa marriage would make a lot of sense.
1. Indianapolis Colts
The most logical and obvious fit within this year's quarterback carousel is the one between Rivers and the Indianapolis Colts. After all, Colts head coach Frank Reich was Rivers' offensive coordinator in San Diego in 2014 and 2015, and Indy offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni spent five years on the Chargers' offensive staff between 2013 and 2017.
No wonder NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported last month that the "mutual interest" between the parties isn't much of a secret.
In Indy, Rivers would rejoin Reich and Sirianni on a team that is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, he'd be protected by arguably the best offensive line in the game (giving him a huge upgrade from Los Angeles), and he'd have elite weapons T.Y. Hilton and Marlon Mack at his disposal, at the very least.
The Colts have the ability to contend right now, which would give Rivers a serious shot at making a Super Bowl run for the first time in his long career.
The big question is if they're ready to give up on Brissett, who lacked big-play ability in place of the retired Andrew Luck in 2019 but is owed $21.4 million with a $12.5 dead-cap hit in 2020, according to Spotrac.
For what it's worth, Colts owner Jim Irsay said recently that "all options are on the table" at quarterback, according to George Bremer of CNHI Sports Indiana.