The last time a quarterback other than Philip Rivers started for the Los Angeles Chargers was 2005. After two years of being Drew Brees’ backup, the 2004 first-round pick took the reins at the beginning of the 2006 season. Rivers started the next 235 games, including 11 in the playoffs.
But now the Chargers are moving on. Rivers finished the 2019 season with 20 interceptions and threw touchdowns on a career-low 3.9 percent of his passes. That disappointing season was Rivers’ last with the team.
“In anything you do, it’s the people you do it with that make it special. There are so many relationships and memories with coaches, support staff and teammates that will last forever, and for that I am so thankful."— Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) February 10, 2020
Philip Rivers to Enter Free Agency » https://t.co/njeTsCbi1D pic.twitter.com/bCKXKTRePh
With Rivers set to be a free agent, the Chargers will be left with two quarterbacks on the roster: Tyrod Taylor and Easton Stick.
Taylor was a starter for the Bills for three seasons, but was traded to the Browns in 2018. He was replaced by Baker Mayfield early in his Cleveland tenure and served as Rivers’ backup after joining the Chargers in 2019.
Stick was a 2019 fifth-round pick who never saw the field as a rookie.
Neither is a particularly compelling option to be the Chargers’ starter, especially with the team headed to a new home in 2020. After struggling to fill a tiny soccer stadium in Carson, California, with home fans, the Chargers will move into the $5 billion, 70,000-seat SoFi Stadium. An injection of excitement wouldn’t just be beneficial — it’s probably necessary.
Luckily for the Chargers, they’ll have some options at quarterback in the offseason. These are the free agents, draft prospects, and even trade targets who could fit well in Los Angeles:
Top three free agent options
1. Teddy Bridgewater (Saints)
The former Vikings first-round pick spent the last couple seasons with the Saints and started five games in 2019. New Orleans won all five with Bridgewater at the helm, and he finished the year with nine touchdowns and two interceptions.
Still just 27, Bridgewater can now hit free agency with his eyes on a starting role. If the Chargers sign him, they could get a long-term solution with the potential to be an upper-echelon starter.
There’s also the possibility that Bridgewater — who suffered a knee injury so bad that it kept him out for nearly two seasons — will never be the same. He had the benefit of playing for a stellar Saints offense with receiver Michael Thomas in the midst of a record-breaking season. Six starts in the last four years is an awfully small sample size.
2. Tom Brady (Patriots)
The Chargers made the playoffs six times during the Rivers era. Brady ended three of those postseason runs, including the Chargers’ most recent appearance in January 2019.
Well, if you can’t beat him, join him. Or make him join you, rather.
The Chargers have the cap space to offer a huge deal to Brady, at least on a short-term deal. Is he still worth a contract that makes him one of the highest-paid players in the NFL? No, probably not. The team could surround him with impressive weapons like Mike Williams and Keenan Allen, though. The opportunity to move back to his home state of California could be enticing, too.
Brady’s a long shot and will have plenty of suitors if he actually leaves New England. Still, there’s no way the Chargers could find a more exciting way to introduce themselves at SoFi Stadium than by adding the GOAT at quarterback.
3. Marcus Mariota (Titans)
Options start running low quickly on the free agent market. Drew Brees probably isn’t leaving New Orleans and Jameis Winston was the only quarterback more interception-prone than Rivers. Andy Dalton is expected to join the free agency fray, but his 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 2019 aren’t exactly an upgrade.
Perhaps Mariota is a solution for the Chargers then.
Mariota is likely headed out of Tennessee. This past season, the Titans were 2-4 with Mariota under center until Ryan Tannehill took over. The Titans thrived with their new quarterback, ending the year with an AFC Championship Game appearance.
Despite the early-season struggles, Mariota’s numbers weren’t so bad. He threw seven touchdowns with only two interceptions and had a 92.3 passer rating. The Chargers could benefit from some efficient, mistake-free football, which Mariota could provide.
Top three draft options
1. Justin Herbert (Oregon)
The Bengals will presumably draft Joe Burrow at No. 1, while Tua Tagovailoa looks like a probable top-five pick. That could leave the Chargers to take the third quarterback if they stick around at No. 6 overall. Assuming they do, Herbert’s a pretty solid choice.
Herbert could’ve been a top-10 pick last year had he skipped his senior year. Instead, he returned to Oregon and led the team to a Rose Bowl victory. He finished 2019 with 36 touchdowns, six interceptions, and four rushing touchdowns.
Herbert solidified his draft stock by earning MVP honors at the Senior Bowl. He may not be ready to be a Chargers star from day one, but there’s a lot to like about his potential.
2. Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama)
Most are pegging the Dolphins as the team that selects Tagovailoa. They sit fifth in the draft order and could even trade up to No. 3 — like they did in Dan Kadar’s latest mock draft — to secure the former Crimson Tide quarterback.
Los Angeles could do that too. It’d cost some draft capital, but priority No. 1 has to be getting the right quarterback for the job. If they think that’s Tua, then go get him.
Tagovailoa won a national championship and threw 87 touchdowns and 11 interceptions at Alabama. Although a dislocated hip ended his 2019 season, the injury is reportedly healing up well and he should be cleared to play in 2020.
3. Jacob Eason (Washington)
The Chargers have needs beyond quarterback. The team could use its No. 6 pick to shore up the offensive line before taking a passer later on.
If the Chargers wait until the end of the first round or the early second round to draft a quarterback, Eason could be the guy. In one season with Washington (after transferring from Georgia), Eason threw for 23 touchdowns with eight interceptions.
Top three trade options
1. Nick Foles (Jaguars)
A broken collarbone derailed the Foles era in Jacksonville just eight passes into the season. Then, Gardner Minshew stole the show and when Foles was thrust back into action, he couldn’t keep the rookie on the bench.
Now the Jaguars are stuck with most of the overpriced contract they gave the Super Bowl 52 MVP, and that means the Chargers could get a starting quarterback for less than $20 million per year on the trade market. Jacksonville probably wouldn’t ask for much to offload their free agency mistake and recoup some value.
Foles has never produced outside of Philadelphia, but he hasn’t had the best supporting casts either. The Chargers may have the receivers to get the most out of a player who led the Eagles to their only Lombardi Trophy.
2. Cam Newton (Panthers)
This is only second to the Foles option because it feels so dang unlikely. While the Panthers will already look different without Ron Rivera or Greg Olsen, trading away Newton would be a titanic shift in the direction of the team.
If the Chargers could somehow pry Newton out of Carolina, he’d be a star in Los Angeles — assuming that he fully recovers from the foot injury that kept him out most of 2019.
Newton’s still just 30, and though his rushing abilities could be slowing down, it’s far too early to rule out the 2015 MVP being a dynamic playmaker once again.
3. Josh Rosen (Dolphins)
His NFL career has been a nightmare so far, but can you blame him much? The Cardinals were awful in 2018 on their way to the No. 1 pick, and the Dolphins spent the 2019 offseason tearing up the roster. Rosen was doomed to fail.
Now the Chargers could get the former UCLA quarterback and 2018 top-10 draft pick for peanuts on the trade market. He’s likely not the Chargers’ star quarterback of the future, but Rosen potentially has more developmental value than Easton Stick, at least.