Now in his 11th season as the starting quarterback of the San Diego Chargers, Philip Rivers is still as productive as ever for the only franchise for which he has ever played. The veteran is currently on pace for his eighth season with over 4000 passing yards and currently has seven touchdowns despite an injury-depleted offense.
However, the Chargers as a team have struggled despite Rivers’ production. Injuries have been a big factor in a dismal 1-4 start that has San Diego headed for consecutive losing seasons for the first time in Rivers’ career.
The Chargers lost their third consecutive game on Sunday against the Oakland Raiders at the Coliseum, providing another grim reminder of the team’s struggles. Derek Carr and the Raiders were able to outlast a strong first half from the Chargers to earn what was their third straight head-to-head win over the Bolts in the AFC West rivalry.
.@Chargers line up to tie the game with a FG…
— NFL (@NFL) October 9, 2016
Sunday’s loss followed an all-too-familiar theme for the Chargers this season. Rivers kept them in the game until the bitter end before yet another close loss prevented a climb out of the AFC West cellar. At 1-4, the Chargers are likely to stay in last place for the rest of the season and attention will soon shift to a rebuild through the 2017 NFL Draft.
While the losing might be good in the long run for a Chargers franchise that needs top young talent, the rebuild in San Diego is still wasting the tail end of Rivers’ prime as a quarterback. Few would have expected such a harsh reality when Rivers went to the playoffs in each of his first four seasons as the starter in San Diego from 2006 to 2009.
Since that run of four straight postseason appearances, Rivers has only been to the playoffs once while the Chargers have regressed in the second half of his career. That regression is partly to blame on Rivers, but most of the fault lies with a Chargers organization that never has seemed to go all-in on a Super Bowl run with their best quarterback in the history of the franchise.
Yesterday, Philip Rivers passed Johnny Unitas, his grandfather's favorite player, for ninth all-time with 292 passing touchdowns. pic.twitter.com/zbQZJ9PiI1
— Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) October 10, 2016
The notoriously cheap Chargers have never splurged on a top free agent for Rivers and now, with the likes of Eric Weddle shipped out for cost concerns and Antonio Gates near the end of his storied career, the core of a roster that was once always in the AFC playoff picture is not good enough to win games. Frugal spending has left the Chargers behind in the ultra-competitive AFC West, where the other three teams in the division have made significant moves in free agency over the past few years to ensure their spots in the ranks of the playoff contenders.
With all four losses by less than a touchdown, it is hard not to imagine where this Chargers team would be if their ownership spent more money in free agency to keep up with the Raiders, Chiefs and Broncos this season. Instead, the Chargers put the pressure on Rivers to make the most with what he has on offense. After injuries to Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead, there just aren’t enough weapons around to win games on most Sundays.
— NFL Canada (@NFLCanada) October 9, 2016
The good news for the Chargers is that rookie Joey Bosa looked good in his debut and could be a potential franchise pass rusher, joining some young pieces already in place for a rebuild. Those younger players include undrafted free agent wideout Tyrell Williams and running back Melvin Gordon, who stepped in when Allen and Woodhead were placed on injured reserve.
To make the next step, the Chargers will need to draft well in 2017, in addition to spending some money in free agency to build back a roster that badly needs reinforcements. The days of relying on Rivers and Gates to carry the team are likely over, which makes it due time for San Diego to finally get some help for their quarterback.
If the Chargers want to make one last run with Rivers, the front office will need to take those young pieces and make some smart moves that can quickly rebuild a roster with plenty of holes to fill. An unwillingness to spend on free agents or to keep players in town has created this mess in San Diego, and the only way out will be a change in philosophy. If the Chargers refuse to spend on new talent, they might just fully waste the career of one of the greatest players ever to play for the team.