In a few years — maybe sooner — Philip Rivers will be happily standing on the sidelines of a high school football field, living out his dream of coaching his oldest son, Gunner.
There is no mystery, the newly ordained starting quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts said Saturday afternoon, about what life after football will entail.
There also isn’t much mystery about when life after football will begin: Soon.
Gunner is 12 years old and will soon be in sixth grade. Rivers himself is 38 with no intention of being the next quarterback to try and play until he’s 43.
“That should give you a little idea,” Rivers said. “I’m not going to get carried away. I don’t think you’ll see me in the Tom Brady range.”
The point is — and Rivers hammered this home when he admitted that for the first time in his 16-year career, retirement was on the table this offseason — he’s not the Colts’ long-term solution at quarterback. He doesn’t want to be. He’s coming to Indianapolis largely to buy the Colts time to find that person and, in the meantime, try and lead a solid roster to a championship while he’s still got some good football left in him.
NFL FREE AGENCY TRACKER:Analysis of the offseason’s biggest moves
SPORTS ON HOLD:Sign up for latest news on sports’ coronavirus shutdown
Even Rivers doesn’t know how many chances he’s got at doing that. Could be a year. Could be a little more.
Rivers didn’t get too involved in his agent’s negotiations with the Colts, but he said Saturday he was happy they landed on a one-year deal.
“I think (year to year is) the best way to do it at 38,” he said. “I do feel good, I feel great. If I feel like I feel right now next year, then I’ll be excited to keep going.”
That, of course, would mean the Colts want him back. And that would mean his play in 2020 resembled that of his three consecutive Pro Bowl seasons from 2016-18, rather than the lackluster campaign he endured last year.
Rivers isn’t hiding from the fact that his age 37 season — one in which the Los Angeles Chargers went 5-11 and he threw a career-high 20 interceptions — didn’t go as hoped. But he thinks there were enough pockets of quality play (23 touchdowns, 66% completion percentage, 7.8 yard per attempt) to believe there is still good football left in him. The Colts must believe that, too, since they signed him to a reported $25 million contract to start ahead of a quarterback they profess to like in Jacoby Brissett.
“I’m certainly not coming off my best year, but … l know I can play at a high level,” Rivers said. “I did it in spurts — just didn’t do it consistently enough. I love it and, shoot, it was one of those deals where we said, ‘Well, if there’s nothing else out there, then that’ll be our answer.’ We kind of just said, ‘Whatever God wants.’ So if there’s nothing out there, I don’t want to just try to hang on to play. If nothing is out there, shoot, we’ll start coaching.”
Of course, the Colts came calling, and Rivers is happy they did. In fact, he was hoping they would. He knew they might be looking for a quarterback, and he was thrilled by the idea of reuniting with head coach Frank Reich, offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni and tight ends coach Jason Michael, who each spent time with Rivers during his tenure with the Chargers.
Not only does he already possess a firm comprehension of Reich’s scheme, Rivers played some of his best football with Reich coaching him.
In 2013, with Reich serving as his quarterbacks coach and Sirianni the offensive quality control coach, Rivers won Comeback Player of the Year, throwing for 4,478 yards and 32 touchdowns and leading the NFL in completion percentage (69.5%).
They struggled to replicate that success their next two years together — leading to Reich’s firing — but Rivers is confident they can duplicate the success they enjoyed back then.
“I know what those guys are trying to get out of a play and why they are calling this or that. And they understand what I think and how I look for things,” Rivers said. “There is a good dynamic there from the way we communicate. … It’s important to have that trust — that Frank has called the plays before and we’ve made it work. I’ve communicated this to him, we’ve had a lot of those experiences together — those trust-building experiences. And I think that that certainly lends to the confidence that this is going to be a successful opportunity.”
If Rivers is right and he and Reich and Sirianni can conjure some magic together once again, it will have a two-fold benefit for the Colts. First, already armed with a burgeoning defense and one of the best offensive lines and running games in football, they will find themselves in the hunt for an AFC South title.
But maybe more importantly, Rivers enjoying success as a stopgap would mean they can take their time in figuring out what’s next at the all-important position.
If they draft a quarterback this year, he’ll have time to marinate behind Rivers. If they don’t draft a quarterback — or if the one they draft flops — then they can take another crack at solving this problem next year as Rivers gives it another go at 39.
But if Rivers flops, then all general manager Chris Ballard will have done is wasted another prime year of his cheap, young core and doubled down on the pressure to find Andrew Luck’s true heir next offseason.
No one wants to see what that future looks like. The Colts are betting on Rivers to keep it from becoming a reality.