The Los Angeles Chargers are a trendy Super Bowl pick. At 36 years old, Philip Rivers is running out of time to change the narrative on his career.
Right or wrong, NFL quarterbacks are judged off how big they win. Few would argue that Brad Johnson is a better player than Warren Moon, but Johnson has hardware, and Moon has heartache. The same comparison can be made for Trent Dilfer to Dan Marino, or Joe Flacco to Jim Kelly.
The great quarterback without a ring will always be the source of controversy. Sure, he’s great, but how great? Does he deserve to be mentioned in the same breath of Joe Montana and Tom Brady, or even Ken Stabler and Joe Namath?
Enter Philip Rivers. Rivers, 36, is entering his 15th season with the Los Angeles Chargers, and 13th as a starter. In the first 14 campaigns, Rivers has put forth a brilliant resumé. He has thrown for 50,348 yards, ninth-most in league history. With 1,200 yards this year, he’ll pass John Elway. Rivers’ 342 touchdown tosses already checks in sixth all-time, ahead of Moon and Montana.
Yet the debate rages; is Rivers a Hall of Famer? Does he deserve the highest individual honor the sport can award, or is he a step short? It feels that with a championship, Rivers would be a surefire Canton candidate. Without it, he wanders down a road of uncertainty.
All this leads us to the Chargers in totality, who are favorites to win the AFC West and challenge for a Super Bowl. Of course, we’ve all heard this narrative before, only to see Los Angeles lose games in stunning fashion, leading to talk of it as the most disappointing team of the season.
If Rivers is ever going to shake the shackles of past heartache and missed opportunity, this season lines up as perhaps his best chance. The Kansas City Chiefs have won the division each of the past two years, but they are transitioning from Alex Smith to Patrick Mahomes. The Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders don’t have elite rosters, and the AFC as a whole is down. Los Angeles could step into the void and move to the fore.
Los Angeles has a roster that, on paper, should be able to make a deep run come January. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram form the most dynamic pass-rushing duo in the league. Keenan Allen is a top-10 receiver, Melvin Gordon is a solid back, and the supporting weapons of Travis Benjamin, Mike Williams and Tyrell Williams is more than adequate. Factor in a top-notch secondary with Casey Hayward, Desmond King, Jason Verrett and Derwin James, and the Chargers are loaded across the board.
In some ways, this leaves the pressure even more on Rivers. There are no excuses. Rivers doesn’t have the Marino card to play, a transcendent talent saddled with poor rosters. The same can be said through much of his tenure in San Diego, when he was buoyed by names such as LaDainian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles, Vincent Jackson, Michael Turner, Antonio Gates, Shawne Merriman, Shaun Phillips, Antonio Cromartie and others. The Chargers have always had skill, they’ve just failed to capitalize on it.
Unfortunately for Bolts fans, this wouldn’t be the first time they watched a great quarterback fail to win it all despite ample opportunity. Dan Fouts was one of the league’s first true gunslingers, leading the league in passing yardage in four straight season (1979-82) while amassing a Hall of Fame career. Fouts had a aerial savant at head coach in Don Coryell along with Kellen Winslow, John Jefferson, Wes Chandler and Charlie Joiner on his flanks. Somehow, the Chargers never reached the Super Bowl.
The biggest difference between Fouts and Rivers? Rivers is still active, he can flip the script and have that Cinderella ending.
Los Angeles once again has the hype machine behind it, and a quarterback under center who can deliver. The promise for a memorable campaign is evident.
For Rivers, both a crowning achievement and kingmaker are on the line, with his legacy hanging in the proverbial balance.
Top 10 return men of all time
1. Devin Hester, Chicago Bears
2. Deion Sanders, Atlanta Falcons/Dallas Cowboys
3. Dante Hall, Kansas City Chiefs
4. Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, Houston Oilers
5. Rick Upchurch, Denver Broncos
6. Brian Mitchell, Washington Redskins
7. Gale Sayers, Chicago Bears
8. Josh Cribbs, Cleveland Browns
9. Travis Williams, Green Bay Packers
10. Tim Brown, Oakland Raiders
“I’ve put a lot of work in, and it’s paying off. My goal is not to get to training camp and plateau. It’s to keep getting better and better.”
– Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck on the lack of pain in his right shoulder
If the Colts are going to contend for a playoff spot in the weak AFC, they need Luck to be healthy from start to finish. Indianapolis has a lacking roster in most areas, but much can be compensated for if Luck is finally on the field for the first time since 2016.
While the AFC South is improved with the likes of the Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars all being playoff-caliber, the Colts could compete with Luck under center. When he’s right, he remains a top quarterback in the game, and easily the most proven one in the division.
Matt Verderame and Josh Hill bring you a new episode of Stacking The Box every Monday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET on FanSided’s Facebook Live. The podcast and all episodes can also be found on iTunes!
Ricky Watters became the first player to rush for 1,000 yards with three different teams when he eclipsed the threshold with the Seattle Seahawks in 2000. Watters also hit the mark with the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles.
Since, only Willis McGahee has joined that exclusive club, doing so with the Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills and Denver Broncos.
Info learned this week
1. Winston confirms suspension in remorseful statement
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston owned his past actions in a statement last week, saying he must live up to a “higher standard.” In the statement, Winston talked about abstaining completely from alcohol, while apologizing to the Uber driver and accepting responsibility for his hurtful behavior.
The full impact from a football standpoint is laid out in last week’s column, but a brief summary is as follows. Winston will miss the first three games of the season for Tampa Bay, suspended for contests against the New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s eligible to return Week 4 against the Chicago Bears before the Buccaneers’ bye week.
2. Vikings lock up Hunter with long-term deal
The Minnesota Vikings are going for it all. After signing Sheldon Richardson and Kirk Cousins this winter, general manager Rick Spielman made another big move, signing defensive end Danielle Hunter to a five-year pact worth $72 million. With Hunter and Everson Griffen signed for the long haul, Minnesota has two of the better pass-rushers in football for years to come.
Hunter, 23, has 25.5 sacks over his first three seasons after being a third-round pick in 2015 out of LSU. For Hunter, the deal means financial security for a lifetime. For the Vikings, it’s a wise gamble, considering the former SEC star producing at a high level despite being younger than some incoming rookies.
3. Janoris Jenkins’ brother charged with manslaugher
On Wednesday, William Jenkins, brother of New York Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins, was charged with aggravated manslaughter. This in connection to a dead body found on Tuesday in Janoris’ home, the victim being 25-year-old Roosevelt Rene.
Janoris was in Florida while all of this unfolded, the same place he’s been since the Giants broke mandatory minicamp a few weeks ago. New York begins is training camp on July 25, and Jenkins is expected to be there. He is signed through the 2020 season.
4. Kurt Warner doesn’t support Johnson’s holdout
Hall of Fame quarterback and former Arizona Cardinals great Kurt Warner knows David Johnson is underpaid, but he’s not backing the running back’s holdout. Warner, speaking to Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, Warner stated that he feels a player should honor his contract. In Johnson’s case, that would mean playing in 2018 on the final year of his rookie deal for $2.066 million.
Johnson, 26, has every reason to hold out, though. At his position, he’s likely looking at one big deal before being on the wrong side of 30 years old. Additionally, the former Northern Iowa star is playing behind a poor offensive line and perhaps with a rookie quarterback in Josh Rosen. If Johnson gets hurt again this season — he missed 15 games last year — his value will be severely compromised.
5. Madden ’19 gives seven players top billing in “99 club”
The newest Madden edition doesn’t come out until Aug. 10, but the rankings of all teams and players have been revealed. Of more than 1,000 players, only seven were given the prestigious “99” rating, the highest possible designation.
The men are Antonio Brown, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Luke Kuechly, Von Miller, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Donald. Of course, Donald is holding out for the second straight offseason, hoping the Los Angeles Rams will give him a lucrative extension. The Rams claim there is progress on that front, although it will likely take making Donald the highest-paid defensive player in league history to get a deal done.
In 1970, Tom Dempsey set a record for the longest field goal in NFL history, booting a 63-yard game-winning kick as the New Orleans Saints defeated the Detroit Lions. More incredibly, Dempsey did so with half of a right foot, a disability he was born with.
The Miami Dolphins are quietly going about their business this offseason, but they bare close monitoring. Only a year ago, Adam Gase seemed like a wiz kid, guiding the Dolphins to a 10-6 mark and the playoffs. Then Ryan Tannehill tore his ACL, Miami went 6-10, and the doubters piped up.
With Tannehill healthy and Gase entering his third season, it’s time to find out what direction this duo is taking. For Tannehill, he’s entering his sixth campaign and is yet to start in a postseason game. The statistics are decent — a pair of 4,000-yard seasons and 106 touchdowns — but decent doesn’t make you a franchise quarterback. Tannehill’s contract runs through 2020, but he could be released prior to 2019 for a cap savings of $13.2 million next year.
As for Gase, a winning season would go a long way toward keeping him in South Beach for the foreseeable future. Miami is expected to be better than both the Bills and New York Jets, despite an offseason that saw departures from Mike Pouncey, Jarvis Landry and Ndamukong Suh. If the Dolphins can’t accomplish the meager feat of second place in the AFC East, Gase has to go. It won’t be easy to do more than that, especially with the New England Patriots looming.
Ultimately, the Dolphins face their moment of truth. Either they se improvement and reinvest in the current power duo, or scrap it all and embark on another rebuild.