COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Philip Rivers had one of his best seasons in recent memory, but the Los Angeles Chargers still failed to make the playoffs for a fourth straight season. However, finishing the 2017 campaign by winning nine of their last 12 games has folks within the organization, including Rivers, looking forward to 2018.
Rivers will be back leading the Chargers for the upcoming year, but GM Tom Telesco acknowledged the organization has to figure out a succession plan for the aging veteran.
Looking good: Cardale Jones
Free agent: Kellen Clemens
The good: After throwing a career-high 20 interceptions in 2016, Rivers did a better job of taking care of the football last season, a point of emphasis under new coach Anthony Lynn. Rivers’ 10 interceptions in 2017 was his lowest single-season total since 2009. Rivers finished second in the league in passing with 4,515 yards, eclipsing the 4,000-yard mark for the ninth time in his career, earning his seventh invitation to the Pro Bowl. Rivers finished No. 11 in the NFL in total QBR (57.7) and No. 9 in passer rating (96.0). With the New York Giants sitting Eli Manning in Week 13, Rivers took over as the active NFL leader in consecutive starts during the regular season with 192. On third down in 2017, Rivers completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 1,314 yards, with seven touchdowns and six interceptions. Rivers was sacked six times on third down this season, posting an 85.3 passer rating on the money down.
The bad: Rivers played at an elite level for much of the 2017 season, but he struggled against the AFC West champs, the Kansas City Chiefs. Rivers threw six of his 10 interceptions against Kansas City, as the Chargers were swept by the Chiefs for a fourth straight year. The Chargers are 4-5 in the postseason since Rivers took over as the team’s starter in 2006 and have not reached the AFC title game since the 2007 season. Rivers has a No. 1 receiver in Keenan Allen, a young, up-and-coming tight end in Hunter Henry and two receivers that can threaten defenses vertically in Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin. He has a 1,000-yard running back in Melvin Gordon, an explosive back on third down in Austin Ekeler and an offensive line that kept him clean, allowing a league-low 18 sacks in 2017. Along with those weapons on offense, the Chargers allowed just 17 points a contest, No. 3 in the NFL. While they certainly can add more pieces to improve the overall roster (kicker, anyone?), the Chargers have surrounded Rivers with enough talent for the NC State product to lead them on a deep playoff run in 2018.
The Money: Rivers is signed through the 2019 season and is scheduled to make $15 million in base salary for the upcoming season. Cardale Jones will make $630,000 in the third year of his rookie deal. Backup Kellen Clemens will become an unrestricted free agent in March. Clemens turns 35 years old in June and has value because of his knowledge of the offense and his relationship with Rivers. However, the Chargers will have to figure out if they want to bring back Rivers’ commuting buddy in Clemens for the upcoming season or look to groom younger options at the position.
Draft priority: Telesco acknowledged that the Chargers have to start the process of finding an eventual replacement for Rivers during the offseason. So, I believe there’s a good chance that the Bolts draft a quarterback for the first time since 2013. While the Chargers likely will not be in the running for UCLA’s Josh Rosen or USC’s Sam Darnold, players like Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph or Louisville’s Lamar Jackson could make some sense.