INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – For the first time in his long, decorated career, Philip Rivers considered life after the NFL.
In February, he and the Los Angeles Chargers agreed to mutually part ways after 16 seasons that featured so many highlights: 128 victories, including six trips to the postseason; 59,271 yards and 397 TD passes, each 6th-most in league history; eight Pro Bowl selections.
Seek out another QB-needy team? Or kick back and settle into life after football?
Rivers huddled with wife Tiffany, along with older daughters Halle and Caroline, and Gunner, his 12-year old son. Soon, he plans on coaching Gunner and 8-year old Peter in high school, following his own football-career arc. At Athens (Ga.) H.S., he played for his father, Steve.
“I want to coach my boys and coach young boys down the road,’’ Rivers said Saturday during a conference call. “I know what’s next when my playing time’s over.’’
Back and forth the discussion went.
Then the Indianapolis Colts dialed up his agent, Jimmy Sexton.
Then it hit Rivers, who would sign a one-year, $25 million contract.
I can still do this. I still want to do this.
“Really where we settled in was I still love to play,’’ Rivers said. “Certainly not coming off my best year, but a year where I still know I can play at a high level. I did it in spurts, just didn’t do it consistent enough.
“I loved it.’’
Let’s not misconstrue what’s going on here. Rivers and the Colts aren’t embarking on a long-term relationship. He should be viewed as a 38-year, short-term bridge to the franchise’s QB of the future.
The length of that relationship is to be determined. Again, it’s a one-year deal, but Rivers anticipates something longer.
“I take it one year at a time,’’ he said. “That’s the best way to do it at 38. I do feel good. I feel great. If I feel like I feel right now next year, then I’ll be excited to keep playing.’’
He reiterated his intention to coach his sons in high school.
“That gives you a little idea,’’ he said. “I’m not going to get carried away.
“I don’t think you’ll see me in the Tom Brady range.’’
The Colts were a logical destination considering his history in San Diego with coach Frank Reich (2013-15), offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni (2013-17) and tight ends coach Jason Michael (2011-13).
Throughout the process of determining what was next, Rivers always had one team in mind.
“Truthfully was hoping it was going to be the Indianapolis Colts,’’ he said, “from the standpoint of the locker room, the team and shoot, I failed to mention that offensive line. That’s a heckuva group.
“It just all worked out. To be a part of this group and try to help get to the top of the mountain is an exciting new challenge for me.’’
No one should underestimate the importance of familiarity when it comes to relocating in the NFL. Rivers understands Reich and Sirianni have “tweaked and changed some terminology’’ in the offensive system they shared with the Chargers, but the transition should be seamless nonetheless.
“I have been in meeting rooms with Frank, Nick and Jason Michael,’’ Rivers said. “We communicate the same way. I know what those guys are trying to get out of a play and why they are calling this. They understand what I think and how I look for things.
“There is a good dynamic there from the way we communicate. I think there was a trust factor that was built in our team here in San Diego.’’
Familiarity aside, the Colts did their due diligence before investing their immediate future – and $25 million – in a 38-year old QB who’s coming off one of his more careless seasons. Rivers passed for 4,615 yards and 23 TDs, but also suffered 20 interceptions, 3rd-most in the league.
According to a source with knowledge of the team’s evaluation of Rivers, the coaching staff analyzed each of Rivers’ games and throws. They determined he hadn’t lost any of his arm strength.
There’s no question among the Colts Rivers still has the physical tools to play at a high level. Before struggling last season – the Chargers followed his lead, finishing 5-11 – he passed for 4,308 yards with 32 TDs and just 12 interceptions in 2018.
“Philip is one of the most decorated quarterbacks in the NFL and we are fortunate to add an experienced player of his caliber to our organization,’’ Chris Ballard said in a team release. “Philip is a fierce competitor and his veteran leadership will be crucial in the continued development of our young roster.’’
The national and global uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic will delay Rivers’ arrival in Indy. He and his family are at their offseason home in Florida. When allowed by the NFL, look for the Colts to disseminate foundational and schematic information to the players.
Under normal circumstances, players would have reported to the Farm Bureau Football Center in mid-April. That reporting date has been pushed back indefinitely.
Initially, Rivers addressed the “trying time’’ for the country and world. It’s a time, he insisted, for family and for “praying’’ for nurses, doctors, first responders and those infected and impacted by COVID-19.
Rivers said he and his wife “have been brainstorming of the best way to support the area we are in right now. We are looking for opportunities in Indianapolis, even back in San Diego and places we’ve been to help in any way we can because so many people are affected.’’
In terms of gearing up for 2020, Rivers plans on doing whatever he can, whenever he’s allowed. He’s already reached out to a few of his new teammates.
“I want to step in there when I get in there day 1 and the guys in the huddle feel like I have been there more,’’ Rivers said. “I hope they don’t feel like it’s my first day. I don’t want to slow us down any and I will make sure that doesn’t happen.
“But communicate and just again, build a friendship, build a relationship. I think that camaraderie is huge. My favorite part of this game is being a teammate. . . . I love being a teammate. I want to be one of the guys.’’
As his first season with the Colts unfolds, Rivers realizes there will be skeptics. They’ll harp on those 20 interceptions last season and how they indicate his career arc is definitely headed in the wrong direction.
“I have to be honest, I have never been driven by what everybody thinks on the outside,’’ Rivers said. “I always first want to be a great teammate. I’ve never been driven by, ‘Oh, what do people think I can do?’
“I’m really not out to prove anything this season. I want to come in there, earn my teammates’ trust and respect. I do feel like over 16 seasons you earn some of that league-wide based on your play and your longevity.’’
But there’s work to be done.
“Shoot, you’ve got to start and build that with your new teammates,’’ he said. “So it’s not so much prove it (to outsiders) as it is I want to prove it to now our locker room, to be a guy that they believe in and just again, be a part of something special.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.