What are the advantages and disadvantages of the New England Patriots adding Philip Rivers at quarterback if Tom Brady leaves in free agency?
On the surface, there’s plenty to like and dislike about the notion of transitioning from Tom Brady to Philip Rivers at quarterback in 2020 if you’re the New England Patriots.
First, some of the positives.
You won’t find a more proven, successful quarterback on the free agent market than Rivers. He’s obviously no Brady when it comes to postseason success — Rivers has won just five of his 11 playoff games, and he’s only made it past the Divisional round once (2007), when his Chargers lost to the Patriots in the AFC Championship.
Still, he’s a 16-year NFL veteran who hasn’t shown much of a decline as far as his fastball is concerned. Rivers can still sling it with the best of them, and he’s much closer to Ben Roethlisberger status present-day than he is Eli Manning status when it comes to his fellow 2004 NFL Draft mates.
On the flip side, Rivers is significantly more careless with the football than Brady. Only Jameis Winston and Baker Mayfield threw more picks than Rivers last season, and Rivers was just one interception away from tying Mayfield for second-most in the league in 2019.
His decision-making isn’t what it used to be. Despite playing on one of the most talented offensive teams in the league throughout most of his career, Rivers hasn’t been able to guide the Chargers to the promised land.
Consider the list of talented players he’s had at his disposal while with the Chargers:
- LaDainian Tomlinson
- Antonio Gates
- Keenan Allen
- Vincent Jackson
- Malcom Floyd
- Melvin Gordon
- Austin Ekeler
- Hunter Henry
While not every name on that list is bound to elicit all kinds of enthusiasm and respect, a great many of them represent significantly more talent on paper at least than most of the supporting characters Tom Brady has had to work with throughout his career.
To be sure, Brady never had a running back like LT on his roster. Even nowadays, the combination of Gordon and Ekeler is much better than any combo at RB the Pats have had post-Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk.
Antonio Gates is no Rob Gronkowski, but combined with Hunter Henry, it’s hard to ague that the Patriots have had better overall production from their tight end position that the Chargers have had if you figure in all of the players both teams have had at TE during Brady and Rivers’ respective careers.
And at wideout, give the edge to Brady and the Pats, but maybe not by much. Brady’s top three WRs from 2004 (the year Rivers entered the league) on are probably Julian Edelman, Wes Welker, and Randy Moss. During that same time, Rivers’ top three WRs are Keenan Allen, Vincent Jackson, and Malcom Floyd.
Rivers and the Chargers got three 1,000-yard seasons from Jackson, 11 seasons from Floyd, and already have four 1,000-yard seasons and three Pro Bowl berths from Allen (who’s only been in the NFL for seven seasons anyway). Brady and the Patriots have gotten three 1,000-yard seasons from Edelman, three 1,000-yard seasons from Moss, and five 1,000-yard seasons from Welker.
While there’s no question that Edelman, Moss, and Welker were more valuable/have been more valuable to New England’s actual fortunes than Jackson, Allen, and Floyd were/have been to the Chargers, the Pats also did a lot in a short span of time with Moss and Welker. San Diego/Los Angeles got more from their top three players longer, despite not having the same kind of postseason success.
But back to Rivers.
He’s not coming back with the Chargers in 2020, that much is certain — and you have to wonder why. It’s not like L.A. has some wonderful option riding the pine behind him, and even if they take a QB early in the draft this April (they will), you’d be hard-pressed to make an argument that the Bolts will be better in 2020 with a rookie under center than with Rivers.
Still, it seems like the decision to split was mutual.
If the Patriots are interested in kicking the tires on Rivers, it’s important to note that it will only be for the immediate short-term future of the franchise. Rivers turns 39 before Christmas. He’ll be retiring from the league altogether within a season or two most likely, and he’s expressed no such desires as Brady or Aaron Rodgers to play into his mid-40s.
That all being said, Rivers might make the most sense for New England if the team is looking for a “bridge” quarterback to get them from Tom Brady to their quarterback of the future.
It would be mutually beneficial for Rivers to try and finally make a run at a Super Bowl with a proven contender like the Patriots before he retires, while New England is afforded the luxury of having a veteran signal-caller manning the ship and teaching the next big thing at QB in the meantime.