Most relationships don’t last forever. Just because a relationship ends doesn’t mean it ended because it was no longer functional. There just simply is a time when one party or both should, or desire to, move on. The easiest example is a work relationship. An employee, sufficiently happy and satisfied with his present job, seeks a new challenge, a new beginning, or perhaps just a nice pay raise. This employee finds another company that can acquiesce, and moves on from a perfectly fine employment relationship with no hard feelings on either side.
It is time for the Chargers and Philip Rivers to seek other opportunities.
My preseason prediction that the Chargers would win the AFC West is already dead beyond possible survival. The only reason I bring it up is because I still do not think the Chargers are 0-4 bad. If they ended up finishing the season at 7-9 or 8-8 that would in way surprise me. There is talent on this roster. For all the data and evidence that suggests there really isn’t any skill to winning a one score game, and everyone over time just wins roughly 50% of one score games, it really seems like the Chargers are the statistical outlier. Since 2016 they have lost 12 one score games, most in the league. For whatever reason, they just can’t figure out how to win close games and it has sunk their chances for 2017 a quarter of the way through the season.
Realistically, they have young talent on cheap contracts like Melvin Gordon, Joey Bosa, Casey Hayward and Mike Williams, which will help enable them to venture into the open market in March of 2018 to improve. They also will likely end up with a draft pick better than that of the actual talent level of their roster. They have a quarterback, they have the best pass rush duo in the NFL, they have receivers, a workhorse running back and a solid secondary. Spend the 2018 off season reworking the offensive line and building a front seven that can stop the run, and with regression to the mean of that 50% chance of winning one score games the 2018 Chargers could really be something.
I’m just not so sure it’s worth it.
As of this writing, the average home attendance for a Chargers game so far is 25,380 people. That ranks 31st in the NFL — only because the Dolphins rank 32nd due to the fact they have yet to play a home game. The 30th ranked team in attendance is the Bengals, with an average of 54,098. See the drop off? 4 games isn’t a lot, so consider that in 2016 the lowest average attendance was Oakland at 54,584, and compare that to the current Chargers’ figure of 25,380. Also, do yourself a favor and YouTube Los Angeles Chargers games. You will undoubtedly notice that the fans are heavily cheering for the visiting team. Basically, the poor Chargers will play 16 road games this year.
This really should not come as a surprise. Chances are if you’re interested in football to the point that you are reading this article, you probably know that the Los Angeles community just doesn’t really care about the NFL all that much. The Rams, for instance, are 28th in attendance this season. Now to be fair, this is all the way down from 7th last season, but I wonder if there is a correlation between the attendance decline and the glitz and glam coming off the shiny new L.A. team. Perhaps things will pick up, or perhaps attendance will skyrocket in the first year of the new stadium. But the Rams have an advantage the Chargers simply don’t: a history in the city.
These Los Angeles Rams are really the Los Angeles Rams 2.0 (and yes, I consider myself to be the most ground breaking news reporter of all time). There were public demonstrations with people holding banners and signs asking the NFL to bring back the Rams during the deliberation of whether or not the St. Louis Rams should relocate. Now, I know this goes against the logic that Los Angeles simply doesn’t care about the NFL, but it’s Hollywood. They like sparkly new things until they’re old news. I’m going to rely on the years and years of data from two teams previously playing in, and ultimately leaving, Los Angeles that shows the community isn’t that big on the NFL over some demonstrators asking for the Rams to come back. But the Chargers didn’t even have that. Their fans are down in San Diego. Those people may in fact root for the Chargers, but they aren’t going to trek to Los Angeles every weekend to watch them lose in heart-breaking fashion.
Another potential clue as to why the Chargers and Rivers should go their separate ways is this absolute freak out by Philip Rivers week 4 against the Eagles:
Philip Rivers will forever be linked with Eli Manning thanks to the 2004 draft day swap that forever altered the NFL universe as we know it. Sitting here in 2017, here is how their career statistics compare:
|Yards Per Game||240.6||255.1|
|Average QBR on Record*||60.54||66.32|
*Average QBR on Record: QBR data only dates back to 2006 and neither ESPN nor Pro Football Reference provide a career QBR so I just took each players’ single season QBR, added them up, and divided it by the number of seasons spanning from 2006-2016, as the 2017 season is only 4 games old and I did not want to include four games worth of QBR data.
By every meaningful measurement, Philip Rivers has been a better quarterback than Eli Manning throughout his career. However, thanks in large part to incredible pass rushes, playoff hot streaks (no, Joe Flacco isn’t good), a Brett Favre interception, Asante Samuel dropping an interception, David Tyree, the greatest pass in the history of humanity and a Gronk sprained ankle (yes I am bitter as all hell), Eli out-paces Rivers 2-0 in Super Bowl victories. Like I said, the Chargers could simply retool this coming offseason and have a very legitimate shot at contending next year. However, at 35 there are only so many “next years” left for Rivers. If I were him, I wouldn’t want to waste 2017. And if I were the Chargers I would be unapologetically tanking the rest of the season.
I’ll start with the Chargers’ point of view. As much we as fans want to watch the game as purely a sport and competitive battle, the reality is that the NFL is a business (once again, yes I do consider myself the most ground breaking news reporter of all time). The players admit it, the agents know it, the coaches know it, and as sure as the day you were born the owners view it as such. Consider the fact that the majority of NFL owners publicly criticized Donald Trump’s comments that fans should walk out of stadiums, stop going to games, and turn off their TVs due to anthem protests. These owners are people that donated money to Trump’s campaign and casted their ballot for him. The second he encouraged the declination of ticket sales, concession stands sales, merchandise sales and TV ratings, well, they weren’t so thrilled about that.
The NFL is sinking about infinity bajillion dollars into this new two team Los Angeles reclamation project that is the definition of “too big to fail.” Except it very well could fall flat on its face. You perhaps have seen by now that the USC Trojans football team had a higher attendance than the Rams and Chargers COMBINED.
Chargers – 25,381
Rams – 56,612
NFL combined – 81,993
USC v. Texas – 84,714
— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) September 17, 2017
So how do you fix this problem? Well, the USC attendance stat is the perfect segue into my proposed solution: draft the quarterback from USC. Hell, draft the quarterback from UCLA, I don’t care (I do care because I have a strong opinion on which one is better but this isn’t a draft article so there’s a different time and place for that). How are the Chargers, err, Alex Spanos going to inject life into a “fan base” that simply does not care at all about this team? Draft the kid the community actually cares about. This works better if USC somehow ends up winning a national title but regardless, clearly the USC Trojans have a bigger following than the Chargers. The average attendance at a USC home game in 2016 was 68,459 people. UCLA, for the record, had an average attendance of 67,459 people in 2016.
It’s not even that these kids are star quarterbacks at the local universities, it’s that they are part of the community themselves. USC quarterback Sam Darnold is from Capistrano Beach, California, a whopping 77 miles Southeast of Los Angeles. UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen is from Manhattan Beach, California, a whole 23 miles Southwest of Los Angeles. If there were ever a quarterback, or two, that the Chargers could put on that field that would really, truly represent the fans in the stands and be “their” quarterback, it’s one of these guys. They are part of this community. They are children of the community. They are born and bred in the Chargers’ brand new (and brander and newer to come) backyard. This is, in my estimation, the best chance the Chargers have to build hype, excitement and intrigue around their team and start to form some sort of following in their new digs.
The point to trading Philip Rivers in season is to unapologetically tank to ensure getting a top two pick in the 2018 draft. They have already lucked out that the Jets have found a way to win two games. They have a huge show down in New York this weekend against the Giants in the battle of the winless. With Rivers counter part Eli Manning also running from the teeth of father time, the Giants are now a team that must consider one of these quarterbacks themselves if they land in a position to get them. A loss to the Giants would go a long way in the effort to have a top two pick. Yes, there are other terrible teams, such as the 9ers, the Browns, and the Luck-less Colts, but I just cannot fathom the Cardale Jones or Kellen Clemens Chargers winning enough games (or a single game) to end up with the 3rd pick or worse come April 2018.
Now about Rivers. The missing link from our 2004 forever-destined-to-be-intertwined-QB-plotline is Ben Roethlisberger. Here is our same table for Ben and Rivers:
|Yards Per Game||252.8||255.1|
|Average QBR on Record*||67.81||66.32|
For two guys that essentially rate within the margin of error for these categories, Rivers simply deserves to join his classmates and at least appear in a Super Bowl. As I previously mentioned, Rivers only has so many “next years” left and he is better off not wasting 2017. No, I am not overlooking the difficulty of coming into a new system mid-season and trying to learn on the fly. No, the transition will probably not be very smooth. Yes, I realize that this is essentially unprecedented. Defiant to all these points, I believe the Chargers should inquire if the Jaguars will give them a first round pick (or what the Jaguars would trade) for Rivers.
The Jaguars spent their offseason building a team they want to play lights out defense, run the ball, avoid turnovers and grind out wins. The (obvious) flaw in that plan is Blake Bortles. Everything else is in order. While the Jaguars have not been a good run defense, their secondary is lockdown as their pass defense is ranks 1st in DVOA, and they put pressure on the opposite quarterback as they currently lead the league with 18 sacks. They also have been creating turnovers, and Leonard Fournette is everything we thought he would be. Enter Rivers.
Enter Rivers into the AFC South.
If Andrew Luck really does not see the field until November we can just eliminate the Colts from competing for this division. At 1-3, it’s a solid bet we could do so already.
The Titans were the preseason sexy pick to take a step forward and claim a division title. This is certainly still possible, but as of this writing, Marcus Mariota has a hamstring issue the team is downplaying, yet they still found it prudent to go out and sign Brandon Weeden. Their secondary is trash. They are no lock.
The Texans have a tremendous trio of pass rushers, a stud wide receiver and a very exciting rookie quarterback. However, he is still a rookie quarterback, there are offensive line issues here and a very injury ravaged secondary.
This division is wide open and probably the worst division in football. The on-the-fly-Philip-Rivers-Jaguars absolutely have a chance at winning this division. And as Eli has shown, a hot quarterback and unstoppable pass rush can get you to the Holy Grail. This proposed formula of Rivers, Fournette and the Jaguars defense coupled with some offseason improvements gives Rivers a chance at contention for the remainder of his career.
It isn’t that different from the current Chargers. Rivers, phenomenal pass rush, work horse running back. But maybe Rivers should just take a different job at a different company so he can get his hands on a new challenge in the immediate and long-term: Playoff success.