For Chargers, It's Time for Rivers to Produce

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 12, 2006; 12:51 PM

Offseason Roundup: San Diego Chargers

The San Diego Chargers thought their transition from Drew Brees to Philip Rivers at quarterback would begin two years ago. That's when they engineered their draft-day trade for Rivers to replace Brees. But Rivers reported to training camp late that summer because of a contract dispute and Brees refused to surrender the job, posting the two most productive seasons of his career and leading the Chargers to one playoff berth and another winning season.

Brees always was on borrowed time in San Diego, however. Rivers wasn't going to sit on the bench forever. When the Chargers could have signed Brees to a long-term contract extension last offseason and traded Rivers, they didn't. They didn't commit to Brees. Instead, they used their franchise-player tag to keep him off the free-agent market and kept Rivers right there, looking over Brees's shoulder. After Brees hurt his shoulder in the final game of last season and the Chargers missed the playoffs, it was clear to most people in the league that Brees probably was done in San Diego. They were right. The Chargers didn't use their franchise tag on him this time, and he left by signing a six-year, $60 million contract with the New Orleans Saints as a free agent.

The Chargers had better hope they're right about Rivers, because they just allowed a highly productive quarterback to walk away from a franchise that has most of the other pieces of a championship-contending team already in place. It's the way of the NFL, though. When a club invests so much money and hope in a quarterback drafted early in the first round, he's going to get his chance, usually sooner rather than later.

The Manning family widely was viewed as manipulating the 2004 draft, telling the Chargers through agent Tom Condon that Eli Manning wouldn't play for them. That led to the draft-day trade by which the Chargers used the top overall selection on Manning, then sent him to the New York Giants for Rivers, the fourth overall choice. The Chargers, though, weren't victimized by Manning as much as one might think. Rivers, it seemed, was the quarterback they liked the best in that draft, and Manning's stance enabled the team to get its favored quarterback and avoid the public relations hit that could have come with passing on Manning. The additional first-round pick that the Chargers received from the Giants in the trade resulted in last year's selection of linebacker Shawne Merriman, the NFL's defensive rookie of the year last season.

He has plenty of catching up to do with the other members of his draft class. He never has made an NFL start. Meanwhile, the quarterback drafted ahead of him, Manning, took the Giants to the playoffs last season. The quarterback drafted behind him, Ben Roethlisberger, won the Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Rivers doesn't have the physical skills of either Manning or Roethlisberger. But he's a smart, resourceful player and he's had two seasons to learn the offense before being thrust into the spotlight, so he's been put into a position to succeed.

He has plenty of talent around him on offense with tailback LaDainian Tomlinson, tight end Antonio Gates and still-productive wide receiver Keenan McCardell. The Chargers re-signed wideout Eric Parker this offseason to a five-year, $13.5 million contract, and obtained receiver Rashaun Woods from San Francisco by trading cornerback Sammy Davis to the 49ers in an exchange of so-far-failed former first-round draft picks.

General Manager A.J. Smith gambled on draft day by using the Chargers' first-round choice on Florida State cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who missed all of last season because of a knee injury. If he's healthy and regains his previous form, he's good enough to give the Chargers a rookie making a significant impact on their defense for a second straight year. Smith made a safer pick in the second round by getting Auburn offensive tackle Marcus McNeill.

Smith and Chargers Coach Marty Schottenheimer have had their troubles coexisting, so much so that team president Dean Spanos told them to stop their public sniping at one another. Spanos previously had a feuding coach and general manager in Bobby Ross and Bobby Beathard, and didn't want to see a repeat of that.

The Chargers were the best team in the league not to make the playoffs last season, and Schottenheimer is right back on the hot seat this season after getting a one-year reprieve when the club won the AFC West title in 2004. It all comes down to how well Rivers performs at quarterback. The Chargers are, otherwise, good enough to get back to the postseason, but things could fall apart quickly if Rivers disappoints.

Around the League

The Miami Dolphins traded for Joey Harrington in case their new starter at quarterback, Daunte Culpepper, is not ready to open the season. Culpepper is working his way back from a serious knee injury suffered last season while with the Minnesota Vikings, but he gave the Dolphins plenty of reasons to get excited when he moved and threw the ball well during a weekend minicamp. It now seems increasingly likely that Culpepper, not Harrington, will be the Dolphins' opening-day starter . . . .

Running back Marshall Faulk missed the St. Louis Rams' weekend minicamp after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on each knee earlier in the offseason. Coach Scott Linehan told reporters that Faulk is in the process of deciding whether he wants to play another season or not.

Roethlisberger in Motorcycle Accident

Roethlisberger was involved in a motorcycle accident in Pittsburgh today, according to reports.

Roethlisberger reportedly was riding his motorcycle and struck another vehicle, and his head hit a car's windshield and was bleeding. A television report quoted a witness as saying that the Super Bowl-winning quarterback was conscious after the accident but appeared disoriented. He has said in the past that he does not like to wear a helmet while riding. . . . .

The Philadelphia Eagles signed guard Shawn Andrews to a seven-year contract extension that runs through the 2015 season . . . .

The Kansas City Chiefs announced that they'd reached a tentative contract agreement with offensive tackle Kyle Turley, formerly of New Orleans and St. Louis. Turley had been attempting to return to the NFL as a tight end but the Chiefs indicated they planned to have him play right tackle . . . .

Green Bay Packers President John Jones underwent what the team called successful open heart surgery. He was listed in stable condition, according to the Packers. Jones reportedly felt ill Sunday and doctors decided to operate after performing a series of tests.

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