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Trading Philip Rivers to Titans to draft Marcus Mariota gives Chargers much to ponder

There has been speculation that the Chargers could trade Philip Rivers to the Titans in a deal involving the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft. (Michael Zito/Associated Press)

Each week, the Washington Post’s Mark Maske provides in-depth Monday morning NFL analysis with “First and 10,” a dissection of the league’s most important developments from a weekend of action.

First and 10: April 20

First: Could Philip Rivers be on the move for Mariota?

1. Bucs and Winston | 2. Troubled players
3. Hardy and Peterson | 4. Look at Aldon Smith
5. Hardy’s contract | 6. Fifth-year options
7. Lewis’s extension | 8. NFLRA says officials retired
9. No pre-draft DeflateGate update? | 10. Cutler staying put?


Some people within the league don’t quite know what to make of the speculation that the San Diego Chargers potentially could trade quarterback Philip Rivers to the Tennessee Titans for the second overall choice in the NFL draft Thursday night and the chance to select Marcus Mariota.

They wonder why the Chargers would contemplate parting with a proven passer who should have productive seasons remaining in his career in exchange for a young and obviously gifted quarterback, but also one whose transition to the NFL version of the sport potentially could have its bumpy moments as he converts to a pro-style offense.

But they don’t dismiss the possibility of such a deal. Anything is possible, after all. If the Chargers are convinced that Mariota will be an NFL standout, they just might be willing to move on from Rivers, especially at a time when there have been some doubts expressed about his future with the organization and there clearly is uncertainty about the franchise’s future in San Diego.

“Who knows,” a front office executive with another NFL team said in recent weeks, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly on potential moves by other franchises. “It’s tough to guess on that one. There are obviously some moving parts there in San Diego, and you don’t know what those teams really think about Mariota.”

It always is difficult to separate reality (or potential reality) from smokescreen during the pre-draft subterfuge. But it is clear that much of the intrigue surrounding this draft centers on the Titans and what they will do with the No. 2 pick. If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers indeed select quarterback Jameis Winston with the top overall selection (more on that later), the Titans will have a prospective team-altering decision to make.

They lack a franchise quarterback. Do they believe that Zach Mettenberger, a rookie last season who was a sixth-round draft choice, is good enough to allow them the option of not turning this selection into a quarterback, either Mariota or a veteran who would arrive in a trade? Do they think that Mariota is a franchise quarterback-to-be? Other teams that might be interested in trading up for Mariota include the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles.

Rivers remains an elite quarterback who threw for 31 touchdowns and nearly 4,300 yards last season. He is 33, putting him in the second half of his career but with prime years remaining. He was in the league’s most valuable player conversation for parts of last season.

Why would the Chargers even entertain the notion of trading him? He has one season remaining on his contract and he has expressed some reservations about uprooting his family and moving with the team to Los Angeles if the Chargers indeed relocate there, potentially as soon as the 2016 season.

Is that enough for the Chargers to trade Rivers and hope that Mariota becomes a star? That remains to be seen. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported last week that there had been no trade discussions at that point between the Chargers and Titans regarding Rivers. Such things can happen quickly. The Titans might want to have made progress on a new contract with Rivers before trading for him. But that perhaps is not imperative, given that they could use their franchise player tag to retain him if needed.

It seems unlikely that any deal involving the No. 2 pick would happen until the Titans are on the clock Thursday night, given that Tennessee and any interested teams probably would want to see first what the Buccaneers do.

Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco said at his pre-draft news conference last week that he intended for Rivers to remain in San Diego.

“It’s the same thing I’ve said the last four months,” Telesco said, according to the team’s Web site. “Philip is our quarterback and it’s our plan and intent that he’s our quarterback well into the future. In all my discussions with him, he’s shown a great amount of respect for his teammates and a great amount of respect for this organization. He’s been here every day working extremely hard and working with his teammates, being the leader that he is and that we’ve all come to know him for.  So I know he’s really excited for this season, as are we, and we move from there. … I’ve been crystal clear what our plans and intentions are. He’s our quarterback, and hopefully for many, many years moving forward.

“I think he’s got a lot of good years left in him. … Philip is our quarterback and the plan is he’s going to be here for a long, long, long time.”


1. Bucs and Winston

Many have taken it as a foregone conclusion that the Buccaneers will use the top overall selection Thursday night on Winston.

He is widely regarded as more NFL-ready than Mariota after playing in a pro-style offense at Florida State. The Buccaneers have said publicly they are comfortable making Winston the centerpiece of their franchise despite his off-field issues while in college.

But a person with knowledge of the team’s deliberations confirmed reports that there is some wariness within the organization about using the pick on Winston. The person said it still appears likely that Winston will be the choice but added that it’s “not totally automatic.”

Even so, it would have to be regarded as a significant surprise at this point if the Buccaneers don’t select Winston.

2. Troubled players

It is the first NFL draft since the league and some teams were heavily criticized for their handling of the off-field conduct of players such as Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy.

It has been debated how much effect that will have on the way that players in this draft class are evaluated and selected. Some observers have said that teams necessarily will have to evaluate players differently in this environment.

But the likelihood of Winston being taken first overall and some of the other moves made by NFL teams, including the return of guard Richie Incognito to the NFL with his signing by the Buffalo Bills earlier this offseason, have suggested that it is back to business as usual, or something resembling it, for some franchises.

The allure of gifted but troubled players to NFL talent evaluators was summarized perfectly by Arizona Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim when he said during his predraft news conference: “If Hannibal Lecter ran a 4.3, we’d probably diagnose it as an eating disorder.”

There are several players to watch in the early stages of the draft to attempt to determine whether the events of the past year have changed anything for NFL teams in the draft. If Winston does not go first overall, it likely will be because of concerns over off-field matters.

Nebraska’s Randy Gregory is considered one of the draft’s more promising pass rushers. But he has acknowledged to the NFL’s Web site that he tested positive for marijuana at the scouting combine, prompting some conjecture that he might drop through the first-round order.

Two other players regarded as having the talent to be first-round picks, wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham and cornerback Marcus Peters, also have had off-field issues. Green-Beckham was dismissed from the football team at Missouri after a series of off-field incidents. Peters was dismissed from the team at Washington after reportedly having several disagreements with the coaching staff.

3. Hardy and Peterson

What effect, if any, will the 10-game suspension without pay imposed by the NFL last week on Dallas defensive end Greg Hardy have on the chances of the Cowboys trading for Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson?

That is difficult to judge.

On one hand, Hardy’s suspension, if it stands, would save the Cowboys considerable cash and salary cap space. The Cowboys have faced a tight salary cap situation this offseason and fitting Peterson’s contract, which is to pay him $13 million in salary and bonus money during the 2015 season, beneath their cap would be less problematic now.

On the other hand, the Cowboys potentially now need to add a pass rusher as well as a running back, and might not feel that they are in position to surrender any draft choices for Peterson. In addition, they already have faced scrutiny for their addition of Hardy, and that undoubtedly would increase considerably if they make a move for Peterson.

4. Look at Aldon Smith

Anyone who thinks that Hardy might be able to step into the Cowboys’ lineup in the 11th game of the season and be a productive pass rusher down the stretch needs to take a look at Aldon Smith’s sack output last season for the San Francisco 49ers.

Before last season, Smith had 42 sacks in 43 career regular season games for the 49ers.

After missing the first nine games of last season while serving his suspension, Smith played seven games and had only two sacks.

And Smith, unlike Hardy, didn’t change teams.

Smith, unlike Hardy, didn’t miss all but one game the previous season.

It seems very unlikely that Hardy will be a significant contributor to the Dallas defense if his suspension is not reduced and he indeed misses the first 10 games of his first season with a new team.

Yes, the Cowboys did protect themselves financially by the way in which they structured Hardy’s contract. But if Hardy is not a productive player for them, the signing clearly will have backfired on them, regardless of whether the price tag will be reduced.

5. Hardy’s contract

Hardy’s contract was to be worth as much as approximately $13.1 million.

The deal includes a workout bonus of $1.3 million and a base salary of $750,000. It contains roster bonuses of $578,125 per game, totaling $9.25 million. It has incentives worth as much as $1.8 million, which Hardy could earn by reaching 14 sacks.

Now it appears that Hardy will make, at most, a little more than $5 million, unless his suspension is reduced.

His salary will be reduced to just less than $265,000 for six games. His per-game roster bonuses would total a little less than $3.5 million. He still can achieve his workout bonus. But his incentives, which start with a $500,000 payment for eight sacks, probably are unreachable.

6. Fifth-year options

One thing to remember about the fifth-year options for the 2016 season in the contracts of quarterbacks Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins and Ryan Tannehill of the Miami Dolphins is that, if they’re exercised, they are guaranteed for injury but not for performance.

That could be an important consideration in Griffin’s case. Coach Jay Gruden has named Griffin the Redskins’ starter entering the 2015 season. If the Redskins exercise their option on Griffin but he doesn’t play well enough to justify the $16.155 million salary for the 2016 season that exercising the option would trigger, the Redskins still could cut their ties to him without being obligated to pay that money.

Thus, the only real risk the Redskins would take in exercising the option would be the prospect of Griffin getting hurt. That, of course, is a legitimate concern, given that he already has had significant knee and ankle injuries during his NFL career.

The Redskins and Dolphins have until May 3 to exercise the fifth-year options. One person close to the situation said last week that he expects the Redskins to exercise Griffin’s option after the draft.

Is that the final word on the issue? Probably not. Scot McCloughan, the Redskins’ first-year general manager, has left open the possibility of using the fifth overall selection in the draft on Mariota if he remains available at that point. If the Redskins add Mariota, they clearly no longer would view Griffin as their quarterback of the future. But even if the Redskins don’t draft Mariota, there are those within the league who are less convinced that the team will exercise Griffin’s option.

It is an interesting decision about a player who, as a rookie, was regarded as one the sport’s most dynamic stars, but who has endured two season’s worth of injuries and disappointing results since.

7. Lewis’s extension

Anyone who thinks that the Cincinnati Bengals’ 0-6 playoff record with Marvin Lewis as their coach means that Lewis didn’t deserve the one-year contract extension that he received last week needs to take another look at the team’s level of success prior to Lewis’s arrival.

Before Lewis’s hiring, the Bengals had gone 12 seasons without a playoff appearance. They had zero winning seasons during that span and averaged 4.6 victories per year.

With Lewis as their coach, the Bengals have reached the playoffs six times in 12 seasons. They’ve had six winning seasons and three more .500 seasons. They’ve averaged 8.3 victories per season.

It’s clear that Lewis, quarterback Andy Dalton and the Bengals need to take the next step and find a way to advance in the postseason. But that doesn’t negate the fact that Lewis has done a fine job in Cincinnati of finding a way to win in a place where winning is not easily accomplished.

Lewis’s extension runs through the 2016 season.

8. NFLRA says officials retired

The NFL Referees Association says it objects to the notion that five of its officials were fired by the league after last season. The NFLRA says those officials retired.

“It is a totally inaccurate and disrespectful to these outstanding retiring game officials for anyone to give the impression or infer they were fired,” Jim Quirk, the executive director of the referees association, said in a written statement released over the weekend. “After the reports surfaced, we immediately reached out to the League with our concerns. We were pleased that during this conversation, management admitted that their public statements were misinterpreted, and they did not mean to give the impression the five retiring officials were fired.”

The NFLRA did not identify those officials who, according to the organization, retired.

Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, said recently that the league had hired nine new officials for the 2015 season, bringing the league’s total of new officials hired over the past two years to 22.

“That is more turnover than we’ve had in recent years,” Blandino said in a recent conference call with reporters. “I think it’s a combination of things. Obviously there have been some officials that have decided to retire [and] some that we’ve moved on from because of various issues. We take it very seriously and we want the best officials.

“We’re going to do a comprehensive review of the entire staff every year. And if an official isn’t performing up to the standard, they won’t be a part of the NFL and we have many qualified candidates that are ready to step into that place. So the pressure is immense and we understand that responsibility. Nine is more than we’ve had in the past. But we feel like we have improved the staff this year.”

The NFLRA said the league increased the size of its officiating staff by four officials this offseason. Blandino had said earlier that he expected seven to eight officials from last season not to return, but he also said there would be some extra officials on the staff not assigned to specific crews on a full-time basis.

9. No pre-draft DeflateGate update?

The draft is only days away, and there remains no end in sight to attorney Ted Wells’s investigation of the DeflateGate allegations against the New England Patriots.

By taking this long, Wells has set the bar high for himself in terms of the expectations for his findings. If he doesn’t provide conclusive or at least extremely convincing evidence of what the Patriots did or didn’t do, the question will be: What took this long?

10. Cutler staying put?

There has been relatively little talk within league circles in recent days of the Chicago Bears trading quarterback Jay Cutler as part of a draft-day deal.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that the chances of Cutler being dealt have completely dissipated. But the possibility of a Rivers deal seems to have totally overshadowed any possibility of a Cutler deal.