Philip Rivers announced he is hanging up his cleats after 17 seasons in the NFL. The No. 4 overall pick in the 2004 draft spent 16 seasons with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers before finishing his career with a final campaign in Indianapolis with the Colts.

“It’s just time,” Rivers told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “It’s just right. I can sit here and say, ‘I can still throw it. I love to play.’ But that’s always going to be there. I’m excited to go coach high school football.”

Rivers ends his career with 63,440 passing yards and 421 career touchdown passes, both the fifth-most in NFL history. His career passer rating, 95.2, is the 12th highest in league history and only Tom Brady and Drew Brees had as many 4,000-yard seasons as Rivers (12) since turning pro.

To many that’s a slam-dunk, first-ballot Hall of Fame career. Nine of ESPN’s football writers, including Dan Graziano and Field Yates, believe Rivers is a hall of fame quarterback. For the Win’s Steven Ruiz, theScore’s Jack Browne and the Big Lead’s Ryan Phillips do, too. But I’d beg to differ. Rivers isn’t worthy of enshrinement in Canton, and voting him in would dislodge the bar quarterbacks in the modern era must clear to become Hall of Famers.

Let’s start by saying Rivers is certainly in the Hall of Fame conversation, particularly as it pertains to a common barometer. According to Pro Football Reference’s Hall of Fame Monitor, a metric designed to estimate a player’s chances of making the Pro Football Hall of Fame using approximate value, Pro Bowls, all-pros, championships and various stat milestones, Rivers is statistically as good as an average Hall of Fame quarterback. A score of 101 is around the average modern-era HOF inductee for the position and Rivers falls just short at 98.

Some of the passers below him in this metric, like Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw, Dan Fouts and Kurt Warner, already have busts in Canton. Yet Rivers has little in common with them from a legacy standpoint. For example, Starr was voted as the league’s MVP, named to a first-team all-pro team and won two Super Bowls. Bradshaw was a league MVP and four-time Super Bowl champion. Fouts was named offensive player of the year in 1982 and was on two first-team all-pro squads. He was also a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame second team All-1980s Team. Warner was a two-time MVP, two-time all-pro and a Super Bowl champ.

Rivers, on the other hand, has none of those accolades. He was never considered as the best player at his position at any year during his career. Since he entered the league in 2004 seven different quarterbacks were named the league MVP, and eight other quarterbacks were named to first-team all-pro teams. Three of those, Peyton Manning, Brady and Aaron Rodgers, earned multiple all-pro honors. And, for what it’s worth, the best ranking bestowed upon Rivers in the yearly NFL Top 100 rankings was 17th in 2019 behind four other passers, Brees, Patrick Mahomes, Brady and Rodgers.

Rivers also never played in a Super Bowl and his teams advanced to the AFC championship game only once, in 2007. Rivers’s lack of championship rings will likely invoke comparisons to Fouts, Dan Marino and Warren Moon, three Hall of Fame quarterbacks that are also devoid of a Super Bowl win. However, that’s not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison. Marino was an MVP, offensive player of the year and a member of the NFL 100 all-time team. Moon was the offensive player of the year in 1990. Plus, after adjusting for era, Marino and Fouts each had a higher passer rating relative to the league average than Rivers.

Hall of Fame Quarterback
PFR HoF monitor
Super Bowls
First-team all-pro
MVP/Off PoY
Pro Bowls
Philip Rivers
98
0
0
0
8
Bart Starr
98
5
1
1
4
Terry Bradshaw
95
4
1
1
3
Roger Staubach
93
2
0
0
6
Dan Fouts
92
0
2
0
6
Kurt Warner
89
1
2
2
4
Ken Stabler
83
1
1
1
4
Joe Namath
83
1
1
0
5
Sonny Jurgensen
79
1
1
0
5
Bob Griese
73
2
2
0
8
Warren Moon
73
0
0
0
9
Len Dawson
70
2
2
0
7
Troy Aikman
65
3
0
0
6
Jim Kelly
59
0
1
0
5

The most prominent award Rivers won during his time in the NFL, besides the eight Pro Bowl nominations (seven times as a reserve and once as an alternate), was the 2013 Comeback Player of the Year award. Rivers rebounded from a poor 2012 campaign to lead the league in completion percentage (70 percent) in addition to 4,478 yards, 32 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

While Rivers was never on a Super Bowl team, he did enjoy Hall of Fame-caliber talent on his side of the ball. His teammate, running back LaDainian Tomlinson, was named to three first-team all-pro teams (2004, 2006 and 2007) plus was voted the league’s MVP and offensive player of the year in 2006. Tomlinson was also a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame first team All-2000s team. Other teammates named as a first-team all-pro during Rivers’s time with the Chargers include Antonio Gates, Lorenzo Neal, Eric Weddle, Jamal Williams, Antonio Cromartie, Derwin James, Nate Kaeding, Desmond King, Shawne Merriman and Adrian Phillips.

You could say that Rivers’s lack of individual accolades stemmed from the steep competition at the quarterback position during his career, but even then he doesn’t quite compare to the position’s greats in anything but career-long counting metrics.

The highest Approximate Value score (Doug Drinen’s method of putting a single numerical value on any player’s season, at any position, from any year) Rivers earned in a single season was 19 points in 2009, which tied him for the most that year with Rodgers. That’s a notable season. On the other hand, he’d accumulate 89 total AV from 2014 to 2020. That’s on par with the performances of Cam Newton, Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford over that same time span.

Now you start to see how the bar would move if Rivers were to make it into Canton. Are Cousins and Stafford really in any Hall of Fame conversations? In comparison, if Rivers is a Hall of Fame quarterback, those two should warrant serious consideration.

The biggest argument for Rivers’s Hall of Fame entry revolves around his total passing yards and touchdowns. So, how did Rivers accumulate so many passing yards if he isn’t a Hall of Fame quarterback? In part, by having ample opportunities due to frequently trailing in games. Teams that trail are more likely to pass in an effort to catch up, giving quarterbacks more opportunities to compile passing yards. Almost half of Rivers’s passing yards, 30,769 out of 63,440 (48.5 percent), came with his team struggling to catch up on the scoreboard. If we look at quarterbacks with at least 40,000 passing yards since 2004, Rivers’s rookie season, only Matthew Stafford (55 percent), Eli Manning (53 percent) and Carson Palmer (49 percent) had a higher share of yards produced while trailing than Rivers. That’s in stark contrast to Brady (31 percent), Peyton Manning (35 percent) and Rodgers (38 percent), three clear Hall of Fame quarterbacks.

The simple fact is the game has changed since Rivers entered the league and counting stats like total touchdowns and passing yards are going to look very different for players vying for Hall of Fame entry in the years to come. For instance, let’s go back to that comparison with Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford.

Rivers has averaged 4,219 passing yards per season since becoming a full-time starter. Meanwhile, Cousins is averaging 4,223 yards per season since becoming a full-time NFL starter in 2015. If Stafford can add five healthy seasons to his career while passing for the league average of yards per game (240 yards per game in 2020) he would have amassed 64,309 passing yards by that time, pushing Rivers down the leader board.

That’s the problem with pegging a hall of fame career to accumulated stats. The league is shifting more and more to the passing game, allowing average quarterbacks to tally higher yardage totals just by virtue of suiting up under center.

It has been a sensational career for Rivers and it is sad to see his time in the NFL come to an end. His durability is remarkable and that has allowed him to rise up the leader board in important passing categories. He has amassed exceptional numbers, but he has very rarely had exceptional seasons. And over time, his career totals are going to pale in comparison to future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. His career, especially when looked at in relation to other quarterbacks of his era, doesn’t measure up to Canton’s standards.