Sports | March 19, 2020 2:44 pm

Free Agency Watch: The Curious Case of Philip Rivers Joining the Indianapolis Colts

Rivers, an eight-time Pro Bowler, may not have been Indy's best option

The Curious Case of Philip Rivers Joining the Colts
Quarterback Philip Rivers, formerly of the Los Angeles Chargers. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty)
Getty Images

Because every major American sport that’s typically played at this time of year is now in absentia thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak, we’re shifting our attention to the most important signings, trades, rumors and trends around the NFL via a dedicated daily column. This is Free Agency Watch.

While it didn’t quite fly under the radar, 16-year NFL veteran Philip Rivers signing a one-year deal with the Colts for $25 million didn’t get nearly as much attention as another longtime quarterback moving on to a new, Belichick-free, franchise did.

Perhaps it should.

Though Rivers leaving the Los Angeles Chargers this offseason to sign with the Colts was treated “like a fait accompli” by executives from rival teams, it’s actually somewhat of a curious decision.

Not for Rivers — at age 38 and coming off one of the worst seasons of his career getting $25 million guaranteed is a no-brainer — but for the Colts.

By committing that much money to Rivers, even for a year, the Colts are effectively waving the white flag on developing Jacoby Brissett, the 27-year-old quarterback they signed to a two-year, $30-million extension ($20 million guaranteed) prior to last season after Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement.

Given how Brissett fared last season in 15 starts (7-8 record, 18 touchdowns, six interceptions, 88.0 quarterback rating), that’s a defensible decision as he may actually be better suited to being a backup in the NFL.

But, taking into account how Rivers played last season in his 16 starts (5-11 record, 23 touchdowns, 20 interceptions, 88.5 quarterback rating) last season, replacing Brissett with the longtime Charger looks like a lateral move at best.

Sure, making the switch from Brissett to Rivers may make Indy slightly better thanks to the latter’s experience, skill level and durability (he’s made every regular-season start since 2006), but it probably won’t be enough to put Indianapolis over the top in an ultra-competitive division that includes the Texans, Titans (both playoff teams) and Jaguars.

If Indy really wanted to go for it all in the AFC South and beyond, they should have done what a team in the NFC South did and gotten Colts owner Jim Irsay to pony up the cash to sign Tom Brady.

An all-in move like that would have instantly made Indianapolis a dark-horse Super Bowl candidate and also would have been the best way possible to stick it to their hated rivals in New England (and a great way for Brady to stick it to his former coach).

If you’re the Colts, who won the Super Bowl 13 seasons ago but have only made the playoffs once in the last five seasons, taking a chance and seeing if Brady can slide into the franchise-QB spot Luck temporarily filled after it was vacated by Peyton Manning and lead the team back to the promised land is a move worth making,

Instead, the Colts now will be rolling out a longtime Patriot punching bag in Rivers instead of a six-time Super Bowl winner in Brady.

Elsewhere in the NFL, there are plenty of other moves and developing storylines to be aware of starting with Rams running back Todd Gurley — who would leave behind $25.6 million in dead money if he was outright released by Los Angeles — reportedly being on the trading block in LA. Gurley’s teammate, wide receiver Brandin Cooks, is also said to be available.

UPDATE: In a shocking, and costly, move, the Rams have released Gurley. Along with Gurley, the Los Angeles also cut Clay Matthews.

While the Cooks news is just speculation at this point, it’s a fact that the Lions finalized a deal with the Eagles on Thursday that sent stud cornerback Darius Slay to Philadelphia. Slay, who was dealt for third- and fifth-round picks from the 2020 draft, has already reached an agreement on a three-year, $50 million extension with Philly that includes $30 million guaranteed.

That deal was preceded by the Lions inking cornerback Desmond Trufant, formerly of the Falcons, to a two-year deal worth $21 million. Coach Matt Patricia seems committed to revamping the Lions defense as Trufant will join former Patriots Danny Shelton, Jamie Collins and Duron Harmon as a new addition for the Lions.

In another Detroit-related news item, the Rams signed former Lions defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson to a two-year pact for $17 million.

Also in Los Angeles, the Rams and left tackle Andrew Whitworth have come to terms on a three-year contract worth $30 million. The Rams also reached a new deal with right guard Austin Blythe.

In Denver, the Broncos have released quarterback Joe Flacco with a failed physical designation and will move forward with youngster Drew Lock under center.

In Washington, the Redskins have signed tight end Logan Thomas but are reportedly not interested in acquiring former Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston. For now, Washington will roll with second-year player Dwayne Haskins and potentially Alex Smith (pending health) in 2020.

Despite some rumblings to the contrary, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network considers the Bucs highly unlikely to sign free agent Antonio Brown to reunite him with Brady in Tampa Bay.

In non-player-related news, Saints coach Sean Payton told ESPN he has tested positive for coronavirus. Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Payton revealed his diagnosis because “he wants all people to heed the warnings of government officials, stay inside, and behave responsibly.”

Subscribe here for our free daily newsletter.