The Chargers’ doomsday scenario isn’t difficult to imagine.
It’s 2021. Philip Rivers has retired. Joey Bosa has departed in free agency. The Chargers are entering their second season in their new stadium, but have to share the place with the defending Super Bowl champion Rams.
So much for the ambitions they had of making themselves relevant in Los Angeles.
The point of painting such a bleak picture isn’t to introduce a fear of the future but, rather, to emphasize the promise of the upcoming season.
This is a rare window of opportunity in the tortured history of the Chargers.
“No question,” Rivers said.
They better do something with it.
They still have their franchise quarterback in Rivers. They have dominant pass rushers in Melvin Ingram, whom the team has signed to a long-term contract, and Bosa, whom they haven’t.
They have a top-tier running back in the prime of his career in Melvin Gordon, assuming he ends his holdout and rejoins them at some point.
In their first season back in Los Angeles, they won six of their last seven games and narrowly missed the postseason.
In their second, last year, they were 12-4 and won a playoff game.
The Chargers should again be a contender to emerge from the AFC and earn a place in the Super Bowl, along with the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots.
“I think we are in a similar window that we were in from 2006 to 2009,” Rivers said.
Over that four-year stretch, the Chargers won four AFC West Division championships and averaged more than 11 wins per season. They secured a couple of first-round byes in the playoffs and reached an AFC championship game.
In the eight years that followed, they returned to the playoffs once.
Rivers’ sense is that window has opened up again — perhaps for the last time in his career.
“I feel like we’re in that window,” Rivers said. “That doesn’t mean that it’s going to just happen, but I do feel like we’re in that window capability-wise.”
Rivers mentioned the competition the Chargers will encounter in the West, particularly from the defending division champion Chiefs.
“That’s where it starts for us, trying to find a way to win the division,” he said.
The Chiefs won’t be their only obstacle.
The Chargers’ best defensive back, Derwin James, will be sidelined for three to four months.
Left tackle Russell Okung is sidelined indefinitely after suffering a pulmonary embolism.
Receiver Keenan Allen has been slowed by knee and ankle problems.
“Once we start playing real football games, we’ll see exactly where we are,” coach Anthony Lynn said.
The Chargers host the Colts in Week 1 and the Houston Texans in Week 3.
Whatever problems the Chargers have now are nothing compared with what they could face in the future.
Bosa, a former No. 3 overall pick in the draft, is entering his fourth year in the league. The team already has picked up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, but there are no guarantees he will be with them beyond that.
In fact, if Bosa plays too well over the next couple of seasons, the Chargers could decide to let him go rather than offer him the kind of megadeal that would be required to keep him.
But if they part ways with Bosa, they would have to replace him. There’s no guarantee they would be able to do so capably.
The same is true of Rivers, their ageless wonder.
Now in his 16th season, Rivers still projects a youthful exuberance.
“I feel great mentally,” Rivers said.
“I don’t know about that,” Rivers joked. “I felt stiff and old this morning.”
Which should be expected. He will be 38 by the next Super Bowl.
His longevity has afforded the Chargers the luxury of being set at their most important position for more than a decade. In each of the last 13 seasons, Rivers started all 16 regular-season games.
As well as Rivers played last season, the reality is that his career is down to its two-minute warning.
Rivers has said he intends to play in 2020, when the Chargers move into their new stadium. Beyond that, who knows?
And who knows where the Chargers could be headed?
They have to win now. They don’t know when a window will open for them again.