The decision is one that will affect the team profoundly next season and — based on what direction the Chargers take — perhaps the entire franchise for years to come.
As such, Tom Telesco said Thursday it is still too early to make a call at quarterback.
Describing himself as “disappointed” and “a bit angry,” the team’s general manager said the evaluation of the season, the roster and, specifically, Philip Rivers remains in the early stages.
“I think he can still compete at a top-starter level,” Telesco said of the 38-year-old upcoming free agent. “But when you go 5-11 and 0-6 in your division, you have to look at every position.”
Rivers just completed his 16th season with the Chargers and 14th as their starter. After back-to-back winning years during which he was efficient and productive, he struggled with turnovers in 2019.
He matched his second-highest single-season total for interceptions with 20. He also lost three fumbles and threw only 23 touchdown passes, his lowest output since 2007.
In mid-March, Rivers is set to become a free agent. He has said he wants to continue playing and would like to remain with the only NFL team for which he has played.
But Rivers also has suggested he could move on, explaining after the team’s 31-21 loss Sunday at Kansas City that there are “a lot of question marks” in regards to what the Chargers need to fix in 2020.
Last month, coach Anthony Lynn said Rivers’ shaky performance could have been the result of not being completely comfortable playing behind an offensive line that was riddled with injuries.
“In a perfect world, No. 17 is your quarterback forever,” Telesco said. “Hopefully, I’m not offending Dan Fouts when I say that. But he’s meant everything to this organization. … He’s a joy to work with. Nobody has a better perspective on what goes on with him and the team.
“I can see why he’s gonna be a great coach when he’s done playing. But we need to get removed from this season a little bit. … We need to take a step back, take a little time before we make a decision.”
Telesco did say he “no doubt” would like to have the situation with Rivers resolved before the start of free agency.
In April, the Chargers have the No. 6 pick in the draft, an enviable position for any team looking to select a quarterback. Telesco was asked if the team could re-sign Rivers and also draft his successor.
“Sure,” he said. “It’s something we’ve been looking at for years.”
Telesco also dismissed the notion that Lynn would prefer to have a more mobile quarterback as opposed to Rivers, a classic drop-back passer. He reminded reporters that just a year ago, Rivers led the Chargers to a 12-win regular season and a victory in the AFC wild-card round of the playoffs.
“We’ve done it before,” Telesco said. “Obviously, it’s worked.”
The situation was such that raw rookie Trey Pipkins ended up playing extensively in four games, including three starts, during a season in which he figured to be only a backup.
Along with getting Pouncey and Okung back to full health, the Chargers are faced with uncertainty at right guard, where Michael Schofield is set to become a free agent.
Forrest Lamp, a highly touted second-round pick in 2017, is coming back from a broken fibula injury that cost him much of the 2019 season. He said he should be medically cleared to resume full workouts near the end of January.
“It’s not a finished product, by any means,” Telesco said of the offensive line. “We have some work to do.”
Lynn is entering the final season of the four-year deal he signed when hired in January of 2017. The coach said this week he has no concerns about working without an extension.
Telesco praised Lynn, adding that he didn’t think Lynn’s contract status would be any sort of distraction.
“The contract will work itself out,” Telesco said. “I just know he’s tough. He’s smart. He’s a leader, and he represents this organization on and off the field like no one else.
“I love working with him. There’s no one else I want to go to battle with. I think we have a championship-caliber coach. I need to do my part to make sure I don’t let him down.”
After Rivers, the Chargers’ next big-name free agent is running back Melvin Gordon, who is coming off a season in which he missed four games because of a contract holdout and rushed for a career-low 612 yards.
Telesco said Gordon will be evaluated no differently than the rest of the Chargers during the coming weeks.
“Obviously, Melvin held out and that didn’t make me happy,” he said. “I think it affected our team early. But you have to get over that. Despite all that, I love the kid on a personal and professional level.”