LAS VEGAS — Retirement thoughts were running through his mind, Philip Rivers recently admitted. Almost everyone who watched him play last year probably thought the same. After leading the Los Angeles Chargers to the bottom of the AFC West, he became their former quarterback.
The Chargers decided it was better to move on from Rivers and, like most NFL teams, start the search for their quarterback of the future.
But it’s also a win-now league and a player past his prime still can be the best option for the present. That’s why Tom Brady was courted by Tampa Bay and Drew Brees was re-signed by New Orleans. In their early 40s, Brady and Brees are legitimately chasing their last shots at another Super Bowl.
The Indianapolis Colts’ hot pursuit of Rivers, 38, was the most curious move of an active free-agent market for quarterbacks. Are the Colts chasing a ghost or were they wise to make a $25 million bet on a new-look Rivers in 2020?
“Rivers is going from one of the worst offensive lines in the league to one of the best, and that can make a quarterback look good,” said Ed Salmons, the top NFL oddsmaker at the Westgate SuperBook. “The Colts are a team I have liked. I would not be surprised if Rivers had success this year.”
After last week’s quarterback shuffle, the SuperBook improved the Super Bowl odds on only two teams — the Buccaneers, who went from 40/1 to 14/1, and Colts, who went from 30/1 to 20/1.
In Brady, the Buccaneers believe they found Mr. Right. The Colts view Rivers as Mr. Right Now, a short-term fling that is no surefire wager.
No other quarterback transactions have moved the needle on Super Bowl odds.
Tennessee extended Ryan Tannehill’s contract instead of making a run at Brady. Dallas is keeping Dak Prescott, Minnesota threw a raise at Kirk Cousins and Carolina signed free agent Teddy Bridgewater to a three-year deal to replace Cam Newton, who will be traded or released.
Aside from the Buccaneers and Colts, the Bears made the biggest perceived splash by trading a fourth-round pick to Jacksonville for Nick Foles, a Super Bowl MVP two years ago for Philadelphia. Foles will compete with Mitchell Trubisky for Chicago’s top job.
“I still think it’s Trubisky’s job,” Salmons said. “Foles is terrible.”
Salmons said he also is unimpressed by the Raiders’ free-agent signing of Marcus Mariota, who was beat out by Tannehill in Tennessee. It’s presumed Mariota will compete with Derek Carr, yet rumors persist Las Vegas coach Jon Gruden wants to dump Carr and has an eye on Jameis Winston, who threw a league-high 30 interceptions and lost five fumbles as the Buccaneers finished 7-9.
Brady’s move tightened the NFC South odds at the top. At Circa Sports, the Saints are -105 favorites, followed by the Buccaneers (+125). Tampa Bay’s win total is 8.5 (Over -140) at Circa, but 9 (Over -135) at William Hill.
“Tampa has been a team on the rise,” Salmons said. “I lean to the Bucs being better just because Brady’s not going to turn the ball over and that team has weapons all over the field.”
While displaying fading arm strength and only slightly more mobility than a mannequin, Rivers appeared to be shot last season. He passed for 23 touchdowns with 20 interceptions, the third-highest total in the league, as the Chargers finished 5-11 and 0-6 within the division.
Instead of writing off Rivers, there are reasons to take a wait-and-see approach before racing to the window to bet against him. Indianapolis has built a solid roster infrastructure and coach Frank Reich has a reputation for getting the most out of quarterbacks.
Andrew Luck’s stunning retirement in August dramatically changed the Colts’ future. Jacoby Brissett, a New England castoff, was the backup plan last year. Indianapolis finished 7-9, losing four games by four points or fewer and another one in overtime.
“I do think Rivers is an upgrade,” said Michael Lombardi, a VSiN analyst and former NFL executive. “His offensive line [with the Chargers] was atrocious and couldn’t block you or me. But Rivers has got to cut down his turnovers and I think he will.”
Brissett went 7-8 as the starter, but his record was 6-4 with top wide receiver T.Y. Hilton in the lineup. The Colts were sabotaged by Adam Vinatieri’s kicking woes and a season riddled by injuries, with Hilton’s absence hurting the most.
An argument can be made the deck was stacked against Brissett. Rivers is joining a team that appears ready to win now. Circa Sports lists the Colts as the AFC South favorites at +135, followed by the Titans (+195) and Texans (+210). Indianapolis’ win total is 8.5 (Over -125) at William Hill.
“I do think the Colts will be better than 8.5 wins,” Lombardi said. “I think Rivers will make them a little bit better.”