Tuesday's column by Kevin Acee in the Union-Tribune San Diego marked a turning point in the story. The prime NFL writer in Rivers' home city -- a close confidante of Rivers -- believes it's time for the Chargers to trade the franchise quarterback. This does not get written in a vacuum or haphazardly. The potential move to Los Angeles hovers over the entire Chargers organization, especially Rivers' future.
Trading a top-10 quarterback doesn't happen often, but there are plenty of reasons to believe we're well past baseless speculation.
Rivers' contract stance
"What I can control and all I know as of today, I am signed up for one more year," Rivers told Acee in March. "I guess things could change, but with all the uncertainty in many aspects, I don't see it changing before camp gets here, and when camp gets here I'm even more certain to play it out."
Rivers made it clear that moving to Los Angeles would be an issue.
"What we've established here with my growing family is hard to recreate. The good thing is I'm not under contract in a year where we'd potentially be in Los Angeles."
There is only one year left on Rivers' contract, but the team knows that they have the franchise tag as a tool to potentially retain their quarterback in 2016, no matter where they play. Acee -- and by extension Rivers -- hints at the two sides reaching an impasse if the team leaves San Diego.
"Can we say for sure that Rivers won't play in L.A.? Not any more than we can say it won't snow in Carson or Inglewood next Christmas," Acee writes. "So, yeah, take from that what you will."
That reads like a threat. To be more charitable: It reads like a negotiating stance. Acee writes that the Chargers "know" Rivers' position on the matter. If the team moves to L.A., there's a good chance Rivers will be in Nashville.
Now that reads like a threat.
Mariota interest unclear
This being draft season, no one truly knows how much the Chargers like Mariota. Trading Rivers after two strong seasons is wildly risky. Trading Rivers without getting a "franchise quarterback" in return sounds like career suicide for San Diego general manager Tom Telesco. The Chargers have won 19 games over the last two seasons, including a playoff game. This is not a roster that is in need of a major overhaul; they are ready to contend now. They don't need this trade.
Could the Chargers get great value for Rivers? Absolutely. But trading Rivers makes them worse. They know that they essentially retain Rivers' rights for the next two seasons, including the franchise tag year, so a deal only makes sense if San Diego loves Mariota and/or Jameis Winston.
We know that a move to Nashville makes sense for Rivers. We discussed how it could make sense for the Chargers. But what about Tennessee?
Will Titans be bold?
Ken Whisenhunt coached Philip Rivers in San Diego. He is coming off a miserable first season in Tennessee and needs to wake up a dormant fan base. Bringing Rivers into the fold would give the team an identity and a chance to turn around their program quickly. The Titansreportedly love 2014 sixth-round pick Zach Mettenberger, but that just sounds like more pre-draft smoke. The Titans can talk all they want about him being "a poor man's Tom Brady" but you don't pass up a chance to get the actual Philip Rivers. It just defies logic.
A trade of an established top 10 quarterback for a top draft pick is essentially unprecedented. So how do the Chargers proceed?
Telesco holds the cards here. He's also in the strongest position. He has a great quarterback and a quality roster. He doesn't have to do anything. Here's how we see his options:
1. Do nothing: This is the route we'd choose. The Chargers may or may not move to Los Angeles in 2016. Making a franchise-altering trade in anticipation of Rivers' reaction to that potential move feels like a panicked decision. The Chargers know what they have with Rivers. They can try to win a Super Bowl with him now, and trade him next offseason if he's threatening to retire then. The market for Rivers is not going to go away.
Would it hurt the Chargers if Rivers retired rather than play under the franchise tag? Of course. It would hurt everyone involved, including Rivers. There is risk involved in calling Rivers' bluff, but it's a smaller risk than the following options.
2. Trade him for Mariota (or Winston): This depends entirely on the Chargers' evaluation of the rookie quarterbacks. If they truly believe Mariota will be a great starter for years to come, the timing of a trade makes sense. It's still a wildly risky, career-defining move. Compensation is tricky. The No. 2 pick comes with an affordable contract, but the Chargers shouldn't have to give up much more than Rivers.
Rapoport reported that it would take "multiple" first-round picks to acquire Rivers, but the No. 2 overall pick is not your average first-round pick. This is not your average trade speculation. These are the type of trades that get talked about for decades. Rivers knows all about them.