INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Philip Rivers spent more than a decade picking apart the Indianapolis Colts and irritating their fans.
On Wednesday, he’ll become their new quarterback.
The longtime Chargers star agreed to a one-year contract with Indy on Tuesday, according to a person who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal cannot be officially announced until Wednesday.
General manager Chris Ballard has now filled two major offseason needs in two days — adding an eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback to the roster less than 24 hours after acquiring Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner in a trade with San Francisco.
“Any time we have a chance to acquire a player that makes us better at any position, we’re going to do it,” Ballard said at his end of the season news conference in January. “So I wouldn’t just focus on the quarterback position.”
It’s hard not to when making this kind of investment in a 38-year-old, 16-year veteran who produced his fewest touchdown passes, 23, since 2007 and his most interceptions, 20, since 2016. It was one reason the Chargers decided not to bring back the franchise’s career passing leader.
In Indy, though, Rivers will be reunited with coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni. Reich was the Chargers quarterbacks coach in 2013 and the offensive coordinator in 2014 and 2015. Sirianni spent five seasons in San Diego, two as quarterbacks coach.
The move also completes a strange cycle.
The New York Giants selected Rivers with the fourth overall draft pick in the 2004 draft then made a draft-day swap with the Chargers for Eli Manning, whose older brother, Peyton, was still starring in Indy. Twice during Rivers tenure, he played on teams that eliminated the Colts from the playoffs.
And it will almost certainly rekindle memories for Colts owner Jim Irsay, who was a teenager when his father’s team dealt then-39-year-old quarterback John Unitas from Baltimore to San Diego in 1973. That turned out to be the final season for Unitas, a Hall of Famer who died in 2002.
The Colts believe Rivers can last at least that long.
Rather than using the No. 13 pick in April’s draft to bring in a new young gun, they dealt it to the 49ers for Buckner and then continued negotiating with Rivers’ agents.
Now, presumably, Rivers will replace Jacoby Brissett as the Colts’ opening day starter.
Brissett started 15 of 16 games last season after replacing the retired Andrew Luck in August. The Colts went 7-9 and missed the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.
But from the moment of Luck’s sudden departure through last month’s NFL annual scouting combine, Ballard continued insisting the Colts were all-in with Brissett.
“From my understanding, nothing’s really done (with Rivers) till the league year starts tomorrow,” longtime left tackle Anthony Castonzo told reporters on a conference call, two days after re-signing with the Colts. “But regardless of who’s playing quarterback out there, as the left tackle it doesn’t change your job at all. I would imagine Chris and Frank have a fantastic plan.”
It now appears Brissett will be the odd man out in Indy and could even be on the move. He was acquired in a deal with New England just before the 2017 season.
And with Tom Brady leaving New England, there is speculation the Patriots could be in the market for an experienced arm who has played in the system. Moving on without Brissett could save the Colts roughly $9 million in salary cap charges. The Chargers, meanwhile, are expected to join the Brady sweepstakes.
But with the quarterback carousel spinning wildly Tuesday, Rivers found a place to settle down and continue to pursue that elusive Super Bowl ring.
Indy has one of the league’s top offensive lines, a strong ground game that proved it could win last season and an improving defense that will get better with Buckner’s arrival. Plus, he’ll be working with Reich, a creative play-caller and former NFL quarterback who watched Rivers use his unique throwing motion to complete 4,908 of 7,591 passes with 59,271 yards, 397 touchdowns and 198 interceptions.
Rivers ranks sixth in league history in completions, yards passing and TD passes and seventh in attempts and is 123-101 as an NFL starter. He hasn’t missed a start since 2005.
“I think that we showed flashes early last year of just how good a team we are and can be,” Castonzo said. “But adding power wherever it may be — along the starting fronts — it’s exciting to just get more talent and more people in here that can help the team.”
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