INDIANAPOLIS – A move viewed as a fait accompli by much of the NFL for months was officially announced by the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday.
But Philip Rivers insists he didn’t know the Hoosier State would be his new home until his agent began negotiating with the Colts when the “legal tampering” period for free agency opened Monday.
A day later, reports emerged Indianapolis had agreed to a one-year contract worth $25 million with the veteran quarterback. After a few days during which a physical was taken and the contract was signed, the Colts made it official.
And Rivers got the result he was hoping for all along.
“I really truthfully was hoping it was going to be the Indianapolis Colts,” Rivers said during a conference call to introduce him to the local media. “… I am just super thankful the way it worked out and excited to – again – be a part of it because we know, shoot, this is the ultimate team game. And to be a part of this group and to try to help, like I said, get to the top of the mountain is an exciting new challenge for me.”
Rivers’ signing is the latest development in a surreal saga for Indianapolis at the quarterback position.
A year ago, Andrew Luck was coming off a Pro Bowl season and seemed primed to lead the franchise into another period of glory years. But he suffered a calf injury early in offseason workouts and wound up shocking the football world with his retirement in August.
That pushed Jacoby Brissett to the top of the depth chart, and he threw 14 touchdowns against just three interceptions as the Colts got off to a 5-2 start in 2019. But a knee injury during the first half of a loss at Pittsburgh in November derailed the promising season.
Brissett threw just four touchdown passes over the second half of the season, and Indianapolis finished 30th in the league with 3,108 passing yards. The defense also slumped badly, especially after star cornerback Kenny Moore II was lost to injury, and the Colts stumbled to a 7-9 finish.
Head coach Frank Reich and general manager Chris Ballard were careful not to point the finger solely at Brissett, but they each acknowledged the need for improvement in the passing game early this offseason.
The result of that search led them to Rivers, a destination many expected because of the 38-year-old quarterback’s history with the coaching staff.
Reich, offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni and tight ends coach Jason Michael all spent time with Rivers on the San Diego Chargers from 2013-15. After playing 16 seasons for the same franchise, that familiarity is welcome for Rivers during this transition.
It might play an even bigger role this offseason as the league works with restrictions to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Players won’t be able to enter team facilities again until March 31 at the earliest, and the start of the offseason training programs across the league is almost certain to be delayed from its traditional April timeslot.
There has been speculation teams might not work out together until training camps open in July, making a pre-existing understanding of the offense particularly valuable.
Rivers expects Reich has made some changes to the scheme from his days with Philadelphia and that Sirianni also has introduced some wrinkles since coming to Indy two years ago.
But he’s confident he’ll be able to catch up quickly.
“I look forward to learning those (changes) and getting a feel for those, but for the most part it is going to be almost the same system that we’ve ran (with the Chargers) since I’ve been in since ’13,” Rivers said. “In a lot of ways, you find out over a long career that a lot of us all run the same thing. You call it a little differently. But I think having some same verbiage, having that familiarity – again, I have been in meeting rooms with Frank, Nick and Jason Michael. I have been in meeting rooms with those guys.”
“We communicate the same way. I know what those guys are trying to get out of a play and why they are calling this. They understand what I think and how I look for things. There is a good dynamic there from the way we communicate. I think that that is a positive, and I do think there was a trust factor that was built in our time here in San Diego.”
Rivers is coming off a down season during which he completed 66 percent of his passes for 4,615 yards with 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. But he was a major player in the league as recently as 2018 when he completed 68.3 percent of his throws for 4,308 yards with 32 touchdowns and 12 picks.
An eight-time Pro Bowler, Rivers ranks sixth all-time with 59,271 passing yards and 397 touchdowns.
“Philip is one of the most decorated quarterbacks in the NFL, and we are fortunate to add an experienced player of his caliber to our organization,” Ballard said in a team release. “His familiarity with our coaching staff and offensive system in addition to his experience were attractive qualities during our evaluation process. Philip is a fierce competitor, and his veteran leadership will be crucial in the continued development of our young roster.”
That leadership and an unparalleled work ethic played big roles in Indianapolis’ interest.
About the only thing missing from Rivers’ Hall of Fame resume is a Super Bowl ring. He’s 5-6 in the postseason with 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
There are questions about how much gas Rivers has left in the tank and whether he’ll ever be able to lead a team to a championship.
But he insists outside voices don’t matter.
“I’m really not out to prove anything this season,” Rivers said. “I want to come in there (and) earn my teammates’ trust and respect. I do feel like over 16 years, you earn some of that league wide based on your play and your longevity. But at the same time, shoot, you’ve got to start and build that with your new teammates.
“So it’s not so much prove it as it is, I want to prove it to now our locker room – to be a guy that they believe in and just, again, be a part of something special.”