These are strange, strange times for the Chargers.
A stadium in Carson, to be shared with the Raiders. Rumors that quarterback Philip Rivers will be traded this year or will retire if the Los Angeles Chargers try to franchise him next year. Former teammate LaDainian Tomlinson speculating that Rivers has lost faith in the organization. Rivers declining a contract extension. All-Pro safety Eric Weddle upset the Chargers haven’t yet given him an extension. Future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates promoting boxing matches in his hometown of Detroit, readying for life after his last NFL snap. The Padres — always playing second fiddle to the Chargers — seemingly becoming the golden child of San Diego sports, heralded for the ownership group’s investment to the team and the city.
Strange times, indeed.
Even with the draft a little over one week away, even with voluntary offseason workouts beginning at Chargers Park, excitement for the 2015 Chargers season seems dulled, muted.
On Monday, at the team’s first OTA, a handful of players were escorted into the media center after practice, and one-by-one faced questions that centered around the possibility of the Los Angeles Chargers or the likelihood that Rivers will no longer wear a lightning bolt on Sundays.
Rivers was not brought in front of the media Monday, and it’s unclear whether that was a team decision or a player’s choice. I happen to think either Rivers wasn’t asked, or he declined. I can’t imagine a scenario where Rivers is told he can’t speak to the media. He would speak if he wanted to speak. I even have a hard time imagining he wasn’t asked, though it’s possible. It’s also possible he may have been advised to lay low for awhile, thus prolonging the inevitable.
See, this isn’t going to stop. These questions won’t just magically disappear.
It was Rivers who spoke to the Union-Tribune in March, publicly acknowledging he’s unsure if he wants to move his family to Los Angeles, should the team bolt north. He spoke about his desire to play out his current contract, which is up after this season, rather than negotiate an extension this offseason. Rivers’ honesty is one of the reasons he’s loved, and his ability to speak candidly to the media is admirable in an environment where players deliver canned answers and forced emotions.
No one can blame Rivers — who gives everything he has to this team on and off the field (and has for more than a decade) — for speaking his truth. No one can fault him for wanting the best for his family (well, you can, but seriously, you’ll look like a jerk).
The problem is this: Rivers hates distractions. He does his best every season to mitigate any kind of distraction, to smother the fire of unnecessary questions or rumors.
I don’t know how that will happen this season.
Put Rivers around his teammates and it’s like he’s nine years old, playing backyard ball with his family, smiling, heckling, competing. He loves football with the purity of a child. He’s not thinking about Los Angeles. He’s not thinking about contracts. He’s just thinking about having fun with his teammates and working hard to get a win on Sunday.
But off the field, the questions will follow him: Philip, do you want to be a Charger? How about now? Now? Do you think the team will move to LA? What happens when the team moves to LA? Why don’t you want to live in LA? Could you live in San Diego and drive up? Would you really retire? Could you walk away? Will you play for another team? Have you lost faith in this organization, like LT says? Do you still drive a minivan? (Okay, that last question is mine. What can I say? I marvel at the minivan.)
They will follow his teammates: Have you thought about playing in LA? What would this team be like without Rivers?
With every piece of news, every twist in the stadium saga, the questions will resurface. They will pepper press conferences and pop up in interviews with players and coaches. They will pervade the season, as will questions about the future of teammates Eric Weddle, Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd, who all become free agents after this year.
For someone who hates distractions, that storyline is exhausting.
Head coach Mike McCoy will say repeatedly that these topics won’t affect the team, but I have my doubts. They are annoying, pesky uncertainties, the kind that can’t be killed off, the kind that buzz around your head and linger long after you’ve tried to ignore their presence. They’re bad breath on a first-date kiss or a flat tire on the way to a party. They kill the mood.
It’s blasphemy, but I almost think it could be better for Rivers to be traded to Tennessee, to move 90 minutes from his hometown and leave all these questions behind.
I say ALMOST, because the idea of letting go of your franchise quarterback – and really, the heart and soul of this organization – still makes me dizzy. Almost, because if Rivers does disappear, you can bet moving vans will soon be headed to Chargers Park.
Make no mistake — These are strange, strange times for the Chargers.
Are you tired of the Chargers and these offseason storylines? Let us know in the comments below!