INDIANAPOLIS — They were just 11 words in a column featuring tens of thousands, but with them NBC Sports’ Peter King on Monday joined the chorus of voices connecting soon-to-be free agent quarterback Philip Rivers to the Indianapolis Colts.
“I think Philip Rivers and (the) Colts seem like a sound marriage,” King wrote in his weekly “Football Morning in America” column.
Former ESPN “SportsCenter” anchor Dan Patrick, who’s eponymous talk show streams weekdays on Bleacher Report Live, and NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah are among the other high-profile pundits who have made a link between Rivers and Indianapolis.
The noise is borne primarily from the history the 16-year veteran quarterback shares with Colts head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni — who spent three seasons together with the then San Diego Chargers from 2013-15.
It’s the sort of connect-the-dots mentality that is common this time of year. Two years ago, many observers projected free agent linebacker Anthony Hitchens to sign with Indianapolis because of his experience playing under new Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus with the Dallas Cowboys.
Indy had a need for linebacker help, and it seemed to be an obvious fit on paper. But Hitchens signed with the Kansas City Chiefs on the first day of free agency that March, and the Colts later drafted Darius Leonard.
All of which is to say February speculation doesn’t always lead to March contract signings.
Still, there’s a reason this particular rumor has had such long legs.
Heading into last season’s Week 1 contest at Los Angeles, Reich said Rivers is “among the most elite quarterbacks to have ever played this game” and called the quarterback a “consummate pro.”
Rivers was equally effusive in his praise, noting Reich’s arrival with former Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt marked the first time the quarterback had played in a new offense during his pro career.
He enjoyed the collaborative approach to building the attack and connected with Reich on a personal level.
“Frank as a football coach was awesome to be around,” Rivers told the Chargers’ website in September. “Frank as a man was even better. … It was a good couple years. We’ve kept in touch over the last couple years. It was awesome to see him do what he did in Philly (winning the Super Bowl in 2017), and I was super fired up for him to get this opportunity in Indy.”
In the three seasons Reich, Sirianni and Rivers spent together, the QB completed 67.2% of his passes for 13,556 yards with 92 touchdowns and 42 interceptions.
With the Chargers announcing Monday they will mutually part ways with Rivers once the new NFL year begins in March, the stage could be set for a reunion.
But, even in what looks to be a buyer’s market, the 38-year-old quarterback is certain to have options.
Tampa Bay could be among the most intriguing possibilities. The Bucs might allow former No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston to walk away as a free agent, and Rivers recently moved his family from San Diego to Florida.
His big arm and gun-slinging mentality also seem like a good fit with Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians. And the Bucs have plenty of offensive weapons to put at Rivers’ disposal.
Carolina is another destination that often is mentioned. The Panthers have a first-year head coach in Matt Rhule and might not be in the win-now mentality Rivers is likely to prefer. But he was a college star in the area at North Carolina State and could help ease the fanbase’s transition if the franchise decides to move on from former MVP Cam Newton.
The Colts also will have plenty of options.
It’s expected to be a relatively deep draft class, Newton and Winston are among a large group of talented quarterbacks who could become available next month and the team has not thrown in the towel on 2019 starter Jacoby Brissett.
Signing Rivers would be somewhat out of character for Indianapolis general manager Chris Ballard, who prefers to take the long-term view and add players with high ceilings and ample time to reach them.
But this would likely be a move driven by Reich. The head coach was instrumental in the signings of tight end Eric Ebron in 2018 and wide receiver Devin Funchess in 2019.
If he walks into Ballard’s office and says Rivers is the man he needs to win in 2020, the GM could be swayed.
Any Rivers signing likely would need to be offset with the selection of a young QB to develop in the draft. But the persistent speculation at least suggests the Colts are actively considering their options under center.
It’s an option Ballard did not dismiss during his end-of-season press conference last month.
He noted the team evaluates available quarterbacks every offseason, and it will do the same again this spring.
“We’re going to continue to evaluate the position,” Ballard said. “We would’ve done this no matter who the quarterback was. And if we felt like we found the guy we liked, who was a good fit for the Colts, we would’ve taken him. And we’ll do the same thing moving forward.”