Will Philip Rivers thrive or fold without Norv Turner at his side?
Go ahead, try to explain Philip Rivers' current legacy as an NFL quarterback without mentioning (or is it blaming?) Norv Turner.
I'll wait ...
The truth is that, even though Rivers opened his career as a starter with a 14-2 season under Marty Schottenheimer, he and Turner have been linked, for better or worse, like characters in some campy '80s buddy comedy. Through all the Chargers' successes and, more noticeably, their failures, the two headlining constants from 2007-12 have been Rivers and Turner.
Now, it's time for Rivers to venture out on his own. And that legacy of his depends on what he does with the opportunity.
"My only goal is the Super Bowl," Chargers president Dean Spanos said Monday, in announcing the firings of Turner and GM A.J. Smith. "And that is why I have decided to move in a new direction with both our head coach and general manager positions."
He said nothing of his 31-year-old quarterback, who, presumably, will be waiting to run the offense for San Diego's new coach.
On paper, Rivers' presence should be a boon in the coaching search. There are not many teams out there with such an accomplished QB in their back pocket. Rivers has 70 career wins, nearly 28,000 passing yards and four trips to the playoffs.
But he is coming off two of the worst seasons of his career -- he tossed 35 interceptions over 2011 and '12 en route to a combined 15-17 record. After reaching the postseason during his first four years as a starter, Rivers has not been back since 2009.
The Chargers may be banking on that drought being the faults of Turner and Smith. What if Rivers, though, was the biggest part of the problem rather than hope for a quick solution?
It's odd to still be wondering about the prospects of a nine-year NFL QB, but Rivers' head-scratcher of a career has left more questions than answers. Perhaps, by going 3-4 in the playoffs and then slumping this season, Rivers actually solved the riddle. With each passing year, the possibility increases that Rivers is nothing more than a solid quarterback who cannot win the big one -- an AFC Tony Romo.
Still, as with Romo, we've always gotten the sense that there is something more. An untapped greatness that occasionally shows up for a game or two, only to vanish just as quickly.
Turner shouldered the brunt of the criticism in recent years, understandably. His time in San Diego was pockmarked by coaching blunders and collapses.
He paid for his missteps in the form of his job. How much longer will the rope be for Rivers?
Rivers signed a seven-year, nearly $100 million contract back in 2009, but almost all the guaranteed money from that deal (upwards of $38 million) has been paid out -- San Diego would save more than $10 million by releasing him. While the Chargers probably will not consider that option or trading their franchise QB, it's hard to argue (despite a league-leading 4,710 yards passing in 2010) that San Diego has been rewarded for that investment.
Rivers stood by Turner throughout the coach's ill-fated time in San Diego, even when the two butted heads. Was that merely loyalty or did Rivers 100 percent believe that Turner gave him the best chance to succeed?
The Chargers have to hope it's not the latter -- they need the post-Turner era to be a golden one for Rivers, if anything in the near future is to work. As we turn the calendar to 2013, however, there's no way of knowing how Rivers will react to his new situation. His career arc has been intertwined with Turner's for what feels like forever. With the Chargers looking for change, there is no better time than now for Rivers to fully carve out his path.