INDIANAPOLIS — Philip Rivers is known as much for candor as being competitive, so the Indianapolis Colts’ new quarterback didn’t dodge his first tough question on a Saturday conference call.
He was asked if he had something to prove in 2020 after by his own admission not having the best of seasons in 2019. After accepting a one-year, $25-million deal to play a 17th NFL season with a new team, how much of this next chapter is about making a statement that he can still play at a high level and show critics that he’s not too old at 38 and his arm strength is still there?
“I have to be honest, I’ve never been driven by what everybody thinks on the outside,” Rivers said. “I've never been driven by that. I always, first, want to be a great teammate. You know the guys you’re in the huddle with, the guys in your locker room, your coaching staff, your family, those people know who you are and what you’re about. So I’ve never been driven by what other people think I can do.
“So I’m really not out to prove anything this season. I want to come in there, 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, you’ve got to start and build that with your new teammates. So it’s not so much proving, I want to prove it to our locker room and to be the guy they believe in and just, again, be a part of something special.”
Not long after the call, the Colts announced they had released veteran backup quarterback Brian Hoyer, a move which saves $5 million in salary cap space. Jacoby Brissett, who started in 2019, and Chad Kelly are the other quarterbacks on the roster.
Rivers didn’t voice any hard feelings about how everything was handled with the Los Angeles Chargers, for whom he played his entire career. He was named to eight Pro Bowls and passed for 59,271 yards and 397 TDs, both of which rank sixth in NFL history, but general manager Tom Telesco and Rivers decided before 2019 that they would let the year play out before talking new contract. The Chargers opened the season with a 30-24 home overtime win over the Colts, but Rivers eventually struggled behind a porous offensive line with 20 interceptions and eight fumbles, three of them lost. As disappointed as the Colts were to finish 7-9, the Chargers ended up worse at 5-11.
Rivers’ 4,615 passing yards were his most since 2015, but it marked just the third time in his 14 years as a starter that the interception total reached 20. Consider that just two years ago, Rivers had half as many interceptions.
The next inevitable, tough question pertained to how long Rivers expects to play. He reiterated comments made in previous media reports that he hopes his relationship with the Colts will extend beyond one year. But then again, you never know.
“I take it one year at a time,” Rivers said. “I think last year, it all worked out just how it was supposed to in terms of extension or no extension. (GM) Tom Telesco and I were open to one another and just decided to play it out. Let’s just play it out. We’d go one year at a time, and it worked out the way it worked out. I think that’s the best way to do it.
“At 38, I do feel good. I feel great. If I feel like I feel right now next year, I’ll be excited to keep going, again, depending on how the team feels about that and etc. I don’t know. I don’t have a number on it.”
Rivers, whose father coached him in high school, wants to do the same for his sons. His oldest is in the sixth grade.
“I do know what’s next when my playing time is over,” he said. “We’ve got a little bit of time. That is important to me, to coach (his sons) in high school. That gives you a little idea.”
Rivers, who turns 39 in December, referred to how 43-year-old Tom Brady just agreed to a two-year, $50-million contract to join Tampa Bay.
“I’m not going to get carried away,” Rivers said. “I don’t think you’re going to see me in the Tom Brady range. But I am excited and feel like I can still help a football team go win a championship.”
An obvious plus is being reunited with Colts head coach Frank Reich, offensive coordinator Nick Siriani and tight ends coach Jason Michael, all of whom were former Chargers assistants. Reich was Rivers’ quarterback coach in 2013, when the passer had a career-high 69.5 completion percentage.
“I really truthfully was hoping it was going to be the Indianapolis Colts, again for the reasons I mentioned, from the standpoint of the locker room and the team and, shoot, I failed to mention that offensive line that’s a heck of a group,” Rivers said. “I think I saw where all the same five starters, every game last year, the only team in the league. That part is exciting. Shoot, I could go on. I shouldn’t go down the road of trying to name guys. I don’t know all my teammates yet, so I don’t want to single any guys out and leave some out.
“It just all worked out. I’m super thankful the way it worked out, and just excited to be a part of it. As we know, this is the ultimate team game. To be a part of this group and to try to help get to the top of the mountain is an exciting, new challenge for me.”