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Philip Rivers will be free agent; no return to Chargers

The Philip Rivers era is officially over in Southern California.

The Los Angeles Chargers announced Monday the team and Rivers have mutually agreed the quarterback will enter free agency and not return to the team in 2020.

"After stepping back a bit from last season, we reconnected with Philip and his representatives to look at how 2019 played out, assess our future goals, evaluate the current state of the roster and see if there was a path forward that made sense for both parties," general manager Tom Telesco said in a statement from the organization. "As we talked through various scenarios, it became apparent that it would be best for Philip and the Chargers to turn the page on what has truly been a remarkable run.

"We agreed that making this decision well before free agency would allow everyone to put themselves in the best position for success in 2020."

Rivers completed the final season of a five-year, $83.25 million contract in 2019, completing 66 percent of his passes for 4,615 yards and a 23-20 TD-INT ratio, showing signs of decline after 16 campaigns. His most recent season may have been his most frustrating, as his Chargers won just five games and lost nine contests by a single possession.

A team that many expected to return to the playoffs after reaching the Divisional Round in the 2018 season fell far short of that goal. The jarring nature of 2019's disappointment also made the Chargers face reality quicker than some might have expected.

Just last May, Telesco talked very positively of Rivers and his future when appearing on NFL Network, saying, "I think everybody knows what our intentions are and how we feel about Philip." Those feelings understandably changed after Rivers went from one of the league's best passers in 2018 to a middling one in 2019.

As recently as the week leading up to Super Bowl LIV, there were talks that Rivers and the Chargers might still have a chance to work things out, or at the very least the team might franchise him in case it couldn't find a solution in the draft or free agency. Those hopes are now dead.

"I am very grateful to the Spanos family and the Chargers organization for the last 16 years," Rivers said in the same statement. "In anything you do, it's the people you do it with that make it special. There are so many relationships and memories with coaches, support staff and teammates that will last forever, and for that I am so thankful.

"I never took for granted the opportunity to lead this team out on to the field for 235 games. We had a lot of great moments, beginning in San Diego and then finishing in LA. I wish my teammates and coaches nothing but the best moving forward.

"I'm not sure what the future holds, but my family and I look forward to seeing what God has planned for us next.

"Nunc Coepi."

Drafted fourth overall in the 2004 draft by the Giants as part of a predetermined agreement with the Chargers, Rivers was immediately shipped west to San Diego in exchange for Eli Manning. Rivers spent most of his first two seasons on the bench behind Drew Brees before ascending to the starting job in 2006 as part of a succession plan that saw Brees leave for New Orleans via free agency amid uncertainty about the health of his shoulder.

It has been Rivers' team since then, with the quarterback starting every game for the Chargers since 2006, completing 64.7 percent of his passes for 59,123 yards, 395 touchdowns and 197 interceptions in that span. He's been known as a fiery and gutsy competitor, helping the Chargers to six playoff appearances as the franchise's starter and even playing on a torn ACL in the AFC Championship Game in January 2008. His Chargers will likely be remembered for what could have been, though, as the immensely talented team that included Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson never reached a Super Bowl during Rivers' career, frequently falling short against the New England Patriots.

The 2018 season was Rivers' final postseason disappointment at the hands of the Patriots via a 41-28 Divisional Round loss.

Rivers permanently moved his family to Florida recently after spending the last decade-plus in San Diego, where the Chargers were formerly located before their move to Los Angeles in 2017. Some saw the move as a precursor to what eventually became true Monday.

At 38, Rivers still has value on the open market, especially with a few teams -- including at least one in Florida (Tampa Bay) -- in a precarious situation at the position. Rivers very well could serve as a bridge quarterback to a franchise's future at the position.

"I've said before that Philip can still compete at a top-starter level and, in a perfect world, number 17 is your quarterback forever," Telesco said. "Obviously, we live in an imperfect world where the only constant is change. I think Philip's tremendous perspective, both when it comes to football and when it comes to life, helped lend clarity to a very complex situation."

From the Chargers' perspective, they'll have what figures to be a good shot at landing a quarterback in the first round, if they so desire. Situated at No. 6 overall, they'll have to contend with at least Miami (drafting fifth) and possibly Detroit for the services of one of a handful of touted prospects. That could be Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert or possibly even someone like Jordan Love, depending on how the all-important pre-draft process shakes out.

Los Angeles will also have veteran Tyrod Taylor on the roster, as well as 2019 fifth-round pick Easton Stick.

One thing is now certain, though: The Chargers will not start their tenancy at SoFi Stadium with Rivers wearing powder blue and gold.

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