Signing Rivers big for Colts

Nobody invests $25 million on faith alone, even in professional sports.

The Indianapolis Colts believe in Philip Rivers as their next quarterback, even if he is 38 years old and his former employer, the Los Angeles Chargers, gave up on him, deciding he was too old to be great anymore.

The Chargers may well be wrong.

There are several reasons the Colts made such a dramatic move. They are still recovering from Andrew Luck’s blindside retirement prior to the 2019 season. They spent an entire autumn scrutinizing backup Jacoby Brissett to determine that’s what he is. And they finished 7-9 and out of the playoffs after starting 5-2.

Rivers is likely headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his body of work with the Chargers, but a little icing on the résumé would not hurt his candidacy.

This was a smart move for the Colts. Rivers is a headliner. He has thrown 397 touchdown passes and completed 64.7% of his passes. His career yardage passing is on the outskirts of 60,000.

There are always questions when a player changes teams late in his career, but the recent showings of so-called elderly quarterbacks provide a serious body of evidence supporting their continuing relevancy.

Tom Brady, the ex-Patriot who just became an expatriate in Tampa, turns 43 this summer. Drew Brees is 41. Brett Favre had a 33-touchdown, 4,200-yard season at 40. Peyton Manning threw for 55 touchdowns and nearly 5,500 yards at 37.

While about 99% of the sports world was shut down in late winter and early spring due to COVID-19, the coronavirus, the National Football League operated as close to normal as anyone.

There were free agent deals made like this one. There may have been small group, face-to-face negotiations, but there were not 50,000 people in the building breathing heavily to spread infection when Rivers was inked.

There were no games scheduled, only regular offseason activities such as free agency, and starting April 23, the annual college player draft. The draft may be conducted in comparative privacy — from commissioner Roger Goodell’s basement — unlike recent years when it was a raucous, crowded party, but it will actually occur.

The Colts are counting on Rivers to energize the offense. Even though the 6-foot-4, 238-pound Brissett is much younger than Rivers, the Colts may well have decided he is not going to get much better than he is now.

Luck’s training camp retirement handed Brissett a golden opportunity last season. If Brissett played at an all-pro level, the Colts would not have invited Rivers to dance with them.

Brissett started 15 of the 16 regular-season games, the Colts finished below .500 and out of the playoffs. His basic stats were acceptable, heaving 18 TDs with just six interceptions, completing 60.9% of his passes for 2,942 yards.

There are 100 college quarterbacks out there who would be happy with both the chance and those numbers in the NFL, but there was something missing. Twenty-five league quarterbacks threw for more yards than Brissett last season, and about the same number threw for more touchdowns. Some of those quarterbacks who exceeded his totals were hurt for longer than the single game Brissett missed.

Brissett did not fail, nor did he star. By signing Rivers, the Colts signaled they wanted a start at quarterback, a player who could lift the team, not merely manage it, carry the team when it faced adversity, either from injury or being pinned at its own 10-yard-line with the clock ticking down.

Is Rivers being 38 a fake statistic of no meaning? Stacked against that is his durability. He started every single Chargers game since 2006. He is a eight-time Pro Bowl selection. Rivers completed 66% of his passes for 4,615 yards in 2019. His one statistical flaw was 20 interceptions.

This was no random Colts signing. Coach Frank Reich spent three years as an offensive coordinator for the Chargers, and he and Rivers bonded. Reich said he sees no drop-off in Rivers’ arm strength or abilities.

“He has unique ways of making plays down the field,” Reich said when Rivers signed. “And he’s done that his whole career.”

And should continue to do so wearing a uniform decorated with a horseshoe instead of a lightning bolt.