TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said Thursday that the Bucs have not gotten any closer to clarity on their quarterback situation and whether Jameis Winston will return in 2020 because they’re waiting to see what’s behind Door No. 2 when it comes to available free agents.
“No, because you don’t know who’s available. You’re just sitting and waiting to see is there someone available? And is he a better option?” said Arians, referring to the possibility that some players could be re-signed on tagged before they hit the open market. “I don’t think there’s that many guys involved. … I’d be shocked if it’s two.”
One quarterback who will be on the open market is Philip Rivers, whom the Los Angeles Chargers agreed to part ways with this week after 16 years. While Arians did not speak about any quarterback specifically, league sources have told ESPN that Rivers, who just relocated his family to Florida, has piqued the Bucs’ interest. Would he make sense for Tampa Bay?
At 38, he said he wants to keep playing.
“I do feel I have some emotional fire and passion still left,” Rivers told the Los Angeles Times. “I know I have the passion for the game that I think is going to last my lifetime. And I think I have the ability left to go play at a high level.
“Some people might disagree that I can still play. But I would say I definitely can do it. I cleaned up a few of those other things, and if I’m playing consistently, I can still do it physically.”
Here are a few factors for the Bucs to consider when looking at whether Rivers is a fit.
Rivers is coming off statistically one of the worst seasons of his NFL career, producing career lows in Total QBR (48.6) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (1.15). He threw 23 touchdown passes and 20 interceptions, tied for second most in his career and just one off from his career-high of 21 and third most in the league behind Winston (30) and Baker Mayfield (21). Since Winston came into the league in 2015, he has the most interceptions with 88 — but Rivers is second with 76.
If the Bucs’ primary concern is indeed eliminating the turnovers, this would be an issue — although two years ago, Rivers managed to throw just 12 picks with 32 touchdowns, leading the Chargers to a 12-4 record. He threw just 10 picks the year before.
It should be noted that Rivers had 591 passing attempts last season, the second most of his career. While Arians’ preference is to maintain a balanced offensive attack, the Bucs didn’t have that last season. Some of that was a function of playing from behind, but it was also the result of not running the ball very well due to a combination of poor blocking at times, missing holes and having negative run plays. The result was Winston having a league-high 626 passing attempts. If Rivers struggled with 591, the Bucs’ high-volume passing might not be an ideal fit.
Many would argue that Rivers needs a balanced attack that the Bucs simply didn’t have last season. Check out the numbers for when he did and didn’t have LaDainian Tomlinson in the backfield.
Arians’ “No Risk It, No Biscuit” philosophy also involves taking chances downfield. Rivers attempted 76 passes of at least 20 or more yards downfield, his highest total in the past five years and 23 more than he had in 2018, according to ESPN Statistics & Information research. His efficiency numbers on those deep passes were not very good and showed noticeable drop-off from the 2018 season.
The age issue
While Rivers is 38 and not a long-term solution, it would afford Arians the option of not starting over with a brand-new quarterback. He’s under contract for four more seasons, but many close to him, including inside the Buccaneers’ facility, believe he could retire after three years, giving the Bucs a smaller window under Arians.
Arians not only has developed young quarterbacks but also has worked with veterans, trading for 33-year-old Carson Palmer in 2013. He was enamored with Palmer’s deep-ball ability and his level of experience. In Rivers’ case, the deep ball might not be there, but his durability is remarkable. He has been sacked 160 times since 2015 — nearly as many as Winston’s 169 sacks — but has started all 16 games every season of his career after he took over for Drew Brees in 2006.
Stephen A. Smith explains why Philip Rivers should retire after parting ways with the Chargers.
Winston also has been durable, playing this past season with a broken thumb and ankle injury, and fighting through a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder before having to miss three games in 2017.
Does he have the ‘it’ factor?
While Rivers ranks ninth in NFL history with 123 regular-season wins and he has produced 32 game-winning drives, he’s most often remembered for the games he didn’t win. Rivers has lost 63 one-score games, the most in the Super Bowl era, according to ESPN Stats & Info research. But his best days might be behind him after the Chargers finished 5-11 in 2019, although injuries, particularly along the offensive line, certainly played a role in that result.