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Insiders' take: Chargers and Philip Rivers' contract

SAN DIEGO – We take a closer look at some of the main storylines for the San Diego Chargers leading up to training camp with ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates.

Yates spent two years working as an employee in the scouting department and coaching staffs of the Kansas City Chiefs, and interned for four summers with the New England Patriots while attending Wesleyan University, where he earned a bachelor of arts in psychology.

Yates tackles the topic of the Chargers attempting to sign Philip Rivers to a contract extension.

Rivers, 33, is in the final year of his deal. He was rumored to be headed to Tennessee in a draft-day trade with the Titans that could have netted San Diego rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota, but that deal never materialized.

Rivers has some heartburn about moving his family to Los Angeles should the Chargers relocate north, and appears content to play out his deal.

Yates believes Rivers still has some gas left in the tank, and the Chargers would be wise to keep him in the fold.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Chargers have $10.3 million in salary cap space, so they have enough room to get a deal done.

“I just don’t think you let a quarterback -- even one in his mid-30s -- depart in free agency,” Yates said. “Obviously, the team has control effectively for two years because of the franchise tag. Philip’s sort of the iron man among quarterbacks in the NFL -- going back to playing with an ACL tear during the playoffs in January of 2008 -- and he just doesn’t miss starts.

“I understand that one of the key things people forget about free agency or contract extensions is that teams use past performance as a baseline on how to assess a player, but you’re paying for future projected performance. So I understand that you wouldn’t be getting Philip Rivers at -- let’s just say five years, $100 million -- in terms of an extension because he’s been excellent for the past 10-plus seasons. It would be because you think he can remain excellent for the next five seasons.”

Yates said one of the concerns in signing a quarterback like Rivers to lucrative extension in their mid-thirties is the possibility that his skills will steeply decline over the life of the deal. But he does not see that happening with Rivers.

Rivers has a total QBR of 64.0 during the last three seasons, No. 11 in the NFL.

“There might be a couple areas where they are regressing, but you have to make a decision on if there are traits where the player is regressing,” Yates said. “And I’m not sure there are that many that you can pick with Philip. But are those things that you would expect in the next two to three years to have a dramatic reduction? I can’t think of one area where I’ve seen Philip make a dramatic downturn yet.”

Yates said the other thing to consider is how the Chargers would replace Rivers if he left the team in free agency. That’s why speculation of Rivers being traded to Tennessee never subsided. It made sense. Rivers would have reunited with his former offensive coordinator in Ken Whisenhunt, near where he grew up in Alabama, while the Chargers would have drafted a potential replacement in Mariota.

“The other thing with quarterbacks I think people need to consider is opportunity cost,” Yates said. “If you’re going to not sign Philip, who are you going to have to replace him?

“The answer I don’t think anybody would feel like is already on the roster in San Diego. And at this point we know that really the successful formula to finding a quarterback in the NFL is drafting one, because the good ones don’t ever become available in free agency. That’s just so rare. And if you were to part ways with Philip in free agency and sign someone else, that just seems like backward business to me.”

The bottom line is Rivers likely is looking at receiving a deal similar to the five-year, $99 million extension -- including $64 million in guaranteed money -- that Ben Roethlisberger signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers in March.

Both Rivers and Rothlisberger are part of the 2004 draft class. Eli Manning, the No. 1 overall selection of the 2004 draft, also is looking for a contract extension.

“It seems like there’s interest in both sides at this point and it’s just a matter of the numbers, as it always is, and guaranteed money,” Yates said.