Philip Rivers wants you to believe he has no idea where the trade talk began. He wants you to believe he had no interest in being traded before the NFL draft. He wants you to believe that the speculation about his future was nothing more than media hype, and that his hands and conscience are clear.
It would be easy to believe the six-time Pro Bowl quarterback, except for one thing -- the mud beneath his fingernails.
The San Diego Chargers didn't trade Rivers, but no matter how much he tries to wash his hands of the situation, the reality is that the turmoil was his creation. He was the one who went public twice before the draft and strongly intimated that he was going to play out the final year of his contract instead of signing an extension. He was the one who went public on two occasions and expressed reticence about playing in Los Angeles if the Chargers relocate after this season. He and his agent, Jimmy Sexton, were the ones who refused to publicly squash speculation that he wanted a trade to Tennessee, which is less than a two-hour drive from his hometown of Decatur, Alabama.
Rivers usually answers questions as if paid by the word. He is a microphone's best friend, which is why his silence in the weeks immediately preceding the draft was so conspicuous.
He passed on requests to meet with the media on the first day of voluntary offseason workouts, and he declined to go back on the record with the local radio and newspaper reporters he had used to create the firestorm. That's his choice, and I have no problem with it. But Rivers has to own what he did.
When he told a group of grade-school students a week before the draft not to believe what they were hearing -- that the public chatter was all media hype -- he was being disingenuous at best. Contrary to what some around the country might think, Rivers, who sometimes speaks with a hyperkinetic Southern twang while using words like "golly" and "dadgum," is not a country bumpkin. He's smart and understands leverage.
It always has stuck with me what his agent told me early in his career, after Rivers finally moved into the Chargers' starting lineup. Sexton was recounting how Rivers was prepared to ask for a trade if the team planned to keep him on the bench behind Drew Brees for a third straight season in 2006. Brees had started for the Chargers during Rivers' first two pro seasons, then was allowed to leave as a free agent after suffering a serious shoulder injury in the final game of the 2005 season.
What stuck with me was Sexton's contention that Rivers had the backbone to make the tough call, even if it might not be popular. He said a lot of his clients would not be so inclined. That's why I can't believe Rivers didn't know what he was doing when he publicly discussed his contract situation and his feelings about a possible move to Los Angeles. He's the type who believes team business should be kept behind closed doors, and yet he invited the public to have a front-row seat for something that's typically considered a private matter. Now he wants to act as if this was a media creation?
I asked him about it Saturday.
"I not once, nor did Jimmy, ever say anything about [wanting to be] traded," he said in a text message. "I don't know what the story is. I'm here. And glad that I am. ... I'm willing to listen to an extension. I am willing to play it out. What's so wrong about that approach?"
Nothing at all, except that's not the public approach he took several weeks ago. He or Sexton could've killed all the trade speculation by flatly stating that Rivers did not want to be moved. That would've shifted the focus to the Chargers, who consistently had said they wanted to sign Rivers to an extension and have him retire as a Charger. But neither Rivers nor Sexton squashed the speculation. Sexton, in particular, refused to return any calls seeking comment about Rivers' future.
"I didn't start anything," Rivers said in a text. "I'm under contract for 2015. How can I comment on my future beyond that?"
In a word: easily.
If Rivers had come out publicly and said he wanted to remain a Charger, that he was willing to enter into contract negotiations after rebuffing previous overtures from the team, the drama would've been over. He chose not to do that, however, so he has no one to blame but himself and his agent for the controversy that followed.
"It's May 2nd," Rivers said by text. "It's not the day before free agency starts next year. It's business as usual for me around here. Not trying to be difficult. Just feel that it's a dead story."
For this season, perhaps. But there is nothing that says we won't be back in this same situation next offseason, which is exactly what will happen if Rivers doesn't sign an extension. What he'll say at that time is anyone's guess, but whatever it is, he should own it -- unlike what he did this offseason.