played as a rookie for the Dallas Cowboys and took countless beatings but
ultimately won three Super Bowls. David Carr has started from the first snap of
his first year as a Houston Texan, and the jury remains out. Palmer sat behind
Jon Kitna in his rookie year in Cincinnati and was brilliant by his third.
"It depends on the team's need," says Palmer. "We needed Jon to be
the quarterback. There's no formula. If there was people would stick to
With apologies to
Palmer, there is one formula: Money talks. Two of the three quarterbacks taken
in the first round in 2006, Vince Young of the Tennessee Titans and the Arizona
Cardinals' Matt Leinart (combined price tag: $109 million), are starting.
"You have to pay attention to the economics," says Rod Graves, the
Cardinals' vice president of football operations. "You take a quarterback
high, those guys usually sign six- or seven-year deals. Realistically you have
four or five years before you're back at the bargaining table. The longer he's
on the bench, the less benefit you get from that rookie contract."
in San Diego involved a draft-day drama in which Smith ignored threats from
Manning's representatives that Eli would never sign with the Chargers and
drafted him, with no assurance that the Giants would make a trade. But the
Giants did call after drafting Rivers, and Smith got the player he wanted, plus
draft picks that landed San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman and kicker Nate
Kaeding. Rivers then held out for 23 days of training camp, all but
guaranteeing that Brees would keep the job--and likewise opening a divide
between Smith and Schottenheimer that persists. "I thought [ Rivers would
win the starting job as a rookie] because of his talent," says Smith.
"But that was up to the coach."
the Chargers had to decide once and for all between Brees, who despite shoulder
surgery was likely to draw strong free-agent interest, and Rivers, who'd
already collected $14.5 million in signing bonuses. "I was hopeful that we
could keep both of them," Schottenheimer says. But Smith offered Brees only
$2 million in guaranteed money; Brees took New Orleans's guarantee of $10
As he was handed
the job, Rivers was also handed the daunting prospect of leading a team that
was bitter over losing a proven quarterback. "A lot of guys in the locker
room were upset," says fullback Lorenzo Neal. "Drew was our leader. It
was like having your girlfriend break up with you."
In early March,
Rivers opened a notebook, and on top of the first page wrote, be myself. "I
was reminding myself that I had to do things my own way," he explains.
"I had to keep doing some of the things Drew started doing here, but I had
to use my own personality. I couldn't try to be Drew."
In the summer
Rivers worked with wideouts McCardell and Eric Parker and All-Pro tight end
Antonio Gates, the catching machine with whom Brees had connected for 170
completions and 23 touchdowns over two seasons. "Drew and I had developed
trust," says Gates. "He knew where I was going, and he would give me a
chance to make a play. I had never caught a ball from Philip in a game and
hardly any in practice. We needed to find our own trust."
The same was true
for the rest of the team. Yet Rivers swiftly put his imprint on the Chargers.
In the season opener, a Monday-nighter in Oakland, McCardell was supposed to
run a medium-deep curl but read blitz from the Raiders. Says McCardell, "I
gave Philip the big, wide eyes, like, You see it, don't you? and he gave me the
eyes back--and then hit me on a slant." In the same game Rivers hit Parker
on a seam pattern despite being leveled by Warren Sapp as he released the ball.
"A lot of guys would have tucked the ball and curled up for a sack,"
says Neal. "He stood tall and made the throw. That takes courage."
On a Sunday night
in October the Chargers were holding a late lead against Pittsburgh.
"Hey," Rivers yelled in the huddle, "people say we can't finish
games. Let's get this one!" The response was silence. Rivers shouted
louder: "Can you hear me?!" This time the offense broke up in laughter.
"That was the perfect reaction," says Rivers. "You've got to be
having fun out there."
His teammates are
still learning, in big ways and small, that he's not Brees. "Funny
thing," says Tomlinson. "Philip is tall, but he squats in the huddle;
Drew was short, but he stood up. I looked up at Drew, and now I look down at
Philip." The effect is reversed when Rivers drops back with the ball.
"When Philip is in the pocket, I can actually see him," says Gates.
"With Drew, I'd just look for the ball to come out."