The final act?

Nine years ago this month, the San Diego Chargers completed a draft day trade with the New York Giants that resulted in the acquisition of North Carolina State quarterback Philip Rivers. The move was telling in that it announced the franchise’s belief that three-year veteran Drew Brees was not the long-term solution to the team’s quarterback problem.

Rivers waited patiently on the sidelines for two seasons while Brees compiled a 20-11 mark as a starter with 51 touchdown passes and a QB rating of 96.1. But Brees’ efforts, while impressive, were deemed expendable following the 2005 season and the quarterback was sent on his way. The time had come to commence the Philip Rivers era in Southern California.

Seven seasons have passed since Rivers took control of the San Diego offense. He’s made every start possible during that time period while earning four trips to the Pro Bowl. But after nine years and 112 consecutive regular season starts with the Chargers, is it possible that Rivers is about to make the transition from franchise quarterback to mentor?

In essence, is Rivers about to become the 2004 version of Drew Brees?

Appearing on the NFL Network recently, San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Kevin Acee expressed his opinion that 2013 could be the last act of the Rivers-Chargers story.

“No one will say it, but I think that 2013 is the final audition of Philip Rivers,” Acee told the NFL Network.

Philip RiversRivers has committed 47 turnovers over his last 32 starts.

The most expensive commodity on the San Diego roster, Rivers has three years left on a 2009 contract renegotiation that carries the pricey cap numbers of $17.11 million in 2013, $15 million in 2014 and $15.75 million in 2015. The quarterback will turn 32-years-old next December and has experienced a significant drop-off in production over the last two seasons. In the immediate aftermath of three consecutive playoff-less seasons, head coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith were replaced with Mike McCoy and Tom Telesco.

For those of you counting at home, that’s four reasons why the Bolts could be keeping a close eye on the quarterbacks in the 2013 draft class.

It would be unfair to pin Rivers’ two-year statistical plunge squarely on the chest of the veteran quarterback. Rivers has been playing behind a shoddy offensive line (79 sacks surrendered over the last two years, 12th-most in NFL) and had to stand idly by as his most dependable weapon in wide receiver Vincent Jackson bolted town for Tampa Bay during the 2012 free agency period. And as for the age component, 31-years-old is far from over the hill—even for an NFL quarterback.

But a new regime often means new faces and big changes. After going 15-17 over the last two seasons, San Diego has a reasonable amount of rebuilding to do before the franchise can put itself in position to make a serious run at the Super Bowl. And that brings us to the big decision that Telesco and McCoy are facing in their first year on the job: Is it possible to turn this thing around while Rivers still has enough gas left in the tank, or would it serve the organization better to draft a talented young prospect and have him sit and learn behind Rivers for a season, much the way Rivers did while sitting behind Drew Brees in 2004 and 2005?

San Diego’s first three draft picks include the 11th, 45th and 76th overall selections, the first of which would certainly give the Chargers a shot at one of the top signal-callers in this year’s draft class. And while the offensive line appears to be both the more pressing area of concern as well as the rumored position of choice for the 11th pick, it really isn’t all that crazy to think that San Diego could, in fact, be interested in acquiring a new quarterback to kick-off the team’s new era.

We’ll see how it all plays out in a few weeks. Perhaps the Chargers give Rivers one more season before looking to make a switch, perhaps they begin their redecorating of the quarterback position this April. But one thing’s for certain: Just because productive veterans like Tony Romo are cashing in doesn’t mean that other productive veterans will experience the same good fortune. Quarterbacks who were once viewed as the solution may now be perceived as the problem.

Rivers was once the former, but it’s possible that he could soon become the latter.

Hit me up on Twitter: @JoeFortenbaugh

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