Solving Philip Rivers riddle top priority for Chargers this offseason

Will Philip Rivers and Anthony Lynn be together for a fourth season in 2020? Peter Aiken/Getty Images

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Philip Rivers wants to play for the Los Angeles Chargers in 2020.

He said as much during the regular season, even though the Chargers finished 5-11 and in last place in the AFC West.

"If any of the 32 teams want me, I'll be playing somewhere," Rivers added.

Whether or not the most accomplished quarterback to suit up for this franchise will get a chance to finish his career in the royal blue and gold is another matter.

Rivers is set to hit free agency in March, and Chargers general manager Tom Telesco left the door open for his possible return when he talked with reporters last week.

"He can still compete at a top-starter level," Telesco said. "That all being said, when you go 5-11 and 0-6 in the division, I'm doing a disservice to the organization if we don't say, 'Hey, let's look at everything. Let's see how all the pieces fit into this.'

"That's what we have to do with every position. Like I said, I think he can still compete at a top-starter level."

While Rivers has said he wants to play in 2020, he would prefer to finish out his NFL career with the only team he has played for.

However, he might not have that option. Rivers, 38, was not at his best this past season. He finished an uneven season completing 66% of his passes for 4,615 yards and 23 touchdowns. He turned the ball over 23 times, a pet peeve of head coach Anthony Lynn. Rivers turned the ball over a combined 24 times the previous two seasons (13 in 2018, 11 in 2017).

Lynn has said he would prefer a mobile quarterback such as Tyrod Taylor to run his offense, but Telesco believes Rivers can still be productive in the current system, pointing to his play when the Chargers finished 12-4 in 2018.

And while Rivers understands critics will point to his age and diminishing physical ability as a reason he should consider retirement and coaching his son Gunner on a regular basis, he also believes his up-and-down play isn't the only thing that needs Telesco's attention this offseason.

"There are questions to be answered," Rivers said. "It's not just a matter of me being back and playing well, then we'll automatically win 12 games. I think we're far from that being true. There's a lot of question marks moving forward."

Telesco agreed.

In addition to struggling with not turning the ball over and forcing turnovers, Telesco pointed to red zone offense and third-down defense as areas the Chargers need to improve.

"There are many factors as to why we were 5-11. It isn't just one thing. I think he's right on with that," Telesco said of Rivers. "We have things to fix. I kind of like where we are with the base of the pyramid, but we have some work to do."

A potential sign that Rivers could be returning is the Chargers reportedly planning to remove the interim tag from offensive coordinator Shane Steichen and hire him for that position permanently -- after firing Ken Whisenhunt midway through the year.

Lynn said if that were to happen, the Chargers would likely hire a new quarterbacks coach. Steichen and Rivers are close and he has been an advocate of Rivers in the past.

With free agency set to start March 18, Telesco said that there will be a resolution to Rivers' status with the team before then.

If the Chargers were to bring back Rivers on a short-term deal, he could serve as a bridge quarterback to someone the Bolts select in the draft such as Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa, who recently announced his intention to enter this year's draft.

With a dislocated hip, Tagovailoa has injury concerns to answer through the pre-draft process. But he would provide the Chargers, who have the No. 6 pick in the first round, a long-term answer at the position that Rivers has held down as a starter since 2006.

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the Chargers have $53.2 million in salary-cap space, which puts them No. 14 in the league in terms of cap space.

Along with Rivers, the Chargers have 15 pending unrestricted free agents, including running back Melvin Gordon, tight end Hunter Henry, offensive guard Michael Schofield III, safety Adrian Phillips and defensive tackle Damion Square.

Gordon is unlikely to return after holding out until Week 4, turning down a contract worth $10 million annually. Having Henry and Phillips remain in the fold makes sense.

While finding solutions at quarterback should be the top priority this offseason, the Chargers also have to address an aging and inconsistent offensive line.

"I know going into next year that we have a healthy cap," Telesco said. "Our dead money is one of the last in the league. We have plenty of space moving into next year. I never saw it as an issue last year that we couldn't do things.

"We'll definitely have more space -- probably the most space we've had since I've been here in the last six or seven years moving forward. We have some flexibility there."

Unrestricted free agents (15): WR Travis Benjamin, LB Jatavis Brown, WR Geremy Davis, LB Nick Dzubnar, RB Melvin Gordon, OL Ryan Groy, TE Hunter Henry, TE Lance Kendricks, S Adrian Phillips, QB Philip Rivers, OL Michael Schofield III, DT Damion Square, DB Jaylen Watkins, FB Derek Watt, DT Sylvester Williams.

Restricted Free Agents (4): TE Sean Culkin, CB Michael Davis, OL Spencer Drango, RB Austin Ekeler.

Exclusive rights (3): WR Dylan Cantrell, RB Troymaine Pope, OT Trent Scott.