Source: <a href="http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/10/14/SPGRSF8DBD1.DTL" target="_blank">SFGate.com</a>
By Nancy Gay
Performing one of the NFL's best juggling acts, the San Diego Chargers have managed to hang onto a Pro Bowl quarterback, keep a high-priced former first-round draft pick waiting in the wings and remain about $21 million under the league's salary cap.
"We feel very, very comfortable with our position," said Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer, who has enjoyed the benefits that come when a once-disposable player realizes his true potential.
For Drew Brees, the opportunity to re-invent himself into an indispensable part of the Chargers' offense began on draft day of 2004, when it was clear to everyone his team was quarterback hunting following a miserable 4-12 finish in 2003.
Defying the demands of Archie Manning, the team selected Eli Manning with the No. 1 overall pick. Minutes later, Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi was on the phone with a trade proposal. Manning was off to New York and San Diego grabbed the draft's other elite quarterback prospect, Philip Rivers from North Carolina State, with the fourth overall pick.
At that moment, Brees -- coming off an 11-touchdown, 15-interception season in which he finished with a 67.5 passer rating -- realized what he had to be.
"I knew they were gonna bring somebody in, whether it be a draft pick or a free agent. But in my mind I was the only guy here," Brees said this week. "Every day I competed against myself. I didn't compete against the guy next to me."
Fortunately for Brees, Rivers made that self-evaluation much easier by holding out most of training camp and not reporting until Aug. 24, 2004. For that, Rivers received $15.8 million in guarantees through 2006.
But Rivers' chance at competing for a starting job was shot. And Brees, 26, sharpened his skills and his focus, completing 262-of-400 passes for 3,159 yards, 27 touchdowns and only seven interceptions to earn Pro Bowl honors last season.
He'll bring his 1,042 passing yards, 92.7 passer rating and a 2-3 Chargers team to the Coliseum on Sunday for a critical AFC West matchup against the 1-3 Raiders, and Brees knows San Diego can't afford to fall into a 0-3 hole in the division.
The Chargers' record hasn't painted the team into a corner just yet, but Brees well remembers the urgency that set in during the watershed '03 season, when his team lost its first five games before finally securing an Oct. 19 victory over Cleveland.
"I don't think we're in a situation at all where anybody's overreacting here. I mean, obviously 2-3 is not where we thought we'd be at this point in the season, especially since I feel like we have a really good team and I feel like we're better than we were last year," Brees said. "But I think our attitude is and the way we look at it is, if we win this game we're sitting at 3-3, which is exactly where we were sitting at this time last year."
So while Brees continues to excel and take command, a stalemate of sorts has developed.
By all accounts, the Chargers will again use a franchise tag on Brees to keep him in the fold for 2006, at a cost of $9.6 million. And though Rivers has groused openly about wanting to start somewhere next season, whether it's in San Diego or somewhere else, Chargers general manager A.J. Smith recently shot down that rumors that the team would move its high-profile backup before next Tuesday's NFL trade deadline.
"With the trading deadline approaching Oct. 18, we'd like to put an end to the swirling rumors that Philip Rivers is available for trade," said Smith, ending speculation that the New York Jets might acquire him to replace injured quarterback Chad Pennington. "Phillip Rivers will be a Charger for the remainder of the season."
In March, San Diego exercised its 2010 option on Rivers at a cost of $6.625 million, proving the franchise's commitment in its quarterback of the future.
And Schottenheimer appreciates the fact his team couldn't be any more set at quarterback.
"When we acquired Philip, we figured it would be an open competition because of our inability and his inability to reach an accord on a contract. That opportunity kind of vanished," Schottenheimer said. "But Drew has stepped forward ... And we think we're kind of in an ideal situation, frankly. I mean, we've got a young quarterback who is an ascending player in Drew Brees and we've got a younger quarterback that we think can become a very good player."