Chargers have a chip to trade?

No issue is more of a mystery as the San Diego Chargers approach training camp than the current status of Drew Brees. He is currently atop the team's depth chart at the quarterback position, but rumors persist that he may not even be on the roster come opening day. In order to effectively examine this situation, the facts first must be analyzed.

The team's top three quarterbacks in no particular order are Philip Rivers, Doug Flutie, and Drew Brees. It would seem very unlikely all three make the final roster considering that each of the three will carry a cap charge in excess of a million dollars. Brees' contract expires after this season, and so with Philip Rivers anticipating a long-term big dollar deal, Brees' tenure with the team will not last longer than this season. Flutie, too, may be on his last legs with the team, as he can be expected to contribute little more than as a mentor in any season after this one.

So it must be determined which quarterback is best to keep around, knowing both are in essence lame-duck players. Keep in mind it is not a franchise quarterback the team is looking for, as Rivers will fill that role and then some. The team is looking for someone who can possibly start the season until Rivers is ready to play, and who can help the youngster develop his game while providing a veteran insurance policy should Rivers stumble beyond anticipation.

Doug Flutie would appear to be the better mentor because of his years of experience as well as the fact that he has accepted that he is no longer the starter due to his age and waning arm strength. He also has shown the ability to spark the offense and can be successful over short periods of time. His body, however, tires more quickly now and he cannot be counted on for more than a short stretch of the season. If the team were to cut Flutie after training camp, it would also cost itself a veteran leader and a fan favorite.

Drew Brees clearly has more raw talent than Flutie at this point in their respective careers. While inconsistent, Brees has flourished in obvious passing downs, in two minute drills, and during the fourth quarter and overtime. Many quarterbacks reach their prime in their fifth or sixth seasons, so keep in mind Brees still has room to grow. His attitude has spoiled after the team drafted his successor, and he remains a threat to develop into a cancerous player, which is the type of player the team has gone to great lengths to avoid counting on this off-season, although an interview conducted on Tuesday paints a different picture.

So while both players have their flaws, it remains a near toss up as to who should stay on the team and who should go. To determine how the team will make this decision, maybe it is the question that needs to be re-examined. Perhaps it is not a matter of who the team is better off keeping, but who the team is better off releasing.

If the team released Flutie, all they would have to show for it would be some dead money on this year's salary cap, and a group of wary veterans. Keep in mind Flutie re-worked his contract earlier this year in order to avoid being released, and so cutting him now may make current veterans reluctant to re-work their contracts to help the team in the future.

Due to Brees lingering youth and budding potential, he need not be released at all. Instead, he could be traded in return for an additional pick in next year's draft. This way the team can gain some value back in return for the high pick originally invested on Brees. But if this is the team's intention, it makes one wonder why he was not traded sooner. Keep in mind Atlanta offered a mid-round pick for Brees during this year's draft, and general manager A.J. Smith declined. So if Brees was to be traded, why turn down an offer than could net a more immediate return?

The answer can be found be reviewing last year's pre-season. Remember that last year franchise cornerstones Michael Vick and Chad Pennington both went down, and the significant amounts of time missed by both players cost their respective teams any realistic shot at making the playoffs. So maybe the team is holding on to Brees in hopes that they can find better value later on as a result of another team's misfortune.

Should a player such as Mike Vick go down again, the Falcons would be all but forced to acquire a player such as Brees as opposed to going with rookie Matt Schuab. In fact, Brees would be a significant upgrade over several current number twos, such as Kordell Stewart, Koy Detmer and Mike McMahon. So should a starter from one of those team's go down, that team will be sure to have the Chargers on the phone in a hot minute. So as opposed to accepting a fifth round pick this year in exchange for Brees, the team may now be one Donovan McNabb knee sprain away from milking a third rounder from Philadelphia.

For now the team can sit and wait, hopeful that something will happen that will shoot Brees' value through the roof. And if nothing happens, the Chargers can let him compete with Doug Flutie for the number two job. If Brees wins the team will then have two talented young arms to help lead the offense.

If Brees loses, he can surely be traded for at least a late round pick. Better still, this scenario allows Rivers to beat Brees out of his job during camp, which would earn Rivers respect amongst his teammates and confidence amongst the coaches.

Finally, keep in mind what has happened to former Chargers who fell into Coach Schottenheimer's dog house. Ronney Jenkins, Trevor Gaylor and Tamarick Vanover all stayed there less than a season before being released. Brees was in the dog house all last year, and by the time he is let out, his surrounding may have already changed.

Michael Lombardo can be reached at

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