What is in the cards for Rivers and Brees?

The Chargers have reached the point in the off-season where they need to make a decision at the quarterback position. They can either bring back Drew Brees, or franchise and trade him. This decision will define their off-season, just as their decision to trade Eli Manning defined their off-season a year ago. Interestingly enough, these two situations are very similar, and the similarities begin and end with agent Tom Condon.

Condon is the agent for both Brees and Manning. He is known for being shrewd and for getting his players what they want. Remember, when Brees was picked in the second round of the 2001 draft, he was one of the last four players in the league to agree to a contract. The other three were high first round picks, including LaDainian Tomlinson, who also held out that year while represented by Condon. Then in 2004, Condon was the agent who told the world that his player, Eli Manning, would play for any team other than the Chargers.

In each of these instances, Condon got his wish. Brees and Tomlinson both got the money they wanted, and Manning was traded to the New York Giants. However, it is not as if Condon has stuck it to the Chargers. Brees and Tomlinson are both representing the Bolts in the Pro Bowl this year, and the Manning trade netted Philip Rivers, Nate Kaeding, a fifth-round pick which was traded for Roman Oben, and the twelfth pick in the 2005 draft.

The best thing about the Manning trade, however, was that Condon forced the Chargers' hand. Rumors had been flying that the Chargers had been looking for a way to trade down and select Rivers, and fans were beginning to turn on the Bolts. They said the Chargers were too cheap to pay the number one pick in the draft, and that they were idiotic for wanting to pass on any quarterback with the name Manning attached. However, when Condon forced the Chargers hand, they had no choice but to make the trade. So they did, and everyone was thrilled because the team made the best of a very unenviable situation.

Now the Chargers must decide once again between another franchise passer and Rivers. Only this time, it is Brees rather than Manning. But just like last time, it is going to come down to Tom Condon getting his man what he wants. Brees has gone public with his desire for a long-term contract, either in San Diego or somewhere else. It is fairly obvious that Brees will not land a multiyear deal in San Diego, not with Rivers' contract and memories of Brees' 2003 season still around. So one can add these factors together and realize that Brees wants out of San Diego.

Now it is up to Condon, who is going to do just what he did when Manning wanted out of San Diego and force the Chargers hand. The Chargers will franchise Brees, and Condon will likely refuse to sign any one-year tender. Brees has plenty of leverage here, as he can hold out as long as he wants without getting fined, because he technically will not be under contract. He can also go to the media and bad mouth the team's lack of commitment, which would in effect negate the feel-good chemistry this team spent all of last off-season trying to build. If the team has two choices, to let Brees either be a distraction or trade bait, then they really have no choice at all. Condon will have once again forced their hand, and once again they will be better for it.

For one, if they trade Brees they free up $9 million in salary cap space, which would allow them to be major players in the free agent market should they so desire. Also, there is the benefit of adding whatever player(s) they gain via the trade. Teams like Dallas, San Francisco, Cleveland and Arizona are searching for their starting quarterback, so players like Roy Williams, Julian Peterson, Courtney Brown and Leonard Davis could be there for the taking. But more importantly, the team can turn the reigns over to Rivers, which was the plan all along, and not be scrutinized for letting a Pro Bowl quarterback walk. Their hand will have been forced, but if they can manufacture a trade even half as stellar as the Manning blockbuster, they will be in good shape, and their reputation will remain in tact.

This is important because it will keep the support of the fans, which is vital now more than ever with the push for a new stadium ongoing. But even more importantly, it will keep the team's spirits high. When someone like LaDainian Tomlinson goes public with his desire to see Brees return, it puts a lot of pressure on the organization to acquiesce. However, if Brees forces his way out and lands the contract he has been seeking, his former teammates will be happy for him. Also, they will be more open to a change at the helm, realizing the Chargers did make an effort to retain him, and only traded him because it was his desire. This maintenance of chemistry will be crucial to the Chargers success next season.

So Chargers fans should not fret the situation because it appears set to unfold quite nicely. Brees will likely leave, but that had been the plan since last April anyway. Now though, the Chargers will get a high profile player in return. They have experienced the playoffs and know what it takes to win, and they will finally have long-term stability at the quarterback position. Rivers is a great quarterback, and now he has had a year to watch and learn. He will get a full training camp next year, and will have the full support of his teammates as well. After all, they will understand why he is there. It is because football is a business, and the Chargers are just playing the cards they were dealt. Thanks to Tom Condon, when the Chargers show their cards this off-season, Brees is likely to see a royal flush.

Michael Lombardo can be reached at Lombardo@sandiegosports.net

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