Now it comes the time to pay him like one.
Rivers, who just completed his third season as a starter, needs a new contract. His current one ends after the 2009 season and the Chargers have no interest in letting him get close to sniffing the free-agent market.
QB Philip Rivers
Smith has made it no secret that he is a big-time fan of Rivers. Never mind the two quarterbacks he passed on from that 2004 draft has combined for three Super Bowl titles - Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger (two) and the Giants' Eli Manning (one) - while Rivers has none. Smith made it know his regard for Rivers when he swapped Manning way back when to cast his lot with Rivers.
"We will try to see if he would like to be here in the future," Smith said. "We would certainly like for him to stay and be our quarterback of the future."
The negotiations should be interesting.
When Smith and Rivers' agent, Jimmy Sexton, last sat across from each other it was hardly a smooth conversation. Rivers sat out a big chunk of his first training camp - many thought that cost him a shot at the starting job - and Smith has fired shots at Sexton since.
But Rivers, who threw for more than 4,000 yards last season, is happy in San Diego and isn't motivated in the least to leave. He has a head coach in Norv Turner who has switched the offense from a power-running attack to one in which flings the ball around the field with regularity.
Roethlisberger's regular-season statistics don't compare to Rivers', but he does have those two Super Bowl rings. About a year ago, Roethlisberger signed an eight-year, $102 million contract with $36 million in guaranteed money.
Manning, it's believed, is on the verge of signing an even richer deal.
So Smith is going to have to bite the bullet and send a huge chunk of the Chargers' change in Rivers' direction. Just how Rivers demands - and when he gets it - could affect which running back is in San Diego next season.