Worth the wait

Jason Cole
Yahoo! Sports

San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers remembers the feeling of driving home after games the previous two years.

Sure, the Chargers either won or lost, leaving him with some positive or negative feeling. But Rivers didn't have anything to go over in his head. No positive or negative plays to consider. No feeling of personal accomplishment. No mistakes to fix.

"That was the worst time – that drive home," Rivers said. "The rest of the time, you occupied your mind with practice, getting ready to play, putting together the game plan. You could prepare. But I'd drive home; I hadn't thrown a pass, hadn't gotten hit. The uniform was clean."

After two years of waiting to get his chance, Rivers is finally the starter for the Chargers. A combination of an injury and free agency pushed former starter Drew Brees to New Orleans. Through two games, Rivers has been exceptionally efficient and appears on his way to the stardom the Chargers believed he would achieve when they arranged to have him drafted No. 4 overall in 2004.

Rivers has completed 71.7 percent of his passes, is averaging 7.46 yards per pass attempt, and has posted a quarterback rating of 107.4. He has only one touchdown pass, but he hasn't thrown an interception and hasn't been sacked. The Chargers have ridden that efficiency to a 2-0 record, winning by a combined 67-7.

It's the kind of start that makes Rivers' two-year wait on the bench worth it now.

"Even as I was going through it the past two years, I didn't understand how much it was really helping me to sit there and wait," Rivers said. "I really benefited from the last two years. I'm a better player for it. No. 1, I learned so much more from just watching. No. 2, just being in the system and learning how to prepare for a game was important.

"If I had played right away, I know I would have struggled. If I had played from Game 1 on, I'm sure I would have liked that, but it would have been hard sometimes. This way, I've really learned to understand my role in the team and that I don't have to do anything spectacular for us to be successful. I can let the guys around me, like [running back] LaDainian [Tomlinson], do the job and then I just handle my end of it."

Moreover, Rivers has also been able to grow into the position without getting the early accolades. After being a star at North Carolina State, Rivers was relatively unknown around San Diego.

"I could go out to the mall or to a park like Sea World and nobody would bother me and my family," Rivers said. "That wasn't the case in [college]. I couldn't hardly go anywhere without people recognizing me back then."

Now, however, things are starting to change.

"People are kind of putting it together because they're seeing me on the news more," Rivers said. "It's like they look at me and say, ‘Are you the quarterback?'"


Gene Upshaw, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, deserves some credit for taking an aggressive initial stance against agents in the wake of Yahoo! Sports’ report on Reggie Bush receiving benefits in college at USC.

The problem is that Upshaw's solution doesn't address the problem and may ultimately make the situation worse, not better.

In the case of Bush (now with the New Orleans Saints), the people who were recruiting him were marketing agents, not the traditional contract advisor/agents. Michael Ornstein, who is Bush's current marketing agent, and the folks at the fledgling New Era Sports & Entertainment in San Diego are both accused of giving Bush and his family benefits.

Marketing representatives are not within the purview of the NFLPA or the NFL.

"Legally, there's no way we can control them," NFLPA attorney Richard Berthelsen said this week.

As for Upshaw, he has failed to return multiple interview requests from Yahoo! Sports and did not respond to an email sent to NFLPA spokesman Carl Francis on Thursday. However, earlier in the week, he told two media outlets that he planned to propose a rule barring agents from talking with prospects before those players have used up their eligibility or have declared for the NFL draft.

It's an idea that at least one prominent agent anticipated over the weekend before Upshaw's thoughts were public knowledge.

"They're always looking for a way to punish us as a group, even when it's something we had nothing to do with," the agent said.

Upshaw and the union only govern agents who negotiate contracts between players and teams. Contracts and other agreements done between players and companies interested in using them as pitchman, such as Pepsi, Subway and adidas, are not covered.

In other words, Upshaw can ban all the contact he wants, but he can't stop a guy like Ornstein from working with college players. Hence, that's an easy opening by which to get around the rule.

Furthermore, the growth of such marketing contracts makes it more attractive for some agents to handle that part of the business. Marketing agents tend to get anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of the value of a contract. Meanwhile, contract agents are limited to three percent commission maximum and often do contracts for less.

Do the math and you see where the marketing will quickly become more attractive for some agents. If an agent negotiates a $5 million marketing deal for a player, he stands to make between $500,000 and $1 million.

To make that much on a player contract, an agent would have to negotiate a deal of between $20 million and $30 million and the player would have to earn all of it.

"The marketing side is so much easier than what we do," said another prominent agent. "When you're a marketing guy, you're always bringing a good deal to a player and you're making him happy. If you're the contract guy, you're usually putting out some fire. It's the hard part of it."

Thus, what Upshaw's rule could do is allow agents who he has no control over to have greater access to players than agents he has control over.

That sounds problematic.


The NCAA was, of course, all for Upshaw's idea. Who wouldn't be in favor of someone else trying to fix your problem?

That said, the NCAA is kidding itself if it thinks this is going to stop any of the problems it faces. As long as the NCAA continues to think it can police its rules about players not taking money, it doesn't understand the way to solve the problem.

A better solution, particularly when dealing with high-end players like Bush, is for the NCAA to come up with a loan program. In the case of Bush, who was widely recognized as a first-round pick back in the 2004 season, he could have avoided the current mess he's in by simply taking a loan or getting a line of credit from a bank.

As part of the transaction, Bush could have gotten an insurance policy covering him from an injury as collateral. The policy would have provided Bush both the ability to pay off any loan and given him long-term security while also allowing him and his family to live a more comfortable life.


At least five prominent wide receivers changed teams since the end of last season. In the case of four – Terrell Owens (Dallas Cowboys), Deion Branch (Seattle Seahawks), Donte Stallworth (Philadelphia Eagles) and Javon Walker (Denver Broncos) – the moves have paid off either financially or professionally in a big way.

However, in the case of Ashley Lelie, who went from Denver to the Atlanta Falcons, the story is a classic example of being careful about what you wish for. Lelie, who has four catches for a paltry 27 yards in the first two games, wanted out of Denver so bad that he asked for a trade over the advice of his former agent.

It's an example of how not to handle your career.

According to a source, Lelie didn't listen to the advice of long-time agent Michael Sullivan, who told Lelie that the best way to approach 2006 was to stay with the Broncos. Lelie's deep speed fit the Broncos offense, even if Denver went after another receiver and made Lelie a No. 3 receiver. If Lelie, who is in the final year of his contract, had merely put up 40 to 50 catches for 700 or 800 yards, he would have had some projectable statistics to use in free agency.

Instead, Lelie insisted on the trade, fired Sullivan when it wasn't done quickly enough and hired current agent Peter Schaffer with the same directive.

Lelie, who reportedly paid nearly $1 million to get out of his contract with the Broncos, is now with a team that doesn't have an effective passing game because quarterback Michael Vick's talents don't play to a traditional offense. Look for Lelie to suffer the same fate as Peerless Price, the wide receiver the Falcons traded for in 2003. Price received a $10 million signing bonus and the Falcons also gave up a first-round pick for him. Now, Price is back in Buffalo after getting cut by the Falcons and doing almost nothing in Dallas.

As for the other receivers mentioned earlier, Owens signed a three-year, $25 million deal; Branch got the six-year, $39 million contract he sought; Stallworth has 11 receptions for 222 yards and two touchdowns through two games; and Walker is off to a solid start with eight catches for 120 yards.


  • Speaking of Lelie, the Broncos tried to convince him to stay with the team. One of the key stats the team brought up was that quarterback Jake Plummer overthrew Lelie on 16 potential touchdown passes last season. If Plummer had been more accurate on just six of those, Lelie would have had a monster year. Then again, that may further explain why the Broncos took Jay Cutler in the first round of the draft this year.

  • Congratulations to coach Jack Del Rio and the Jacksonville Jaguars on their 2-0 start. But before people anoint the Jags as a Super Bowl contender, consider a few things. First, the Jags beat Pittsburgh and Seattle last season in the regular season and still got hammered in the playoffs. Second, early-season games in Florida are murder on opposing teams. Third, Del Rio is a great team builder, but he better sharpen his decision making. During the fourth quarter on Monday night against Pittsburgh, Del Rio hesitated twice on tactical calls, including the moments before the Jaguars kicked their second field goal. Del Rio needs to think through situations in advance or it could come back to haunt him.

  • It's clear to opposing players, coaches and scouts that Miami Dolphins quarterback Daunte Culpepper isn't confident about his ability to run downfield. Until that changes, he will see more and more soft zone coverage.

  • New York Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is obviously a competent man and he helped the Jets make a game out of what looked to be a blowout against New England on Sunday, but he did make one incredibly silly play call. Down 24-0 late in the third quarter, Schottenheimer called for a play-action pass. The Patriots didn't bite on the call and harassed Pennington into an incomplete pass.

  • Speaking of Pennington, he had his second straight 300-yard game to open the season, which should be inspiring to fantasy football owners around the world. He also had touchdown passes of 71 and 46 yards. However, Pennington did that mostly by taking advantage of the after-the-catch running of receivers Jerricho Cotchery and Laveranues Coles. Cotchery and Coles combined for at least 70 yards after getting the ball, including Coles' stunning run where he evaded six Patriots defenders.

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