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Keeping Rivers over Brees was the right move

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

They went all the way to London to settle the great quarterback controversy of San Diego.

Will the English fans even notice?

Even if the locals are preoccupied by their bangers and ale, the Philip Rivers vs. Drew Brees matchup will be recognized stateside as the true story behind the San Diego Chargers' game against the New Orleans Saints being played in London.

Rivers and Brees were made rivals the instant the Chargers acquired Rivers in 2004. San Diego had its eye on Rivers, the mature and impressive North Carolina State quarterback, during the entire draft process and made a deal with the New York Giants. The Chargers, who had the No. 1 overall pick, took Eli Manning and then traded him to the Giants for a package that included the rights to Rivers.

Rivers was brought to San Diego as the future of a franchise that went 4-12 in 2003. Brees, a second-round pick in 2001 (The Chargers took future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson in the first round), started 27 games in his second and third seasons.

He was solid -- not bad for a youngster. His yardage numbers were good, but he threw 31 interceptions compared to 28 touchdowns. So team management jumped at the chance to find a potential franchise quarterback in the 2004 draft. Brees was going to be a nice little bridge to the future and then he'd be a backup. Not bad for a gutsy college star at Purdue who couldn't read defenses well because, at just 6 feet tall, he could barely see over the offensive line.

With Rivers in tow, Brees was supposed to be San Diego's quarterback in 2004 and then the switch would be made.

But Brees played a dirty trick on the Chargers. He got really good in his fourth NFL season. He suddenly became an accurate quarterback who had cut way down on his interceptions. He threw 27 touchdowns and was intercepted only seven times.

The Chargers immediately transformed from a 4-12 team that had the top pick in the draft to a 12-4 division winner, and Brees became a legitimate young star.

That wasn't the plan. The plan was to play Rivers. The Chargers dealt with their unexpected dilemma by waiting another year to decide between keeping Rivers or Brees.

It was long expected that Rivers would get the nod over Brees, the pending free agent. He was the star draft pick. He was a player general manager A.J. Smith loved. And Rivers was already signed for several years into the future, unlike Brees. Still, the looming decision was a frequent topic of discussion during the 2005 season.

Then Brees ended another good season by hurting his shoulder in the final game of the year as the Chargers dipped to 9-7. The injury and the Chargers' slip in the standings was the perfect time for Brees to leave via free agency.

Still, whenever there is a quarterback controversy, it's never exactly a clean break. There are Brees supporters and Rivers supporters.

But the truth is, San Diego made the right call.

Both Brees and Rivers have been outstanding in their post-controversy roles. Brees has become the centerpiece of the Saints' face-lift after Hurricane Katrina and Rivers has proved that he was worthy of a top pick.

Both quarterbacks are thriving statistically and winning. Rivers led the Chargers to a 25-7 record in his first two seasons as the starter.

The moves were right for both teams.

Could Brees still lead the Chargers? Sure. But Rivers is the right man for the team as it heads toward the future.

The Chargers have a mix of both young and older talent. At 26, Rivers is perfect for the team. He is seasoned enough to not get in the way of the team winning now and he is young enough to build around for the future.

On a roster of stars, Rivers in the unabashed leader. His decision to play in the AFC Championship Game in New England last season despite suffering a torn ACL the week before in Indianapolis won over his teammates forever.

No matter who wins the battle of England, it won't change the bottom line.

Philip Rivers is best suited to be the quarterback of the San Diego Chargers, just as they picked him to be, and Drew Brees is best suited to be the quarterback of the New Orleans Saints after dutifully serving as the bridge to the Rivers era in San Diego.