QB Philip Rivers (U.S. Presswire)
The 14th Chargers free agent to re-up with the team was also the most pleasant surprise. Malcom Floyd agreed to return on a two-year deal, giving Philip Rivers his most gifted supporting cast to date. The move bolsters San Diego's offense and likely pushes Rivers to the head of the MVP watch list.
Last season was all about Philip Rivers' ability to do a lot with a little. Due to an incredible rash of injuries, he was left to lean heavily on undrafted rookies and street free agents. He more than made due, leading the league with 4,710 passing yards and finishing second with a 101.8 passer rating.
This year, Rivers will work with a full deck. He does not have to worry about holdouts by his blindside protector (Marcus McNeill) or his No. 1 receiver (Vincent Jackson). He also has more weapons at receiver than he has ever seen. In addition to Jackson and Floyd, who was assumed to be a free-agent casualty, he gets a fully acclimated Patrick Crayton and a much refined Seyi Ajirotutu.
Add polished third-rounder Vincent Brown and explosive free-agent addition Laurent Robinson and suddenly the cupboards have gone from barren to booming.
The loss of Darren Sproles (59 grabs in 2010) will hurt, but much of that will be offset by the progress of other check-down options such as RB Ryan Mathews and TE Kory Sperry.
While upgraded pass catchers will aid Rivers, nothing will assist him more than the offensive line maintaining all its key cogs. By re-signing Jeromey Clary and Scott Mruczkowski, as well as ERFA Brandyn Dombrowski, the Chargers assured they'll field a formidable front line even if the injury bug bites.
With so many pieces in place, the question is this: How high is Rivers' ceiling? After leading the NFL in several key categories, including yards per attempt (8.7), it is hard to imagine his stats can pop much more than they already do.
Some argue his 2010 numbers were inflated because the Chargers were so often forced to play from behind. However, 2,345 of his 4,710 yards (49.78 percent) came in the first half of ballgames, long before any desperation set in.
A half-dozen QBs hoisted more attempts than Rivers last season. Rivers may get even more attempts in 2011 if his re-tooled defense can force more than a paltry 23 takeaways, which is all that unit could muster in 2010.
Mix all the ingredients together and you get the recipe for an MVP season. There is just the little matter of winning enough games to capture national attention -- if Rivers makes that happen, the MVP trophy will be his to lose.
How big is the return of WR Malcom Floyd? Discuss inside the message boards.
Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.