SAN DIEGO - Marty Schottenheimer "absolutely" would like to have Drew Brees back, even though the Chargers' starting quarterback is going under the knife and is not under contract for next year.
Brees traveled to Birmingham, Ala., on Tuesday to get a second opinion on his injured right shoulder from noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews.
Brees has a torn labrum in his right shoulder, which was dislocated in Saturday's home loss to the Denver Broncos when he tried to recover his fumble. Brees said on Monday that he'd like to have surgery this week.
"I have every reason to believe that Drew will be 100 percent, and those of you that know him know what he's like and the competitive nature he brings," Schottenheimer said Tuesday during his season-ending news conference. "Once we have the surgery, we'll have a complete understanding of the nature of the injury."
Schottenheimer said there was "no involvement of the rotator cuff, which is important. When they go in there with the surgery, we'll be able to determine exactly where we are."
Members of the team's medical staff aren't permitted to speak with the media.
Brees will decide whether Andrews or David Chao, one of the team's doctors, will operate.
The fifth-year pro wants a long-term deal from the Chargers (9-7), who missed the playoffs for the ninth time in 10 seasons. He played this season under a one-year, $8 million contract as the team's "franchise" player. The Chargers must decide by Feb. 23 - well before Brees is throwing again - whether they'll slap the franchise tag on him again. Backup quarterback Philip Rivers has four years left on his contract.
General manager A.J. Smith wouldn't say to what extent Brees' surgery clouds the decision on his future.
"I have no idea, except it is a shoulder and there will be surgery," Smith said. "I don't know anything until Dr. Andrews or Dr. Chao performs the surgery and informs us exactly what was done, the results, optimistic recovery, what they're thinking, how long it will take, when he'll be ready, when he'll be throwing.
"Until I have factual information, I don't know how to answer that. After I get those and I know what we're dealing with, then I'll make a recommendation and proceed."
The Chargers have said that they have the room under the salary cap to once again keep both Brees and Rivers. Rivers has played sparingly in two seasons and looked rusty when he was forced into Saturday's game.
Asked if he anticipated having the same depth chart at quarterback next season, Schottenheimer said: "We'll look at it from a competitive standpoint and see, when he gets back and playing, if indeed he's Drew Brees as we know him. I expect that he will be. But we'll wait and see."
Schottenheimer wouldn't say if Brees' surgery and rehab time of approximately four months would almost guarantee that Rivers would be back next year.
"But I think the wisdom of our decision to keep Philip proves to be important," the coach said.
Schottenheimer doesn't regret not giving Rivers more playing time. Rivers' only action this year prior to Saturday was taking a knee to end a 48-10 win over Buffalo on Nov. 20.
"Philip is on course and is a developing player," Schottenheimer said. "I think I've indicated to you before there can be opportunities, and we had one earlier this season, that it was my intention to get him in with five or six minutes to go but we never got the ball back until it was considerably less than that. Regular-season football is different than preseason football. It's been a philosophy of mine that you play your players until you have determined that the win is secured."
Also Tuesday, Smith denied speculation that Schottenheimer was in danger of being fired.
"These rumors are running rampant all over the country. We're fine," Smith said. "Coach will be back in '06. There never was a doubt."
Schottenheimer is under contract through 2007, at approximately $3 million a year.
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