One of the most memorable trades in NFL history took place 13 years ago, when the Chargers dealt Eli Manning – the first overall pick in the draft – to the Giants for Philip Rivers and three draft picks. It changed the landscape of the NFL for years to come, and the effects of the deal are still being felt today.
The only reason it happened was because Manning refused to play for the Chargers, threatening to sit out the entire season. Seeing no other options, the team granted Manning his wish, dealing him to New York shortly after making him the top pick.
Though you probably know the main story line behind the deal, there are a handful of facts you may not remember. We broke down those nuggets in the sixth part of our 10-day series reviewing the biggest trades in NFL history.
Ryan Leaf played a role in Manning’s refusal to play for the Chargers
Six years before Manning made it clear he wouldn’t play for the Chargers, San Diego had other quarterback troubles. Leaf, the second overall pick in the 1998 draft, was a complete disaster. He played just 21 games with the Chargers, going 4-14 in his 18 starts. Off the field, he was a mess and a big problem in the locker room. Leaf, who was friends with Peyton Manning, reportedly said his failure was due to the fact that the Chargers essentially left it up to him to figure out how to succeed in the NFL. Eli Manning learned of this and decided San Diego wasn’t the place for him.
“(Peyton) Manning was stunned to hear that Leaf's experience was completely different. Our golfing partner said that Leaf was basically left to figure it out for himself. If that's true, you combine it with the legendary stories about what an immature jerk Leaf is and begin understand why he crashed so quickly. Again, this is coming from a family friend. Who knows what the Chargers did or did not do for their rookie QB, or whether their management team was equipped to deal with such a high-maintenance player.”
Granted, the front office from Leaf’s time was gone by the time Manning came into the league, but it’s understandable to think that Leaf’s troubles left a negative impression on Eli.
Getty ImagesEzra Shaw
Shawne Merriman and Nate Kaeding have more combined Pro Bowl appearances than Manning
It’s sometimes forgotten that the Chargers didn’t just get Philip Rivers out of the swap. They also netted three draft picks: a third-rounder in 2004, as well as a first- and fifth-round pick in 2005. The Chargers turned those first two picks into highly productive players and dealt the fifth-rounder for Roman Oben, who started all 16 games at tackle in his first season in San Diego.
In the third round of the 2004 draft, they took kicker Nate Kaeding. It was a surprising selection, but he made two Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro in 2009. The following year, the Chargers drafted Shawne Merriman in the first round. Merriman was a monster right out of the gate, recording double-digit sacks in each of his first three seasons. He was a three-time Pro Bowl selection and an All-Pro in 2006, but injuries derailed his career.
Still, Kaeding and Merriman combined to make more Pro Bowls (and All-Pro selections) than Manning has in his career. Granted, Super Bowls are better than Pro Bowls, but it shows how much value the Chargers got out of the selections received in the Manning trade.
Getty ImagesDonald Miralle
Manning and Rivers are both in the top three for most interceptions since 2006
As good as Manning and Rivers have been for the past decade or so, they’ve also been a bit reckless with the ball. Since 2006, when Rivers was named the Chargers’ full-time starter, he and Manning both rank in the league's top three in interceptions.
Manning is first with 189 in that span, and Rivers is third at 155. Going back to 2004, Manning still tops the league in that department with a whopping 215 interceptions – 26 more than any other player in the NFL.
Rivers has led the league in interceptions twice, while Manning has done so three times. So essentially, in the 13 years since the two were drafted, they’ve combined to lead the league in picks five times. That’s not exactly an accomplishment, but both have still been extremely good quarterbacks for more than a decade.
Christopher HanewinckelChristopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Archie Manning had nothing to do with Eli refusing to play for the Chargers
Archie Manning was familiar with the nuances of the NFL. He had spent more than a decade in the league himself, most of which came with the Saints. He also had experience with the draft after seeing his older son, Peyton, go through it a few years before Eli. In turn, many believed Archie was the brains behind Eli's refusal to play for the Chargers. That wasn’t the case.
Archie cleared that up last year during an interview with Rich Eisen, telling the world that it was all about Eli and his agent, Tom Condon.
"It was a decision that Eli and Tom Condon kind of made, but Eli ultimately pulled the trigger on that and that's what he, doing his due diligence, decided to do," Archie Manning said. "I can't say it was pleasant from our end. Most people thought I orchestrated it, but I didn't. I don't tell my kids what to do or make their decisions."
Archie did admit that Eli asked him for advice, and being a good father, he gave it to him. He told Eli to “think about it hard,” and that it was solely his decision to make. He didn’t, however, force his son to do anything.
Getty Images For DirecTVJason Merritt
The Giants would have picked Ben Roethlisberger if they hadn't landed Manning
Three likely future Hall of Fame quarterbacks came out of the 2004 draft: Manning, Rivers and Roethlisberger. The first two obviously got most of the attention, but Roethlisberger was a highly touted prospect, too. In fact, the Giants thought so highly of him that they were prepared to draft Big Ben if a trade for Manning didn’t work.
“I think at that point, we had resigned ourself to the fact that we were just gonna take Roethlisberger,” John Mara said, “and then Cleveland had offered us a trade up. I think they were going to give us a second-round pick to move up.”
The Browns were looking to trade up from the seventh spot, and made an offer to the Giants for the fourth pick. However, at the same time, the Giants were working to make a deal with the Chargers for Manning.
The Giants considered the deal from Cleveland very strongly, knowing the Browns weren’t going to take Roethlisberger fourth overall with Jeff Garcia in the mix. And they were confident he’d be there at No. 7, which he was after sliding to the Steelers at No. 11.
Obviously, the Giants got their guy in Eli Manning, but had the Chargers played hardball, Big Ben would likely be playing for Big Blue right now.
Manning first learned he was traded to the Giants from a 'kid'
After Manning was taken first overall by the Chargers, he had to go on a mini media tour. He went from set to set, doing interviews with various people. This was before news broke that he had been traded to the Giants, which Manning didn’t learn from his inner circle. It was a “kid” that told Manning about the swap.
“A guy was leading me to each station, and all of a sudden, I remember some kid busted through some kind of double doors and yelled out: ‘Manning’s been traded to the Giants!’
“And I kinda looked over at the guy next to me who was leading me — he had the earpiece and all security — I said, ‘Have you heard this? Any truth to this?’ And he’s like, ‘I hadn’t heard it, let me check.’ Got on the walkie-talkie, he said, ‘Yup, you’ve been traded to the Giants.’
Manning said he didn’t know how the “kid” found out about the move before he did, but he did repay him with a signed hat. To this day, Manning doesn’t know who the person was that broke the news, but the fact that he had the information before anyone else – especially Manning, himself – was impressive.