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Eli Manning's refusal to play gave Chargers a bargaining chip

  • By NFL.com
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When A.J. Smith thinks back on one of the biggest trades in NFL draft history, he doesn't harbor any regrets.

Seven years after the San Diego Chargers' general manager used the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft on quarterback Eli Manning, who told the team in advance that he didn't want to play there, Smith says he still has no second thoughts about the pick and subsequent trade that landed Philip Rivers -- even if Manning won a Super Bowl first.

"He (Manning) was a value pick," Smith told the Sporting News. "He was a bar of gold."

Manning objected to the idea of playing for the Chargers and made that publicly known before the draft. The Sporting News reports that Smith, with Manning's advance ultimatum, also knew that the New York Giants wanted Manning. After the Giants selected Rivers with the fourth overall pick, the trade was made.

"He (Manning) was a Charger for 45 minutes," Smith said, "and that was too much time to be a Charger, in my opinion."

In the trade, the Chargers received a third-round pick in the 2004 draft (used on kicker Nate Kaeding), a first-round pick in 2005 (resulting in linebacker Shawne Merriman) and a fifth-round pick in 2005, which they traded for left tackle Roman Oben.

Both young quarterbacks have amassed impressive numbers. Manning is one of just three quarterbacks to throw for at least 3,000 yards every season from 2005 to 2010, joining brother older Peyton and New Orleans Saints signal-caller Drew Brees, who was the starter for the Chargers when Rivers was drafted.

Rivers finished the 2010 season with his third consecutive 4,000-yard campaign, and he's the only quarterback to have a passer rating above 100 in each of the last three seasons.

Despite Manning's victory in Super Bowl XLII, Smith has faith that Rivers -- who has led the Chargers to four AFC West championships -- will complete the Super Bowl drive as well.

"I believe with my heart and soul that he one day will lead the Chargers to a world championship," Smith said. "He's a great quarterback -- a phenomenal leader with great character, great work habits."

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