NEW YORK - Eli Manning’s journey from Mississippi through San Diego to New York came down to the most basic of factors: Money. The Giants are willing to pay, and the Chargers might not be.
But it also involves a series of coincidences that begin in Mobile, go through San Diego to Boston and back to New York; few people involved want to talk about how things happened and how they will play out.
So far, we know this:
But getting beyond that is obscured by draft obfuscation: It’s rare to find any NFL team official who will tell the whole truth about the drafting process.
Start in January, when Schottenheimer coached the South in the Senior Bowl, and Rivers was so impressive that he moved from seemingly a second-round pick into the elite group of quarterbacks with Manning and Ben Roethlisberger of Miami of Ohio.
Manning was clearly the class of the class, simply because of his surname: He’s a son of Archie, second overall pick in 1971, and brother of Peyton, first in 1998 and co-MVP last season for the Colts. He wasn’t the highest-rated player overall — Iowa offensive tackle Robert Gallery was — but an elite quarterback trumps an elite tackle.
Last week, however, the Chargers made public what they had been told by the Manning family through their agent, Tom Condon — that Eli didn’t want to play in San Diego. Condon knows that the Chargers don’t like to pay elite QBs; he represents LaDainian Tomlinson, incumbent quarterback Drew Brees and Schottenheimer in one of those subtle conflicts-of-interest common in the agent community.
What also was clear is that Condon wanted Eli in New York, even though all involved denied it. Instead, they said only that they didn’t want San Diego, which three years ago traded away the rights to Michael Vick. With commissioner Paul Tagliabue as an intermediary, Archie Manning talked with Alex and Dean Spanos, owners of the Chargers — but he wouldn’t budge.
Enter the Giants.
New York coveted Gallery, but general manager Ernie Accorsi also was fixated on Manning, contacting A.J. Smith, his San Diego counterpart, three weeks ago. But the Giants refused to give up their second-round pick, 34th overall in a draft where 45 players had first-round grades.
That remained a sticking point in negotiations as the draft started. The Chargers called Manning’s bluff and took him.
“The strategy was simple,” Schottenheimer said. “Take the player who had the most value. He had the most value in a trade.”
It was a risk. If Gallery had fallen to them, the Giants were ready to pounce and ignore Manning. They also could have chosen Roethlisberger and had an eye on Texas receiver Roy Williams. The Raiders took Gallery, Arizona took Larry Fitzgerald, and the Giants were up.
They waited and waited and waited and finally took ... Philip Rivers.
Ten minutes later, the trade was announced: Manning to New York for Rivers, the Giants’ third-round pick this year, and first- and fifth-round picks next year.
How? Why? Everyone was mum, although the Giants insisted Rivers was their choice all along.
That wasn’t really the case, according to a football source who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The trade, he said, was consummated with about five minutes left in New York’s allotted 15 minutes. And another football source told the AP on condition of anonymity that if the Giants were going to draft a QB other than Manning for themselves, it would have been Roethlisberger, not Rivers.
One thing was clear: New York would not give up its second-round pick in a trade. Accorsi said Sunday the Giants also would not give up a player San Diego wanted — believed to be Osi Umenyiora, a second-year defensive end with outstanding pass-rushing potential — and agreed instead to next year’s first-rounder.
On Saturday, Accorsi said keeping this year’s second-rounder also was a key.
“The primary objective of all of these discussions was our second-round pick. We wanted to preserve that this year,” he said. “That’s why that was more important to us than next year’s No. 1 — because it is a player we are going to have this year.”
That player turned out to be Chris Snee, a guard from Boston College, one of the more highly rated linemen. Like New York’s first pick, he has a pedigree: Being an offensive lineman from BC (Tom Nalen, Ron Stone, Damien Woody and a one-time Kansas City guard named Tom Condon) is almost as firm a guarantee of success as being a QB named Manning.
One more connection: Tom Coughlin, the Giants’ new coach, was the head coach at BC in the early ’90s. And Chris Snee is the father of his grandson.
After he landed with the Giants, Manning said all the right things — praising Collins, saying he’d be glad to learn behind him, but also suggesting he would be ready to start. So did Collins, an acknowledged alcoholic who was signed in 1999 and rehabilitated by the Giants before leading them to the 2001 Super Bowl.
At the very least, the Giants will ask Collins to take a pay cut — he’s 31, in the last year of his contract, and counts $8.95 million against the $80.6 million salary cap. More likely, they will cut him and bring in a veteran who can hold the starting job until Manning is ready.
One candidate: Warner, the two-time MVP benched last season after an opening-day loss at the Giants. He probably will be released June 1; another sign came Sunday when the Rams selected quarterback Jeff Smoker of Michigan State with the last pick of the sixth round.
But even if Warner winds up in the Meadowlands, his tenure won’t be long.
Eli Manning is New York’s quarterback for the long term.
Just as Tom Condon and Papa scripted it.
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