As a fan of the Chargers for nearly two decades now, the on-field memory bank doesn’t have nearly as much worth holding onto as the one from outside the lines. Like Bolts’ General Manager A.J. Smith, perhaps the most vivid memory in my Chargers’ moments archive was the infamous NFL Draft of 2004 when the pampered, spoon-fed, insert bratty adjective here Eli Manning vowed that he would not play in San Diego despite the fact that the Bolts held the first overall selection.
In the midst of this difficult situation, Smith showed an uncanny ability to hold his ground and have Manning’s name called first overall when the Commissioner took his place at the podium. Radio City Music Hall was abuzz with rumors of who the Bolts may be dealing with or what could possibly transpire over the course of the coming selections with the tension between the Mannings and the Chargers’ organization being well-documented.
Sure enough the Bolts did craft a deal to land their quarterback of the future in the 2004 draft but it wasn’t Manning, it was Philip Rivers. San Diego’s exchange with New York ultimately yielded Pro Bowlers Nate Kaeding and Shawne Merriman as well as a pick that would turn into tackle Roman Oben. To his credit, Manning does have a Super Bowl ring, but the Bolts’ franchise seems to have gotten the better end of the deal.
Obviously the idea of evaluating trades in hindsight is debateable with Merriman now being out of the league and Oben retired, but Kaeding is still a Pro Bowl level kicker with the team and Rivers has compiled a superior statistical résumé to Manning albeit minus the ring. There is no hesitation from the Chargers’ personnel department on which side got the better of the deal however as GM Smith candidly said in an interview with CBS Sports that: “I believe with my heart and soul that (Rivers) one day will lead the Chargers to a world championship. He’s a great quarterback—a phenomenal leader with great character, great work habits.”
No one will ever call Smith soft-spoken as the GM from his shrewd negotiating tactics with veterans like Marcus McNeill and Vincent Jackson last offseason to his well-publicized feud with future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson once upon a time. There’s no doubt that Smith pulls no punches when discussing his thoughts on football and certain players in particular which is in many ways a refreshing view from a front office perspective in a world of political correctness.
In the same recent interview that Smith praised his eventual draft choice from the 2004 class in Rivers, the Bolts’ GM also let his thoughts be known on the player that the team actually chose with the opening pick. When asked his thoughts on Eli Manning, Smith said: "He was a Charger for 45 minutes and that was too much time to be a Charger, in my opinion."
It really doesn’t get much better than that and Smith’s attitude toward Manning is definitely mirroring the feeling that many Charger fans still have toward the Giants’ signal caller. The very essence of the drafting process was once upon a time undermined by John Elway and his refusal to play for the Colts in the same fashion that the Manning family manipulated the draft in their favor.
The aspect of the entire ordeal that personally rubbed me the wrong way was the role that Archie Manning played in the process. Peyton and Eli’s daddy was a decent NFL quarterback in his day for some putrid New Orleans Saints teams, but he was nothing special and for some reason feels that his personal clout provides him the ability to call the shots as far as his sons are concerned. Combine that with the fact that many teams had Eli graded as the third best quarterback in the 2004 class behind both Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger and that only adds more fuel to the bitterness felt by both GM Smith and myself.
In the end Smith may always be dubbed as a hardball GM that will never win until he gets out of his own way, but he has done a commendable job since taking over the Chargers of building them into a playoff contender on a year in, year out basis. Whenever fans find themselves a bit perplexed by a negotiating tactic or a draft pick that Smith makes, just ask yourself this: what was this team for nearly a decade before Smith took the reigns?
Now it’s your turn to be heard. The Eli Manning situation is still a resonating issue in the Bolts’ front office and the minds of many fans, but do you still begrudge Manning for his handling of the draft situation? Would you say that the trade sending Manning to the Giants was one of the best trades in franchise history or just the same as any other deal? A.J. Smith holds a very high opinion of Rivers that in the long run the Bolts will win a ring with him under center, but do you agree? As of right now, do you think GM Smith is looked at favorably by the majority of fans or is he seen more as a villain? Please fill up the comments section below with your insight!
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