Eli Manning for Philip Rivers revisited

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

It’s now been 15 years since the iconic Eli Manning-Phillip Rivers trade happened. Let’s take a look back at the ramifications.

“With the , uh, first choice of the 2004 NFL draft, the San Diego Chargers select Eli Manning, quarterback, Mississippi.” It was with these words that former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue kicked off the 2004 NFL Draft on April 24, 2004. To say this was a pick full of tension and drama would be an understatement to say the least.

Manning, the son of former Saints quarterback, Archie Manning, and younger brother of future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning , had had an illustrious collegiate career at Ole Miss. Eli finished his senior year fifth in the SEC all-time in passing yards, third in touchdowns and recipient of the Maxwell Award as the nation’s best all-around player. There were those who were even opining that he would be a better NFL QB than Peyton.

At the beginning of 2004, the San Diego Chargers were a franchise that hadn’t had a winning season in eight years. Their 4-12 record in 2003 was the worst in the NFL, thus earning them the number one pick in the draft. Other than 2001 first round pick, LaDainian Tomlinson, who was a one-man wrecking crew in 2003 with 2370 all-purpose yards and 17 touchdowns, they were a team in turmoil. 2001 second round pick Drew Brees had a mediocre year, even getting benched mid-season in favor of backup Doug Flutie, and future stars such as tight end Antonio Gates had yet to show their potential.

The New York Giants were in a similar situation. They too finished a dismal 4-12, the team that had won the 2000 NFC Championship game was now a shell of its former self. However, Big Blue was starting to add quality pieces with players like tight end Jeremy Shockey , offensive tackle David Diehl, and defensive end Osi Umenyiora. After setting the team’s single-season passing record with 4,073 yards, QB Kerry Collins greatly regressed in 2003 only throwing 13 TD’s to go along with 16 INT’s and would be released following the 2003 season. Head Coach Jim Fassel was also fired, replaced by former Jacksonville Head Coach Tom Coughlin.

Two things were pretty obvious going into the 2004 Draft. San Diego wanted to draft Eli Manning and Eli Manning had no interest in playing for San Diego. Leading up to the event, his father had made several statements saying that his son Eli had no desire to play there, and as the first day of the draft started there was still a ton of suspense on what the Chargers would do; keep Eli and hope he was bluffing, or trade him?

There were two other big name QB’s also in the draft, North Carolina State’s Philip Rivers , and Miami of Ohio’s Ben Roethlisberger . The Chargers added to the drama by sticking to their guns and making Manning the first pick, thus leaving people to wonder what would happen next.

With the fourth pick the Giants selected Rivers, leading to a brief moment of panic in New York. It was shortly after revealed that the team had consummated a trade with the Chargers that would send Rivers, along with their 2004 third round pick, and their 2005 first and fifth round picks in exchange for Manning.

With their extra pick in the third round the Chargers selected kicker Nate Kaeding, along with future Pro Bowlers Nick Hardwick , Shaun Philips , and Michael Turner.  The Giants made some nice picks as well, adding future Pro Bowler Chris Snee and defensive back Gibril Wilson.

If you were to evaluate the trade from 2004-2006 you would say that the Chargers were the clear winners of the trade. The Chargers posted a 35-13 record with Rivers, Kaeding and Shawne Merriman (acquired with the 2005 first round pick received in the trade) quickly attaining Pro Bowler status, while the Giants went 25-23 in the same period with Manning showing great inconsistency in performance. The Chargers peaked in 2006 with a 14-2 record and came one play away from reaching the AFC Championship Game.

2007 is where things started to take a fascinating, unexpected turn. The Chargers had another nice season, winning the division and advanced to the AFC Championship Game, but it was the Giants who truly made the leap. Manning led them to a second place finish and a Wild Card berth, but it was the last game of the regular season against the 15-0 New England Patriots where you could see this was a different Giants team. Everyone expected the Giants to take it easy as they had already clinched a playoff spot, but they surprised the Patriots and critics everywhere by playing the game as if it was the Super Bowl, harassing QB Tom Brady. The Patriots narrowly escaped with a 38-35 win, but planted a seed in every contending team’s head that this Eli led Giants team meant business.

The two teams would meet again five weeks later in Super Bowl XLII and this time there would be a much different outcome. The Giants defensive line made life miserable for Brady, but it was with 1:15 left in the game that Manning would make the most important throw in New York Giants history.

With a host of Patriots defenders chasing him down, Manning heaved a 32-yard pass downfield to wide receiver David Tyree which he pulled down with the legendary Helmet Catch. Four plays later, Manning hit Plaxico Burress in the end zone for a touchdown on a perfect strike, all but sealing the deal. 39 seconds of game time later and the Giants were Super Bowl Champions for a third time.

2007 would be the closest Rivers and the Chargers would get to the Super Bowl, winning several more division titles, yet losing each time in the divisional round. The Giants would win the division in 2008, losing in the playoff to the Eagles, and miss the playoffs in 2009 and 2010.

In 2011 the magic happen again. The Chargers were beginning their slide into mediocrity under coach Norv Turner , while the Giants won the NFC East with a 9-7 record. Manning passed for a then career high 4933 yards and led the G-Men to a rematch with the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. Once again, it would be a late 4th quarter miracle pass that would set up another game winning drive.

With 3:46 left on the clock and the Giants trailing 17-15, Manning hit wide receiver Mario Manningham with a 38-yard sideline pass that was inbounds by just fractions of an inch. Manning threw four more completions as he marched the Giants down the field in a clock-killing drive, and with 1:04 left in the game running back Ahmad Bradshaw punched it into the end zone for a go ahead touchdown. The Giants defense would survive a close Hail Mary call to Rob Gronkowski, wrapping up another Super Bowl Win.

More from NY Giants Draft

Since that season, both franchises have slid into an era of mediocrity and inconsistency. Poor drafting has made it difficult for the two teams to compete at a high level, combining for only three playoff appearances. Interestingly, as they approach the end of their careers, Rivers has become the better, more consistent quarterback while Manning has shown deteriorated. The drafting of Daniel Jones  with the sixth pick in this past year’s draft shows that the Giants are getting ready to move on from Eli, while the Chargers continue to roll with Rivers as their guy.

It is rare for a team to win a trade when they trade three Pro Bowlers for one, but Eli Manning’s two Super Bowl rings, and the decisive role he played in earning those rings, show that he was clearly worth the investment.

Given an opportunity for a re-do, i’m not so sure that either franchise would take the chance, but the Giants have to still be considered the resounding winners of this legendary trade.