In 2004, the New York Giants and the Los Angeles Chargers made a trade that would forever change the course of both franchises. Moments after the Chargers selected Eli Manning with the first pick in the NFL draft, the team traded him to the Giants for Philip Rivers.
That deal had massive repercussions for both clubs. The Chargers used the extra picks to build a consistent winner around Rivers. The Giants held on to Osi Umenyiora, whose pass-rushing prowess helped Manning lead the team to two Super Bowl wins.
While both teams benefitted greatly, the Chargers never won the Super Bowl under general manager A.J. Smith. Despite that, Smith says trading away Manning was “the most satisfying moment for me in my career,” according to SB Nation.
“[The trade] was the most satisfying moment for me in my career and I really mean that. I would say that if I was ever fortunate to win a Super Bowl, I’m sure it would’ve trumped that, but I don’t know that. I gotta tell you there was a lot of highs and lows in the business, but that moment was the greatest high for me as an executive for an organization.”
As Smith explains, the deal netted the Chargers with enough draft picks to select Shawne Merriman and kicker Nate Kaeding. Both guys played big roles in the team’s success from 2004 to 2009.
More importantly, though, Smith was happy he took some of the power away from Manning and his agent, Tom Condon.
“When I heard emphatically from Tom Condon and Archie Manning ‘don’t take us,’ that hit me — call me a traditionalist — it hit me the wrong way,” Smith said. “I decided I was not going to play this game with them and I flipped it, in my view, to an unknown where they didn’t know what I’m going to do or how this is going to unfold — they really didn’t.”
Prior to that draft, Manning and his crew told the Chargers he would not play for the team if they selected him. Despite that warning, the Chargers still took Manning, but managed to trade him almost immediately.
There’s a reason that Giants-Chargers trade came together so quickly. Smith says he leaked the exact time he was planning to call the Giants to initiate trade talks. Smith knew that information would get back to Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi, who could then take a few days to figure out what offers they would accept to get Manning. When Smith called, it didn’t come as a surprise to Accorsi. He was ready to make the deal.
In the end, it all worked out. Both Manning and Rivers have strong cases for the Hall of Fame. And while Smith — who retired in 2015 — never won a Super Bowl with Rivers, his 2004 draft planted the seeds that would take the Chargers to the playoffs six times over the next 10 seasons.
While Smith is out of the game, Rivers is still around. If Rivers can win a Super Bowl in one of his final seasons, maybe Smith will have a new “most satisfying moment” of his career.
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