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Revisiting the 2004 Chargers-Giants Draft Day Trade

Did the San Diego Chargers make the right move, or the wrong move, when they traded Eli Manning to the New York Giants during the 2004 NFL Draft?

Rob Carr

When most people think of the 2004 NFL Draft, they think of the Ernie Accorsi and the New York Giants trading Philip Rivers to the San Diego Chargers for Eli Manning. When I think of that draft, and that trade, I can't help but think of Osi Umenyiora.

Who was involved

The New York Giants received:

  • Eli Manning, QB

The San Diego Chargers received:

  • Philip Rivers, QB
  • 2004 3rd round pick (Nate Kaeding, K)
  • 2005 1st round pick (Shawne Merriman, OLB)
  • 2005 5th round pick (traded to TB for Roman Oben, OT)

The Giants got one starter, just a hair better than Philip Rivers according to the scouting reports, and the Chargers got four. This trade was everything A.J. Smith was hoping for once he found out that the 4-12 San Diego Chargers had the first pick in the draft...well, almost everything.

Osi Umenyiora

The way Accorsi tells it, A.J. Smith was in love with Umenyiora.

The 2nd round selection out of Troy had started just 1 game in his rookie season, and had ended up with just 1 sack. Still, Smith knew a dominant pass-rusher when he saw one.

The trade the Chargers proposed to the Giants would've netted them Rivers, Umenyiora, the 2004 3rd round pick and the 2005 5th round pick. After some coaxing, Smith agreed to take the 2005 1st round pick in place of the defensive end.

How different would that trade have looked if it had gone according to Smith's plan? That's what always bugs me.

Umenyiora followed his rookie season with 74 sacks in 8 seasons. In Merriman's six years with the Chargers, he racked up 43.5 sacks. That's a gigantic difference.

The Quarterbacks

Let's compare the three first-round QBs from the 2005 draft.

  • Philip Rivers (75-49): 64.3% comp., 31,524 yds, 212 TDs, 102 INTs, 95.6 QB Rating
  • Eli Manning (83-64): 58.6% comp., 34,522 yds, 226 TDs, 162 INTs, 82.0 QB Rating
  • Ben Roethlisberger (92-46): 63.2% comp., 33,219 pass yds, 212 TDs, 118 INTs, 92.7 QB Rating

For what it's worth, heading into the draft I was rooting for the Chargers to trade down and pick Roethlisberger. I was wrong.

The clear winner is the Chargers, right? Not only did they get a QB that is very much on par with Manning and Roethlisberger, they got three other very good starters in the process. We can bash A.J. Smith for a lot of things, but this trade isn't one of them.

The Super Bowls

Oh, here we go. Philip Rivers has the best stats among the three QBs, but those two each have a couple of Super Bowl rings and Rivers has none.

Whose fault is it? Is Rivers just not as "clutch" as the other guys?

Well, when Roethlisberger made the Super Bowl, the Steelers' defense was ranked 3rd, 1st and 1st in the league.

When Eli Manning made it, the Giants' defense was ranked....well, they weren't very good during the season but their defensive line was dominant in the playoffs.

Both of those guys also got lucky. It takes a bit of luck to make it to the Super Bowl and win it. It's not all talent.

Philip Rivers' talent got the Chargers to 14-2, luck and a freaked-out kicker got him sent home. His talent got the Chargers to the AFC Championship Game against an undefeated team, but he lost his hall of fame tight end, hall of fame running back and his own ACL along the way.

The right call

If the game isn't blacked out on Sunday, fans will hear an awful lot about that trade on Sunday. Don't be surprised if someone argues that the Chargers lost out on the deal because Manning has been to the Super Bowl twice.

Eli Manning deserves credit. He comes through in big moments and he's not a terrible QB, not even mired in the middle of his worst season ever in 2013. However, Rivers has shown an ability to do the same when there's good coaching and a good team around him. It's easy to imagine the Giants still having two Super Bowl victories had they instead drafted Rivers or Roethlisberger.

All things told, the three QBs have all turned our great. That means that A.J. Smith won the trade by getting the most value of any of the three teams simply by trading down a few slots.