On April 24th, 2004, the San Diego Chargers selected Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning with the first overall pick. The Chargers swapped Manning to the Giants for their selection, Philip Rivers. The Giants third round pick in 2004 was also part of the trade, as well as their fourth and fifth round selections in 2005 were also part of the deal. Eli Manning went on to have an illustrious career, at least in the eyes of Giants fans. But, what if none of that happened? What if he stayed with the Chargers? What kind of career would he have had?
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Manning’s agent Tom Condon put San Diego in a precarious position. If they drafted Eli, he would sit out the entirety of the 2004 season. Whether Archie Manning or his agent is to blame for this predicament has been disputed for 16 years and both parties have been telling different sides of the same story. None of that matters in this scenario.
The immediate roster in 2004 included dynamic playmakers LaDanian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates. However, a young Drew Brees was still slinging it over in San Diego. In his best season as a Charger, Brees put up 65% completion, 3000+ yards, 27 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. This led them to a 12-4 record and a playoff berth. Brees would keep his starting position until he left in free agency, allowing Manning to supplant him in 2006.
A Bolt of Production
Fast forwarding to that point, Manning would fall into the perfect situation. Running back LaDanian Tomlinson won MVP in 2006 with a line of 1815 yards, 28 touchdowns (a league record), 5.2 yards per attempt, and 113.4 yards per game. Tomlinson presented elusiveness, speed, and overall dominance. Backed by great run blocking and the play-calling of Marty Schottenheimer, the Chargers finished with the number two ranked offense. Plugging Manning in here would offer more than Rivers had. Specifically in play-action, where Manning has a high volume of attempts in his career. Especially during Pat Shurmer’s tenure. When Shurmer was the Offensive Coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings, they ran the highest percentage of play-action passes (30 percent.) This trend continued as the Giants’ head coach in 2018.
Circling back to 2006, Shottenheimer was a coach ahead of his time, much like his mentor Mike Shanahan. With Manning as his quarterback, we could see the use of zone blocking, which was already in place in real life, to neutralize pressure. With the flow in the trenches flooding to the left, that leaves Manning tons of open space on the right side to make a play, primarily in Bootleg concepts. Manning’s history with this scheme as a Giant is spotty, but with better protection and a big framed, a fast weapon like Antonio Gates over the middle, it would work. Additionally, with a dynamic runner like Tomlinson setting up your play-action and creating space, not a lot can go wrong.
Along with the upside as a quarterback, Eli Manning would offer the Chargers his leadership and playoff pedigree. This toughness and determination would serve well as improvements for a team that couldn’t finish in the playoffs, from 2004-2009. It’s fun to think of Manning as a San Diego Charger, what do you think?
What it Means for the Giants
Short and simple. Would the Giant have ever brought home two Lombardi trophies without Eli? Who knows, but that is not a gamble that most Giants fans would be willing to take.