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What if the Eli Manning-Philip Rivers trade never happened?

The 2016 NFL Draft is only a couple of weeks away, so now is as good of a time as ever to take a glimpse at the 2004 NFL Draft that included one of the most unique trades in NFL history. The trade involved Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, who have both become solid, above-average starting quarterbacks for the New York Giants and San Diego Chargers, respectively. But, what if the Eli Manning-Philip Rivers trade never happened?

In the days leading up to the 2004 draft, the Manning family — specifically Archie Manning — made it known that they wanted Eli to play for the Giants, not the Chargers. At the time, many fans felt that the younger Manning was being a crybaby and spoiled child of a former NFL player and brother of the older Peyton Manning. There is little doubt how much the Manning family meant to the NFL, but the pre-draft banter was something that made people cringe at the thought of Eli throwing his weight around and using his father as his mouthpiece.

The Chargers general manager was AJ Smith at the time, and he knew that his organization wanted to draft Eli with the first-overall pick in 2004. But a phone call from Eli’s agent, Tom Condon, made it clear what Manning’s intentions were.

“He told me that Archie wishes that we do not select Eli and that they think he would be a good fit in New York (with the Giants),” said Smith. “We understand his position and certainly understand his interest in New York, but we will do what we think is the best for the franchise, without a doubt . . .” 

“We had a good visit with Archie and expressed our vision for the future of this team and that there was a strong possibility that Eli might be picked by us with the first pick,” via the San Diego Union-Tribune.

One can only imagine how Rivers felt about the fiasco leading up to the draft that year, but not much came out of his camp about the Manning’s stance on not wanting to be a part of the Chargers’ organization. The only thing that could have made the draft a disaster that year is if Rivers would have talked at some point. Let’s face it, Rivers has become known for his passion and competitive nature on the field, so it wouldn’t have been a surprise if he would have shown even an ounce of anger about the predicament that he found himself in.

The overall feeling of that draft day was one filled with stress and confusion for the younger Manning, but it was brought on by his family and no one else.

“I guess it was maybe a little bit more stressful than the average draft just because of some of the circumstances,” Manning told Newsday. “The days leading up to it were stressful … There was a little 40-minute stretch after being drafted that was a little confusing, but I got traded to the Giants and was able to stay right here [in New York City] and go out to Giants Stadium at the time and see the crowds and meet the Tisch family, the Mara family, Coach [Tom] Coughlin and everybody and had a great time with my family and friends in New York City for a couple of days.”

“I don’t have any regrets about how it all worked out,” Manning said. “I thought draft day ended up being very happy,” via Newsday.

The situation was something that could have been avoided, and it might be the only time that a draft prospect’s feelings were made known about their lack of interest in being drafted by a certain NFL team.

If the draft day trade had never happened between the Chargers and Giants, how would it have affected each team?

Interestingly enough, Rivers and Manning have put up similar numbers for each of their teams. Rivers has 41,447 passing yards, 281 touchdowns, 135 interceptions and a career passer rating of 95.5. Manning has 44,191 passing yards, 294 touchdowns, 199 interceptions and a career passer rating of 83.5. Since being drafted, Rivers has played in 164 games for the Chargers and Manning has played in 185 for the Giants.

The biggest difference between the two quarterbacks is in Super Bowls won in their careers. Rivers has yet to lead the Chargers to the Big Game and Manning has already won two championships, but that is really all that separates the two that have been mentioned together more times than Mork and Mindy.

The Chargers gained multiple draft picks (2004 third-round, 2005 first-round and 2005 fifth-round) as part of the 2004 draft day trade, but two of those players chosen with the picks (Shawne Merriman and Roman Oben) failed to be productive for more than a couple of seasons with the team. They also selected kicker Nate Kaeding with the 2004 third-round pick that they gained, but he wasn’t worth the high price they paid for him even though he had a very successful rookie season for San Diego–and a decent career.

The Giants clearly won the 2004 trade, based off of the two Super Bowls that the team has won since then, but Rivers and Manning are two players that are very interchangeable. One could argue that both teams won that day — Manning wanted nothing to do with San Diego — and the Chargers played the hand that they were dealt in the process.

The biggest thing that sunk San Diego was the firing of coach Marty Schottenheimer following a 14-2 season in 2006, but a close second could be letting Drew Brees leave for the New Orleans Saints. All in all, the ripple effects run deep for both franchises, and they all began in 2004.

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