Manning Trade Almost Ensures a Long Year for Chargers
By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 4, 2004; 12:07 PM
The Eli Manning trade was the right thing for the San Diego Chargers. Whether it was the right thing for Coach Marty Schottenheimer is an entirely different matter.
The Chargers have launched a full-fledged rebuilding, whether they will admit it or not. And the chances are good that their Opening Day starting quarterback will be rookie Philip Rivers, the N.C. State product they obtained -- along with a slew of draft choices -- in their draft-day trade that sent Manning to the New York Giants. But developing Rivers probably will benefit the next Chargers coach, not Schottenheimer, who has gone 6-19 since winning six of his first seven games in San Diego in 2002. Schottenheimer's teams (the 1998 Kansas City Chiefs, the 2001 Redskins and the 2002-2003 Chargers) are 27-37 in his last four seasons as an NFL head coach. He last had a winning record in 1997, his next-to-last season in Kansas City before a two-year sabbatical from coaching.
If Schottenheimer indeed is facing a win-or-else season to save his job, the best thing the Chargers could have done on draft day to help him would have been to use the top overall pick to rebuild their porous offensive line by selecting Iowa left tackle Robert Gallery. But General Manager A.J. Smith is charged with serving the long-term best interests of the franchise, and the Manning-Rivers trade appears to have accomplished that. Even before the Manning family informed Smith that Eli did not want to play in San Diego, there was a widespread belief around the league that the Chargers regarded Rivers as a prospect on at least equal footing with Manning and Miami, Ohio's Ben Roethlisberger. The Manning family's stance perhaps allowed the Chargers, public relations-wise, to do what they wanted to do all along -- trade down to end up with Rivers and extra draft selections.
Smith played his draft-day cards well, choosing Manning with the top choice and not agreeing to the trade until the Giants were on the clock for the fourth pick. Smith got a premium price for Manning -- Rivers, a third-round selection and first- and fifth-round choices next year. With the Giants coming off a 4-12 season and apparently committed to enduring Manning's rookie-year mistakes by playing him often this season, New York's first-round pick in 2005 could be a prized one. And, by waiting, Smith also made Manning endure about 45 minutes as a Charger. The trade was made on Smith's terms, not the Mannings'.
What the Chargers did with some of their other draft choices -- including using a third-round pick on a kicker, Iowa's Nate Kaeding -- was debatable. But they added a defensive tackle in the second round, Oregon's Igor Olshansky, who should contribute immediately, and they got good value with two fifth-round selections, UCLA defensive end Dave Ball and Northern Illinois tailback Michael Turner.
Rivers probably enters the NFL as a more polished quarterback than Manning or Roethlisberger, although Schottenheimer might regret questioning -- as part of the pre-draft buildup in which both the Chargers and Giants were downplaying the chances of a trade -- whether Rivers's collegiate success was a product of his offensive system, and concluding that Rivers was no Eli Manning.
Rivers has the maturity to attain NFL success quicker than any of his quarterback brethren in this year's draft. But playing for these Chargers would be tough for any quarterback, much less a rookie. Rivers will be able to hand the ball to LaDainian Tomlinson, one of the league's top two or three runners. But the offensive line didn't get the patching up that it needed, as the Chargers' previous would-be quarterback of the future, Drew Brees, pointed out publicly after the draft. And San Diego traded away its only receiver who scared defenses, sending wideout David Boston to the Miami Dolphins for only a sixth-round pick next year and cornerback Jamar Fletcher. The pairing of Boston and Schottenheimer was ill-conceived from the outset, and it shouldn't have surprised anyone when Boston clashed with the coaching staff in San Diego.
Anyone who ever has been to San Diego knows it would take a very bad football team indeed to lead a young quarterback to conclude that he didn't want any part of playing in such an idyllic place. These Chargers certainly qualify, and their immediate prospects for improving don't look promising.
Around the League
The chances of Eddie George remaining with the Tennessee Titans increased when the veteran tailback had what was described as a productive meeting Thursday with Coach Jeff Fisher and General Manager Floyd Reese. George's agent, Lamont Smith, participated by telephone hookup.
Fisher and Reese still are attempting to work out a restructured contract with George and Smith that would keep the Titans from releasing George. The situation likely won't be resolved for several more weeks.
Gardener in Cincinnati for Physical
Defensive tackle Daryl Gardener, released Wednesday by Denver, is scheduled to be in Cincinnati today to undergo a physical for the Bengals. If Gardener, who has a history of back troubles, passes the physical, he will sign the four-year, $9.3 million contract that he and agent Neil Schwartz lined up with the Bengals when the Broncos gave them permission to negotiate with other teams.
Huard Reaches Deal With Chiefs
Free agent quarterback Damon Huard reached a contract agreement with Kansas City. Huard, formerly Tom Brady's backup in New England, likely will compete with Todd Collins for the Chiefs' No. 2 spot behind Trent Green. The Patriots, after failing to sign Vinny Testaverde, have Rohan Davey penciled in to back up Brady.
Testaverde Is Not Assuming He'll Start for Cowboys
Quincy Carter quarterbacked the Dallas Cowboys to the playoffs last season, yet most people around the league assumed when the offseason began that the club would attempt to upgrade at the position. The Cowboys might have gotten their quarterback of the future when they traded for Drew Henson in March. And they might have gotten their quarterback of the present Thursday when they signed Testaverde, two days after he was released by the New York Jets.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said at Testaverde's introductory news conference at the club's training facility: "This just makes us better at the quarterback position.''
Testaverde turns 41 in November, yet his passer rating with the Jets last season (90.6) would have placed him sixth in the NFL if he had qualified for the rankings. Carter threw more interceptions (21) than touchdowns passes (17) and was the NFL's 24th-rated passer last season, at 71.4.
Few around the league would be surprised if Testaverde wins the Cowboys' starting job to open the season. He had his career-best season in 1998 with the Jets while playing for Bill Parcells, now the Cowboys' coach. But Testaverde said that, while he and agent Michael Azzarelli sought and received assurances that he'd be allowed to compete for the job, he doesn't assume he'll be the starter.
"I don't know if there's an edge,'' Testaverde said. "I really only played one year for Bill. I got hurt the next year [in the 1999 season opener]. Quincy played one year for Bill. The best man will start, and that will help this football team.''
Still, Testaverde said he signed with the Cowboys because of Parcells, just as he once signed with the Jets because of Parcells.
"Not everybody who plays for Bill Parcells likes him,'' Testaverde said. "But they all respect him and his desire to win. . . . He's tough, but he's fair. And that's all you can ask for as a player. . . . He's a very disciplined coach that demands results. As a quarterback, it makes your job easier because you don't have to be on everyone to do their jobs.''
Testaverde signed a one-year contract with Dallas but did not indicate he was intent upon retiring after his 18th NFL season.
"Players are understanding what it takes to have that longevity and play well,'' he said. "There's better knowledge now than there was 10 or 15 years ago. . . . I've always said if I'm happy playing the game and I'm healthy, I'm going to continue playing as long as I can.''
Hutchinson Appears to be the Odd Man Out in Dallas
Jones did nothing to defuse the notion that the Cowboys eventually might release quarterback Chad Hutchinson. They currently have five quarterbacks on their roster, including Tony Romo. Hutchinson was in Birmingham, Ala., on Thursday, having the shoulder injury that he suffered in NFL Europe evaluated by orthopedist James Andrews.
"Five quarterbacks on the roster are more than you can work with,'' Jones said. "We'll have to address that in the future." . . .
The contract extension that Coach John Fox signed with the Carolina Panthers apparently triples his annual salary, from about $1 million to about $3 million. The Panthers essentially discarded the remaining two seasons on Fox's deal and gave him a new five-year contract that runs through the 2008 season as a reward for leading the team to the Super Bowl last season. The club now will likely turn its negotiating focus to a new deal with an equally handsome raise for quarterback Jake Delhomme.
Warner Sees No Problems Working With Manning
During his introductory news conference with the Giants on Thursday, just-signed quarterback Kurt Warner said he foresaw no problems getting along with Manning even though the two will be vying for playing time.
"I don't know a lot about Eli ... [but] I don't think there's going to be any problem with us coexisting,'' Warner said. "As long as you both take a team approach, there's never any problem coexisting. I'm sure it's going to be a great relationship.''
The Giants seem committed to giving Manning extensive playing time this season but promised Warner a chance to compete for the starting job and could open the season with the two-time league most valuable player at the helm. Warner said he will embrace his mentor role but he also wants to play.
His two-year contract with the Giants seems likely to end up as a one-year, $3.5 million deal. The second season can be voided and contains a $6 million salary. Still, Warner said he envisions playing four or five more seasons in the NFL and he isn't necessarily looking to change teams again next offseason.
"I would love for this to be where I finish my career,'' he said. "I don't want to keep picking up my family and moving.''
He was winless in his last eight starts over his final two seasons with the St. Louis Rams before his release on Tuesday. Still, he insisted that he's healthy now and still can play. He said his skills haven't diminished "at all,'' and he called his time in St. Louis the "best six years of my life.''
Said Warner: "I know what I'm capable of doing. I know where I was coming into last season. . . . You're always disappointed when a marriage, so to speak, ends like that. You would love to ride off into the sunset. Unfortunately that didn't happen. . . . It's a new time now. It's a new chapter, and we're excited about it.''
Warner said he'd known for about a week that he'd sign with the Giants. The Rams had given him permission to talk to other teams, and he visited the Giants last month. He was the Giants' second choice to help tutor Manning. Neil O'Donnell passed on the job and retired.
Kittner Keeps His Bags Packed
Kurt Kittner's whirlwind offseason tour of the league continues. He was waived by Atlanta and claimed by Cincinnati, then waived by the Bengals and claimed by the Giants, then waived by New York to create a roster spot for Warner.
Next: San Francisco 49ers
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