Accorsi's Legacy Tied to Manning's Development
By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 26, 2004; 2:51 PM
Has Ernie Accorsi's quarterback luck finally evened out? Is he, at last, on the right side of the belligerent-franchise-passer equation?
Only Eli Manning's development will answer those questions. Accorsi's legacy as a football executive will be determined by the success of Manning, the University of Mississippi quarterback selected by the San Diego Chargers with the top overall choice in last month's draft, then obtained by the New York Giants less than an hour later in a trade engineered by their general manager, Accorsi.
As GM of the Baltimore Colts in 1983, Accorsi chose Stanford quarterback John Elway with the top overall draft selection despite Elway's insistence that he wouldn't play in Baltimore. Without Accorsi's knowledge, Colts owner Robert Irsay traded Elway to the Denver Broncos. Two Super Bowl titles and 51,475 passing yards later, Elway will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer, and Accorsi was left with two decades' worth of regrets.
Those who were playing down the chances of a Giants-Chargers trade in the days before the draft ignored the fact that Accorsi simply could not let another prospective quarterback for the ages slip away. As Accorsi told Kerry Collins shortly before the Giants released him, he regards Manning as one of the best quarterback prospects to enter the league in years. He has acknowledged freely that he values would-be franchise quarterbacks in a way that many other talent evaluators around the league don't any more, not when last season's Super Bowl starters were a former sixth-round draft choice (New England's Tom Brady) and a former undrafted free agent (Carolina's Jake Delhomme).
Some in the league think Accorsi surrendered too much by trading a third-round choice last month and first- and fifth-round selections next year to the Chargers for Manning along with North Carolina State quarterback Philip Rivers, the fourth overall pick in the draft. But if Manning turns out to be the quarterback that Accorsi thinks he is, that will be long forgotten by the time that Manning takes his place alongside Elway in Canton, Ohio.
The irony is that the Giants got rid of a superb developer of quarterbacks -- including Elway -- when they fired Jim Fassel as coach in December. But while Fassel is regarded by most in the league as a solid coach and is likely to be back on an NFL sideline in a year after a season as a Baltimore Ravens consultant, it would be difficult to argue that it wasn't time for him to move on after eight straight losses left the Giants 4-12 last season.
Enter Tom Coughlin, the taskmaster who led the Jacksonville Jaguars to a pair of AFC title games. Some Giants players already are complaining about his methods, alerting the NFL Players Association to violations of the league's rules governing offseason workouts -- resulting in an investigation and a penalty, agreed upon by the union and NFL Management Council, of the club losing two days of workouts. But that controversy wasn't worth the amount of New York-centric attention that it received; the St. Louis Rams, after all, lost a week of offseason workouts for more serious violations last year.
What might be more important is that players reportedly are considering gathering off-site for workouts on their own during the two days that they are barred from the team's practice facility. A coach like Coughlin who pushes his players so hard often succeeds, at least until his ways become old and tired, because he forces players to unite against him. Other NFC East teams expect to see a far tougher, far more disciplined Giants club this season, and Coughlin even has reached out to temperamental tight end Jeremy Shockey.
Accorsi and Coughlin overhauled the roster, releasing middle linebacker Michael Barrow when he wouldn't rework his contract and cutting Collins when he refused to restructure his deal just after the Manning trade. Defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, linebackers Dhani Jones and Brandon Short, cornerback Ralph Brown and offensive tackle Chris Bober exited as free agents.
But the Giants upgraded at outside linebacker with the free-agent additions of Carlos Emmons and Barrett Green, and rebuilt the defensive line by signing tackles Fred Robbins, Martin Chase, Norman Hand and Glen Steele and end Lorenzo Bromell. Cornerback Terry Cousin came from the NFC champion Panthers, and the Giants did their best to patch up the offensive line by signing free agents Shaun O'Hara and Barry Stokes and using their second-round draft choice on Boston College guard Chris Snee. He will be under the spotlight because he is the father of Coughlin's grandchild, but others around the league say he is well worth the 34th overall pick that the Giants spent on him.
There still is work to be done, with the Giants hoping to sign two-time Most Valuable Player Kurt Warner after the quarterback's expected June release by the Rams. Warner would come on board to mentor Manning. He perhaps could open the season as the starter. But, make no mistake, this is all about Manning now. He will play a lot this season, whether he is the opening day starter or not, and the Giants are prepared to take their lumps with him. With the improvements made by the other NFC East teams, the Giants might have a tough time improving on that 4-12 record. But if Manning learns his NFL lessons quickly, the Giants could return to contender status soon thereafter and stay there for a long, long time.
Around the League
Clarett Not Giving Up
Maurice Clarett's attorney, Alan C. Milstein, filed a brief today seeking to have Clarett's case heard by the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. A three-judge panel of the court Monday reversed the February ruling by a federal judge that temporarily made Clarett -- and other college sophomores and freshmen and high school players -- eligible to enter last month's draft and play in the NFL this year. Clarett's camp seems prepared to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.
49ers Add Conway
The San Francisco 49ers continued to remake their Terrell Owens-less receiver corps late Tuesday by tentatively agreeing to a one-year contract with free agent Curtis Conway. The New York Jets released Conway in March. The Jets obtained the veteran last offseason in the wake of Laveranues Coles's defection to the Washington Redskins. But Conway became expendable after the Jets traded for Tennessee's Justin McCareins.
The 49ers have lost Owens and free agent wideout Tai Streets but used two early draft choices on wide receivers, first-rounder Rashaun Woods and third-rounder Derrick Hamilton.
Stewart Could Be Ravens Only Option
Unless Norv Turner is being cagey, the Ravens will have little choice but to sign free agent quarterback Kordell Stewart to back up Kyle Boller.
Turner, the Oakland Raiders' coach, said during a conference call Tuesday that Rich Gannon remains the club's starting quarterback even with Monday's signing of Collins to a three-year, $16 million contract. Many executives around the league had expected the signing of Collins to prompt the Raiders to release Gannon next month to clear $7 million in salary cap space. That might have led Gannon to reunite with former Raiders coach Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay, which in turn might have made Buccaneers quarterback Brad Johnson available for the Ravens. But if Gannon and Johnson don't hit the market, the Ravens' best option appears to be Stewart.
The Ravens are in discussions with Stewart's agent, Leigh Steinberg but say they probably won't sign anyone until after surveying the post-June 1 market.
Next: New York Jets
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