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Fielder's Choice

In Defense of Eli

A look at how the New York Giants’ 2004 draft day trade for Eli Manning impacted his legacy in the court of public opinion.

Eli Manning - New York Giants by Mike Lizzi is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In Defense of Eli

Estimated Reading Time: 3 Minutes

Eli Manning is not the greatest Quarterback in the history of football.

However, Eli Manning is one of the greatest Quarterbacks to ever play the game. So why does the legendary former Giant signal-caller receive so much criticism? Why does he receive so little love when discussion of the all-time greats takes place?

I believe it has less to do with Eli’s play on the field and stems directly from Eli’s refusal in the spring of 2004 to accept the fact that the San Diego Chargers had the first pick in that year’s draft. San Diego was the one team that Manning did not want to play for. Allegedly because of the organization’s sordid past with Quarterbacks. See Drew Brees and Ryan Leaf. You forgot Brees was a Charger? I’ll wager he wishes he could.

Not a Lot of Help

As an admittedly biased fan of the New York Football Giants, I have seen just about every pass that Eli Manning has ever thrown. They were not all gorgeously spun spirals like those that came out of John Elway’s hands. And his deep passes would never be confused with those of Mr. Rodgers in Green Bay. But they did get the job done a lot of the time.

People like to point to the interceptions. He does rank twelfth all-time in throwing the ball to the other team. But he has thrown the sixth-most passes all time. And so many of those picks tipped off the less than stellar hands of less than average receivers. The likes of Reuben Randle, Ramses Barden and Jerrel Jernigan, to name a few. You’ve never heard of them? I wish I hadn’t either.

He Won Football Games

People will point to his .500 record in the regular season. Thank you Miami. However, the number of times in his Giant career that Manning drove the team down the field in the fourth quarter to tie the game or give the Giants a lead; only to watch their, (too often during the Manning years) inept defensive unit rip defeat from the jaws of victory are too painful to count.

Two of these losses ended with the opposing kicker hitting a 60 plus yard field goal as time expired in back to back years. And let us not think about how many times Cowboys’ Tight End Jason Witten has done the G-Men in. Witten caught the game winning pass in the 2015 opener after the Cowboys drove 72 yards against a bumbling defense in 1:28 to beat New York.

The point is Manning often did more than enough for his team to win more than they did. After 2011, the Giants defense was simply never as good as the Quarterback. The defenses that Manning played with prior to 2012 won two Super Bowls. Those games featured two of Eli’s five postseason game-winning drives.

The Trade

This brings us back to the 2004 draft day trade that then Giant General Manager Ernie Accorsi felt he had to make. Accorsi had previously been spurned by John Elway in the world famous 1983 NFL Draft. In ’83, Accorsi was the GM of the Baltimore Colts and drafted Elway first overall. Elway never suited up for the Colts. He used baseball as leverage and forced a trade to the Denver Broncos.

If Accorsi had the first pick in the 2004 draft, he could have just taken Eli and there would have been no controversy. But the 2003 Giants beat the Jets in week 9 so a trade with the Chargers was necessary. Had that squad fallen to the Jets, the stigma of refusing to play for San Diego would not have been attached to Eli. He would simply be a two-time Super Bowl champion and MVP, ranked seventh all-time in yards, touchdowns and completions and the surefire, no doubt Hall of Famer that he is. One of the greatest Quarterbacks to ever play the game.

CJ LaRoche is currently a Masters student at the University of Florida, graduating with an M.S. in Sports Management with a concentration in Athlete Development in Spring, 2021. In addition, he is a passionate fan of the Mets, Giants, Rangers and the Knicks of New York.

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