Let's begin this debate about who won the Eli Manning-Philip Rivers mega-deal -- the New York Giants or San Diego Chargers -- with an e-mail from one of the smartest general managers I have ever been around.
Giants GM Ernie Accorsi. In some ways it is a meticulous, blunt and historical look at that blockbuster 2004 deal that figures so prominently in Super Bowl XLII.
|Eli Manning's reward for winning in sub-zero Green Bay is a trip to Arizona for Super Bowl XLII vs. the Patriots. (Getty Images)|
Since kickers are a dime a dozen the deal is basically Manning for Rivers and Merriman.
Not only did the Giants win the trade, they won easily. Here is Accorsi's reasoning and why I think he's right, run in its entirety with only punctuation and spelling corrections added.
The e-mail began with me asking Accorsi what made him so convinced Manning would be worth the draft picks New York gave up to get him.
"We thought he was the best of the three then (Rivers, Manning and Ben Roethlisberger) and we think he's the best of three now," Accorsi wrote. "People who dwell on statistics in football, just cling to them because they can't evaluate QBs. The job is QB, not passer. Unitas and Namath didn't have good QB ratings. They threw a lot of interceptions because they took risks and had to carry their teams."
Indeed, if I had to choose the better quarterback of the three, it would be Manning, followed by Roethlisberger and Rivers. Manning, right now, is the better winner (which does seem insane since only a short time ago people were questioning Manning's leadership skills). But Manning has clearly entered another stratosphere, as sudden as that entrance has been, in terms of those leadership abilities.
"Manning is a winner," continued Accorsi, who is an avid sports historian and baseball fan. "He had proven that in a host of games before this run. Why do we determine whether pitchers belong in the Hall of Fame based on games won but that is not an ingredient of the QB rating? In my opinion, the QB has much more of an influence on the outcome of a game than the starting pitcher. With six minutes left in the fourth quarter, Eli can't turn the game over to Mariano Rivera. He has to finish the game."
"What difference does it make what we gave up?" Accorsi continued. "You better be right about the QB, but if you are, you can't overpay for a great QB and we think he's going to be a great QB. What would you give up for Elway? What would you give for Montana or Unitas? Just like you can't overpay a great player. Can you overpay for Mays or DiMaggio? That's all fodder."
This is where I disagree with Accorsi slightly. You can overpay for almost any player -- even a Montana or Unitas -- but only if you leave your team barren of talent and draft picks.
An example of this is the Herschel Walker trade. Dallas received six Minnesota draft picks for Walker. Then coach Jimmy Johnson used two of those picks to draft Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith and Pro Bowl defensive back Darren Woodson. Johnson used other picks to make a series of trades to acquire other talents like Russell Maryland. The Vikings were devastated by that deal for years because they drastically overpaid.
The Giants did not give up that kind of talent or picks. Not even close.
My friend Doyel might know college basketball better than anyone, as well as the thug-filled, cracked-jaw-fest that is the MMA, but one thing NFL media rooks like him forget when discussing the Giants-Chargers trade is this caveat: The Chargers wanted fierce defensive end Osi Umenyiora to be included in the deal.
Accorsi said hell no. It was the right move by Accorsi, and Umenyiora has been a force.
Who won the Eli Manning for Philip Rivers trade?
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Basically, if the Giants had given up Umenyiora, they might have drafted Merriman. What Accorsi said next is interesting -- and true.
"We didn't get Merriman," Accorsi said, "we led the league in sacks. Osi is better anyway."
And as far as we know Umenyiora never failed a performance-enhancing drug test the way Merriman has.
"These are the facts, in the fourth year the kid has us in the Super Bowl," said Accorsi. "He had a chance under adverse conditions on the road to win the game to get in the Super Bowl and he did it. The other guy didn't. Very simple. All the other arguments are just reasons to fill air time."
Again, a slight disagreement with Accorsi. Rivers was playing the New England Patriots, a better team than Manning's opponent, the Green Bay Packers. Also, Rivers was impressive by playing without an ACL in one of his knees.
And in Manning's defense, the physical conditions he played in were far worse than those Rivers faced. Manning's game was the Ice Bowl; Rivers by comparison played in the Nice Bowl.
The larger point Accorsi makes is nevertheless valid. To me, we have seen all of Rivers' upside. This is the best Rivers is going to be -- a good quarterback but not great. We might be witnessing just the early stages of Manning's rise from good to outstanding.
In other words, there is far more upside to Manning than Rivers and that in itself makes the trade worthwhile.
Rivers might one day reach the Super Bowl, too. I'm just not sure he can. However, we know Manning is capable. There are no more questions when it comes to him.
"Milt Davis, a corner who started for the Colts against the Giants in the '58 sudden death game in Yankee Stadium and now owns a doctor's degree, told me 38 years ago, 'Ernie, you judge a QB on one thing: Can he take his team down the field in the fourth quarter, from behind, with a title on the line and into the end zone. That's what matters.' I came (into the league) under Unitas and that's how I judge quarterbacks."
"All the people that still knock Eli better settle down for a long period of frustration," Accorsi said. "Because as his brother said today, 'Eli is going to a lot more Super Bowls.' Whether people like it or not."
And a lot of people -- fans and media -- are uncomfortable with the success of Eli Manning because they predicted he would never be any good.
"By the way, we drafted Rivers in order to make the trade because that is the QB San Diego wanted," Accorsi said. "We would not have drafted (Rivers). If we didn't make the trade, we would have drafted Roethlisberger. He was our second-rated QB."
Did the Giants win that trade with San Diego?
Yeah, they did, and it really wasn't all that close, either.