Peyton Manning famously flirted with an early exit from college a year before actually declaring for the NFL Draft, but if he had fulfilled widespread expectations that he would skip his senior season at Tennessee, the New York Jets would have rushed to the podium to draft the future Hall of Famer. That's according to former coach Bill Parcells, who joined Peyton and Eli Manning's "Monday Night Football" broadcast of Buccaneers-Giants and confirmed he would've taken Peyton back in 1997.
The Jets, who had just hired Parcells weeks before Manning officially announced he would remain at Tennessee for his senior season, owned the No. 1 pick in the 1997 draft and desperately needed a QB following a three-year run with an aging Boomer Esiason. All signs pointed to New York honing in on Manning with the top pick before the esteemed Volunteers product delayed his NFL entry.
"We definitely would've drafted him," Parcells confirmed on Monday night, before joking that he would've benched Manning during his rookie season if he'd thrown as many picks as he did with the Colts the following year.
The Jets ultimately traded that No. 1 pick in 1997 to the Rams, who used it on future Hall of Fame lineman Orlando Pace; then traded down again with the Seahawks, who selected Walter Jones, another future Hall of Fame blocker. New York ended up taking linebacker James Farrior with its top pick (No. 8) and has been in search of a long-term franchise QB ever since.
While hindsight suggests the Jets were never not in on Manning as their potential No. 1 pick back then, previous reports indicated that Parcells never officially articulated his intentions to the Manning camp ahead of the 1997 draft. In any event, it's clear New York wished it could've had him.