When Eli Manning was traded for Philip Rivers on draft day in 2004, there was probably nobody who enjoyed it more than A.J. Smith.
The draft-day trade involving quarterbacks Eli Manning and Philip Rivers was a monumental move that helped shape the course of NFL history. It was also a joyous occasion for former Chargers general manager A.J. Smith.
In an SB Nation story by Andy Stites examining the deal, Smith explains how the deal with the Giants that was centered on swapping the quarterbacks taken with the No. 1 and No. 3 picks provided ultimate gratification.
Smith didn’t have to trade Manning. He could’ve avoided him and drafted Philip Rivers with the No. 1 pick instead. He also could’ve dug in his heels and made Manning choose between playing in San Diego or sitting out a year and re-entering the NFL Draft in 2005.
How it played out instead worked out very well for the Chargers.
"When I heard emphatically from Tom Condon and Archie Manning 'don't take us,' that hit me—call me a traditionalist—it hit me the wrong way," Smith said. "I decided I was not going to play this game with them and I flipped it, in my view, to an unknown where they didn't know what I'm going to do or how this is going to unfold—they really didn't.
"[The trade] was the most satisfying moment for me in my career and I really mean that. I would say that if I was ever fortunate to win a Super Bowl, I'm sure it would've trumped that, but I don't know that. I gotta tell you there was a lot of highs and lows in the business, but that moment was the greatest high for me as an executive for an organization."
In addition to getting back Rivers, the Chargers also received two draft picks. They used a third-round selection in 2004 to take kicker Nate Kaeding, who reached two Pro Bowls and an All-Pro team during his nine years with the Chargers. They also got a 2005 first-round pick that was used to select Shawn Merriman at No. 12. Merriman reached the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons, earned the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year and was named an All-Pro in his second season.
Manning and Rivers both put together careers that will likely land them in the Hall of Fame, but Manning's two Super Bowl MVPs loom large in the debate between over who has been more successful. Although Rivers has won all three of the regular season matchups the quarterbacks had.
Smith, who started with the Chargers in 2003, stayed with the club for 10 years. The squad went 95-65 during his tenure, reached the postseason five times but never got further than the AFC championship.