Former Chargers GM says trading Eli Manning was the 'most satisfying moment' of career

In 2004, the New York Giants and the Los Angeles Chargers made a trade that would forever change the course of both franchises. Moments after the Chargers selected Eli Manning with the first pick in the NFL draft, the team traded him to the Giants for Philip Rivers.

That deal had massive repercussions for both clubs. The Chargers used the extra picks to build a consistent winner around Rivers. The Giants held on to Osi Umenyiora, whose pass-rushing prowess helped Manning lead the team to two Super Bowl wins.

While both teams benefitted greatly, the Chargers never won the Super Bowl under general manager A.J. Smith. Despite that, Smith says trading away Manning was “the most satisfying moment for me in my career,” according to SB Nation.

“[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.”

As Smith explains, the deal netted the Chargers with enough draft picks to select Shawne Merriman and kicker Nate Kaeding. Both guys played big roles in the team’s success from 2004 to 2009.

More importantly, though, Smith was happy he took some of the power away from Manning and his agent, Tom Condon.

“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.”

Prior to that draft, Manning and his crew told the Chargers he would not play for the team if they selected him. Despite that warning, the Chargers still took Manning, but managed to trade him almost immediately.

There’s a reason that Giants-Chargers trade came together so quickly. Smith says he leaked the exact time he was planning to call the Giants to initiate trade talks. Smith knew that information would get back to Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi, who could then take a few days to figure out what offers they would accept to get Manning. When Smith called, it didn’t come as a surprise to Accorsi. He was ready to make the deal.

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Eli Manning through his career
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Eli Manning through his career
University of Mississippi quarterback Eli Manning (R) greets Oklahoma State Cowboys quarterback Josh Fields after the Rebels defeated the Cowboys 31-28 at the 68th Cotton Bowl Classic in Dallas, Texas, January 2, 2004. Manning passed for 259 yards. REUTERS/Jeff Mitchell JM
Quarterback Eli Manning (L), from the University of Mississippi, stands with his brother, NFL quarterback Payton Manning, after Eli was chosen as the first overall pick in the NFL Draft, at Madison Square Garden in New York, April 24, 2004. Manning was originally selected by the San Diego Chargers, who then traded him to the New York Giants shortly afterwards for future draft picks. REUTERS/Chip East MS/HB
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10), the first choice in the 2004 National Football League draft, listens to Offensive Coordinator John Hufnagel (L) as he works out on the first day of the Giants Mandatory Mini-Camp at the Giants practice facility next to Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, May 7, 2004. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine RFS
New York Giants starting quarterback Eli Manning throws a pass during the second quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, November 21, 2004. Manning, this season's number 1 overall NFL draft pick, was making his first start for the Giants replacing Kurt Warner who started the Giants' first nine games of the season. REUTERS/Mike Segar MS
New York Giants quarterback Manning celebrates throwing a touchdown pass next to Arizona Cardinals Okeafor in East Rutherford. New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (R) celebrates throwing a touchdown pass next to Arizona Cardinals Chike Okeafor (L) during first quarter action in their NFL game in East Rutherford September 11, 2005. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning throws against the Washington Redskins in the first half of their NFL game in Landover, Maryland, December 24, 2005. Washington defeated New York 35-20. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning (L) talks with his brother, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, following their NFL football game in East Rutherford September 10, 2006. The game was the first time the brothers played against each other as quarterbacks in the NFL. Indianapolis defeated New York. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz (UNITED STATES)
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning tries to evade a tackle by Dallas Cowboys linebacker Demarcus Ware (R) in the fourth quarter of their NFL footall game in East Rutherford, New Jersey, December 3, 2006. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine (UNITED STATES)
New York Giants' quarterback Eli Manning (10) rolls out of the pocket during second quarter of his team's NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, New York December 23, 2007. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid (UNITED STATES)
New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin (L) stands with quarterback Eli Manning before their NFC Divisional NFL playoff football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Irving, Texas, January 13, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Stone (UNITED STATES)
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning is interviewed by the NFL Network during press conference in Phoenix, Arizona, January 28, 2008. The Giants will play the undefeated New England Patriots in the National Football League's Super Bowl XLII in Glendale, Arizona, February 3, 2008. REUTERS/Jeff Topping (UNITED STATES)
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) celebrates after his touchdown pass to teammate David Tyree (not pictured) in the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots in the NFL's Super Bowl XLII football game in Glendale, Arizona, February 3, 2008. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES)
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning holds up the Vince Lombardi Trophy during his team's ticker tape Super Bowl victory parade through the Canyon of Heroes along Broadway in New York February 5, 2008. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES)
New York Giants Eli Manning looks on as time expires during the fourth quarter of their NFL football game loss to the Cleveland Browns in Cleveland, Ohio October 13, 2008. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk (UNITED STATES)
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning and his wife Abby McGrew watch the match between Andy Roddick and John Isner at the U.S. Open tennis championship in New York, September 5, 2009. REUTERS/David Gray (UNITED STATES SPORT TENNIS ENTERTAINMENT)
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning celebrates throwing a touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks against the Carolina Panthers during the first quarter in their NFL football game in East Rutherford, New Jersey, September 12, 2010. The touchdown was the first scored during a regular season game in the Giants new stadium. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning waves as he leaves the field after the Giants defeated the Dallas Cowboys in their NFL football game in East Rutherford, New Jersey, January 1, 2012. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning addresses the media during a news conference for the Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis January 30, 2012. The Giants will play against the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl on February 5. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning holds the Vince Lombardi Trophy after the Giants defeated the New England Patriots in the NFL Super Bowl XLVI football game in Indianapolis, Indiana, February 5, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning passes against the New York Jets during the first quarter of their pre-season NFL football game in East Rutherford, New Jersey August 18, 2012. REUTERS/Adam Hunger (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (L) stands with teammate Lawrence Tynes in the final minutes of their NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles in East Rutherford, New Jersey, December 30, 2012. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
May 4, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning watch the game between the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 9, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) hands off the ball to New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings (23) in the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 28, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) reacts after a touchdown was called back on a holding penalty during the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 1, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) before a game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 5, 2016; San Francisco, CA, USA; From left Benjamin Watson , Eli Manning , Anquan Boldin stand with their awards during the Walter Payton man of the year press conference at Moscone Center in advance of Super Bowl 50 between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 20, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) drops back to pass against the Chicago Bears during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 10, 2017; Arlington, TX, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) leaves the field after the game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 5, 2017; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) reacts after a play against the New York Giants during the second half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports
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In the end, it all worked out. Both Manning and Rivers have strong cases for the Hall of Fame. And while Smith — who retired in 2015 — never won a Super Bowl with Rivers, his 2004 draft planted the seeds that would take the Chargers to the playoffs six times over the next 10 seasons.

While Smith is out of the game, Rivers is still around. If Rivers can win a Super Bowl in one of his final seasons, maybe Smith will have a new “most satisfying moment” of his career.

———

Chris Cwik is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

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