New York — In one of the strongest drafts in years, perhaps decades, any of a handful of players could go on top. Eli Manning would prefer not to be No. 1 -- unless the San Diego Chargers trade the pick.
Manning appears the clear-cut choice to be the first name announced by NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue today. The Mississippi quarterback, through his father, Archie, and his agent, has made it just as clear he doesn't want to play for the Chargers.
Manning, brother of Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning, the first overall choice in 1998, even has hinted he would sit out the 2004 season if San Diego selected him and didn't then deal him elsewhere.
Did someone say John Elway, who made the same threats to the Colts, eventually forcing a trade to Denver in 1983?
"We've made all our comments. I'm not in control of what happens next," Eli Manning said Friday. "My dad has said it all. I just have to sit and wait. We felt strongly about this. We didn't plan on it becoming public, and it is something we have to deal with."
Manning's stand has added more juice to the NFL's offseason showcase event. Throw in a sensational crop of wide receivers, a strong collection of defensive backs and depth at many positions, and this weekend's proceedings should be intriguing.
A number of teams, particularly the Giants (No. 4), Redskins (No. 5) and Browns (No. 7), are enamored of Iowa tackle Robert Gallery. They also believe he won't last beyond the first three picks, so each team has spoken to San Diego about the first overall spot.
Late Friday, a source within the NFL, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Cleveland had a made a strong offer to San Diego to get the No. 1 pick, but that the Chargers were concerned because that could allow the division rival Oakland Raiders to take Manning at No. 2.
The source said the Giants were willing to include quarterback Kerry Collins in a deal. Collins has said he would demand a new contract if that happened.