- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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INDIANAPOLIS -- For three weeks, thoughts of drafting a quarterback with the first pick in the NFL draft weren't even in the minds of the San Diego Chargers. Their hope was to sign Mark Brunell in free agency if the Jaguars cut him.
But in the end, the Chargers didn't have a prayer. Brunell, who is deeply religious, had an immediate bond with new Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, a devote Christian himself. On Thursday night, Brunell and the Redskins arrived at a seven-year, $43.3 million deal. The Jaguars will trade Brunell to the Redskins on March 3.
Where do the Chargers go from here? Let the quarterback battle between Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger begin. With no other free agent or veteran quarterback in mind, the Chargers will turn their attention to looking at making Manning or Roethlisberger No. 1.
"We think Drew Brees is a fine young quarterback, but we're always looking to upgrade," Chargers general manager A.J. Smith said. "We're not flying under the radar with this. We've stated we're looking for a quarterback. He's a big boy. He can handle all these things. Doug Flutie's been around for a long, long time. He's been with other teams. He can handle it. Sometimes people get their feelings hurt because you say you're looking in the direction of their position. The position we took is that we're looking."
No matter what you hear coming out of San Diego, there aren't any veteran quarterbacks that interest the Chargers. Brunell was it. They loved his leadership. They loved his mobility. Unfortunately for them, the Redskins spoiled their chance to recruit him.
The current Chargers plan is to lower the $5.5 million salary of Flutie to closer to the $760,000 minimum and keep him around. Brees's future will be in limbo while the Chargers study Manning and Roethlisberger intensely, while also fielding trade offers for the top pick.
"In the draft, all the attention is on us because there are some outstanding quarterbacks available, and we have the first pick," Smith said. "So we'll just see how it unfolds."
The Manning name just seems like it belongs at the top of the draft. Father Archie was a great quarterback. Brother Peyton was the top selection and was the NFL's co-MVP last season. Now it's Eli's turn.
It will up to the Chargers to determine if Manning is the No. 1 pick, but the name alone makes fans believe he will be the top pick.
"That's what you hear; you try not to listen to things," Manning said. "It's hard not to here when you see your name as a possible 1 or 2. I've still got a lot of work to do. I've still got a bunch of interviews to do and then I have my workout to do. All I can do is control what I can do. What I can do is try and go out and have a good workout. There are a lot of good players. It just depends on what the team needs.
"You don't know if San Diego wants to draft a receiver or whatever else they need as a team or if they're going to trade or what happens. So, I don't worry about being first. I just worry about my business and try to go out there and do the best interviews and the best throwing and workout I can do."
Isn't that typical of a Manning. The answers are always polite. Dealing in speculation isn't in Manning's genes. And when it comes down to preparation, everything is done meticulously.
"When it comes to studying film and working out and doing all these things, I'm just as competitive as he is," Eli said. "I want to win. I want to be a great quarterback. I want to be the best. When it comes to that stuff, I watch a lot film. That's just from learning from him and how to watch film and preparing yourself. We're similar in that way. We have different personalities. I watch film and know what the defense is doing and Peyton will also read the media guide and find out where every player went to college and high school also."
Bit it's not just the Manning show at the top of the draft. Roethlisberger is bigger and stronger than Eli. Manning came in at 6-4 1/2, 221 pounds. Roethlisberger is 6-4 7/8 and 240 pounds. Sounds similar to the Leaf-Manning debate six years ago with the exception that Leaf came from big-time conference (Pac 10) after playing for a Washington State team that went to the Rose Bowl. Roethlisberger went to a MAC school, Miami of Ohio.
"It's a big knock on myself that we play in the MAC, but then I just say look at Byron Leftwich, Randy Moss, Chad Pennington (all former Marshall players)," Roethlisberger said. "They've done it and they're doing it now. They kind of paved the road for people like myself."
The first thing he has to do is get people to learn his name. Nobody mispronounces or misspells Manning.
"It's misspelled or mispronounced quite a few times," Roethlisberger said. "It's German."
His goal is make sure the commissioner Paul Tagliabue pronounces it right when the Chargers are on the clock during draft day.
The failure of Leaf, though, has left a lasting impression on the Chargers. They traded away the chance to draft Michael Vick, partly because they weren't sure in their mind that Vick could be a great quarterback. Releasing Leaf after three seasons and taking the cap hit set the Chargers back for years.
"Personally, that has nothing to do with it," A.J. Smith said. "I was not in San Diego with the Ryan Leaf situation. I talked to ownership about that before I became general manager. We went over a lot of other things. If we feel there is a top quarterback with the first pick, that's the decision we'll make."
The fact that the Chargers would have signed Brunell shows that drafting a quarterback wasn't their No. 1 goal at the beginning of the offseason. But it looks like it is now.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
With Mark Brunell off the market, expect the Chargers to turn their attention to QBs with the top pick in the draft.