- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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Barring a blockbuster trade offer involving multiple draft choices, the Chargers plan to stay at the No. 1 pick and make a selection.
That's the word coming out of the Chargers camp after a busy week in which general manager A.J. Smith, coach Marty Schottenheimer and other key members of the Chargers brass traversed the country working out and visiting with quarterbacks Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers. They could take a quarterback. They could take Iowa left tackle Robert Gallery.
Those decisions haven't been made. The plan for the Chargers is to work on the rest of the draft and wait for trade phone calls by April 14, 10 days before the NFL draft starts. If the right combinations of draft choices are offered -- and the offer has to be high -- the Chargers will then determine whether to make the trade or just select.
If the Chargers take Manning or a quarterback, the Raiders could select Gallery or trade down to take a wide receiver. The Cardinals will lean toward selecting Pitt wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald with the third pick in the round. The Giants could get Roethlisberger if he slips past the top three teams. The Redskins may lean toward picking Miami safety Sean Taylor over Miami tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., particularly if Winslow chooses the Poston brothers as his agents.
The Redskins currently have a grievance against them filed by the Postons for what they claim is a missing $6.5 million roster bonus in a restructuring of linebacker LaVar Arrington's contract.
All of this top of the draft intrigue is new to Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer, whose teams normally are in playoff contention and draft low in the first round.
"This is unchartered waters for me," said Schottenheimer, coming off his first last-place finish in 18 years as a head coach. "We have to make the very, very best decision that we can. I think what you have to do is what's in the best interest of the franchise. If the decision is to take a quarterback, I highly endorse it."
Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil offers an interesting observation on picking No. 1 in this particular draft.
"There is more risk not to draft Eli Manning first than there is to draft him first," Vermeil said.
Like the CSI and Law and Order series on television, the Manning name is an established franchise of success. Father Archie was a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback on bad Saints team. Peyton Manning is the Colts franchise player making $14 million a year. It's hard to make a case from his college record that Eli Manning will be a failure.
"I have no idea what we are going to do," Schottenheimer said. Smith plans to focus on narrowing his first selection over the next two weeks.
"We had the opportunity to make our trips," Schottenheimer said. "The thing I find unique about it is that every one of those guys is different. Ben Roethlisberger is a
giant of a guy, a terrific athlete. He reminds me of a (Daunte) Culpepper or a (Steve) McNair. He just has a rocket of an arm and had a terrific workout. Eli is very cerebral. In my mind, he has a very natural, fluid motion. Philip Rivers, who we coached in the Senior Bowl, has a demeanor about him, a presence. We have no reservations about the throwing motion, which is some topic that's been discussed."
Still, the Chargers have a stigma about taking quarterbacks toward the top of the draft. Ryan Leaf was a disaster that set the franchise back for years. The Chargers traded away the chance to draft Michael Vick.
"History and statistics tell you they (the three quarterbacks) can't all be really good players in this league," Schottenheimer said. "But this may be like the draft of '83 where I think the three guys can be."
Schottenheimer sent playbooks to the quarterbacking trio so that he would be able to test their knowledge of the Chargers offense when they met last week. Manning, Roethlisberger and Rivers apparently passed the knowledge tests.
From his voice, though, you can hear Schottenheimer's love for Roethlisberger's athletic skills. Manning might be the real deal, but despite coming from a small school of Miami of Ohio, Roethlisberger has big-time skills.
"I was amazed at the athletic ability of Roethlisberger for a
man that size," Schottenheimer said. "He is a big man, 6-foot-5, 230 pounds. I think mechanically he's solid. The conditions were pretty tough the day we worked out. He's a guy that can go out and play in rugged weather and it isn't going to bother him. Of course, in San Diego, we don't worry too much."
The Raiders don't appear to be in the market for a quarterback. Raiders coach Norv Turner said Rich Gannon appears to be coming back well from shoulder surgery. His arm strength will be tested during minicamps and offseason workouts, but Turner doesn't envision any problems, noting that Gannon is one year removed from being league MVP.
"We're in the process of evaluating, and there are certainly
quarterbacks that you can take in that pick," Turner said of the draft. "There's receivers you could take in that pick. There are safeties. There are some really good football players. I was just visiting with Denny Green. Some years you look and you say by the third
or fourth pick you're not sure you're going to get a great player. I think guys
picking seventh and eighth are going to get a great player this year. That
gives you a lot of leeway and a lot of opinions."
Reporters pointed out Turner's omission of Gallery, who could end up being the Raiders next great left tackle.
"There certainly is," Turner said when asked if a left tackle is one of those top players. "There is. There absolutely is. I apologize for omitting that."
Green, the new Cardinals coach with the third choice in the draft, said the Cardinals aren't in the market for a quarterback. They believe in Josh McCown.
"The last three games of last season, Josh rose up and did such a great job," Green said. "I think he's going to lead our football team. He's athletic. He's got good size. He's smart. Players have a lot of faith in his ability."
Green compares McCown athletically to Jake Plummer, but he mentions McCown had a little legend grow about him at the scouting combine in Indianapolis a couple of years ago. McCown threw 60 consecutive deep passes on the mark during that combine, Green said.
Most people believe Green has to select Fitzgerald, his former Vikings ball boy and the receiver considered to be the best in the draft. Even though the Cardinals were draft heavy for receivers last year, Fitzgerald is a special player who might be hard to pass up.
"We have to make up our minds to be a top five offense," Green said. "We can come out of the draft with a good receiver whether it's in the first, second or third round."
Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi doesn't discuss draftable players before the draft, but it's pretty clear the organization likes Manning and Roethlisberger. Gallery is a natural fit for their offensive line needs, but he may not be available at the fourth pick.
It's believed the Giants would be willing to trade up. The Chargers haven't heard from them yet. The Chargers will research past trades involving similar moves and would ask for compensation at the high end, which might mean the Giants would have to give up a second, a third and maybe more.
Expect the Chargers to make a pick and not trade down.
John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.
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