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Chargers insist they will follow their plan

The Chargers have the top pick in the draft. Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning is projected, by most accounts, as the top player available.

One problem -- Manning does not want to play for San Diego. He'd rather be in New York with the Giants, who have the fourth pick.

In fact, a source close to Manning told ESPN's Chris Mortensen that Manning is prepared to sit out the 2004 season if he is selected by the Chargers with the first pick. If Manning remained unsigned until next year's draft, he would go back into the draft in 2005.

Manning's agent, Tom Condon, informed the Chargers that Archie Manning does not want his son to be drafted by the team. Chargers general manager A.J. Smith confirmed the news Wednesday night, a day after the elder Manning visited team officials at the Chargers training complex.

"Tom Condon informed us about the wishes of Archie Manning in regards to his son, Eli," Smith told ESPN.com's John Clayton. "We had a good visit with Archie and we told him we may be selecting his son with the first pick in the draft. Tom told us Archie's wishes are that we not do that and that New York would be a good fit."

Mortensen reports that Condon informed the Chargers about the Mannings' feelings last week prior to Archie's visit. After hearing of the news, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue contacted the elder Manning and asked him to meet with Chargers president Dean Spanos.

Archie Manning wouldn't give specific reasons why San Diego was
asked to back off.

"I don't want the Chargers to be exposed in a negative way,"
he said Thursday during an NFL luncheon.

Spanos, according to Mortensen, met with Archie Manning and asked him to visit with Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer. But despite the visit this week, the former NFL quarterback remains convinced that San Diego is not a good fit for Eli -- although the Manning family did not want their feelings to be made public, according to Mortensen.

Archie Manning told the New York Daily News on Wednesday night that he was aware that the Chargers had decided to discuss the matter publicly.

"My understanding is the Chargers have said that. I'm not going to comment on it tonight," Manning told the newspaper. "I've got to huddle with Eli and Tom and see where we are on this thing. The only thing I'll say is I never talked to the Chargers about the Giants. I was asked to come to San Diego and see them."

Condon backed up Archie Manning's claim Thursday, saying he never apprised Chargers officials that Eli Manning wanted to be traded to the Giants. Instead, Condon insisted, he only noted the desires of the Manning family that the Chargers not choose Eli.

"Not once did I mention [the Giants]," Condon told ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli. "All I told them was, 'Archie has done a lot of research on this. He's talked to a lot of people around the league. And, basically, we just don't think it's a good fit for Eli.' End of story. I didn't express a desire that Eli play for the Giants or anyone else."

Will the Mannings' stance affect the Chargers' thinking going into the draft? Smith would not guarantee Condon that the team would grant Archie Manning's request.

"We told them we will do what will be in the best interest of the San Diego Chargers," Smith told Clayton.

Earlier this month, Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi called the Chargers to express an interest in trading up from the No. 4 pick to No. 1 in order to select the younger Manning.

A third team entered the bidding Wednesday for the first pick when the Browns called. Cleveland wants to move up and pick left tackle Robert Gallery of Iowa.

The Chargers face some interesting decisions. Do they trade the pick to the Giants, allowing them to take Manning and giving the impression that the player was dictating the draft? If they take Gallery or another player -- or if they trade with a team such as the Browns that wouldn't select Manning -- they would be giving Manning to their division rival, the Oakland Raiders.

"We haven't decided what we are going to do," Smith said. "We could stay there and pick. It could be Eli. It could be someone else. We will do what we think is best. For now, we are staying where we are and then see what develops over the next couple of days."

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Archie Manning has been doing background checks on the Chargers this month. The newspaper reported that Manning's actions aren't unusual -- he looked into various colleges before both Eli and Colts quarterback Peyton Manning went to school.

The elder Manning then met with team officials this week.

"It was an opportunity to just sit down and just visit," Schottenheimer told the Union-Tribune. "He came in around the late afternoon and left first thing this morning. I don't know that there was any quizzing going on. He wanted to visit with us, and we wanted to visit with him."

Archie Manning may fear that Eli will fall into the same situation that Archie suffered while quarterback of the downtrodden Saints in the 1970s. He played in the NFL for 14 years, 11 of them with the Saints, without ever making the playoffs.

The Chargers have not had a winning season since 1995 and have only four winning seasons in the past 20 years.

While quarterback and a tackle are high on the Chargers' list,
they have several other desperate needs. Trading down would allow
them to stockpile picks and possibly players, as well as avoid
paying a hefty signing bonus that a top pick would command.

"I know [the Chargers] have a lot of different options," Condon recently said.

Condon also represents Peyton Manning, who was selected by the Indianapolis Colts with the first pick in the 1998 draft. Condon said the Colts didn't decide until the night before
that draft that they would take Manning, leaving the Chargers to
take Ryan Leaf.

Leaf cost the Chargers an $11.25 million signing bonus and
turned out to be one of the biggest busts in NFL history.

Four years ago, the Chargers traded the draft's top pick to Atlanta for the fifth pick, receiver-returner Tim Dwight
and additional picks. The Falcons took Michael Vick and the
Chargers got LaDainian Tomlinson. San Diego is 17-31 since that
trade.

"I could care less about the Ryan Leaf decision," Smith told Clayton. "I've heard it so many times that we can't take a quarterback because of what happened in the past. Whether we decide to take a quarterback or not has nothing to do with Ryan Leaf. I didn't take this job with the idea that we can't do something that might help the team."

Despite the feelings expressed by the Manning family, the Chargers may see Eli as the only hope to resurrect the franchise. Manning's stature entering the NFL is very high.

"I think you're probably pretty safe picking Eli Manning," Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren told the Indianapolis Star.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.