San Diego Chargers officials have informed the representatives for Mississippi quarterback Eli Manning and Iowa left tackle Robert Gallery that they will open contract negotiations with the two players today, NFL sources said yesterday.
The Chargers appear increasingly intent upon selecting Manning with the top overall choice in the draft Saturday. The Chargers could negotiate with other players as well, perhaps using the talks with Gallery and others as leverage in deliberations with agent Tom Condon regarding Manning.
It has become customary in recent years for the top selection to agree to a contract before he is officially picked, as NFL rules permit, so the team involved does not have to worry about a training-camp holdout. Last year's top choice, USC quarterback Carson Palmer, agreed to a contract with the Cincinnati Bengals three days before the draft.
Chargers officials have interviewed Manning, quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger of Miami of Ohio and Philip Rivers of North Carolina State, Gallery, Pittsburgh wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Miami safety Sean Taylor. But several NFL executives said they are convinced the Chargers will take Manning, barring an overwhelming last-minute trade offer.
Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith was quick to publicly reveal his trade discussions with the New York Giants and Washington Redskins, leading executives from other clubs to conclude that San Diego has not received the sort of offers it wants and was attempting to stir interest among other teams. The Giants are said to covet Manning, but General Manager Ernie Accorsi has said there's a limit to how much the club is willing to surrender.
The Chargers like Rivers and might want to get him after trading down to add draft choices. But it might be difficult for the franchise to sell its fans on a decision to bypass Manning after the team missed an opportunity to select his older brother, Peyton, by one draft spot in 1998 and ended up with Ryan Leaf, then passed up a chance to choose Michael Vick by trading the top pick to the Atlanta Falcons in 2001.
Eli Manning's contract with the Chargers probably would resemble the seven-year deal that Palmer signed with the Bengals. Palmer's contract can void to six seasons. It has a maximum value of about $49 million over those six seasons and contained a $10.01 million signing bonus and a $4.01 million roster bonus due about two years after the contract was signed.