Former Los Angeles Chargers general manager A.J. Smith, who never won a Super Bowl and whose tenure is defined by letting Drew Brees walk and passing on Larry Fitzgerald in the NFL Draft, says the highlight of his career was trading quarterback Eli Manning to the New York Giants.
“ was the most satisfying moment for me in my career and I really mean that,” Smith told SB Nation. “I would say that if I was ever fortunate to win a Super Bowl, I’m sure it would’ve trumped that, but I don’t know that. I gotta tell you there was a lot of highs and lows in the business, but that moment was the greatest high for me as an executive for an organization.”
The Chargers, of course, had no choice but to trade Manning, who had made it abundantly clear he had no desire to play for the down and out organization.
“When I heard emphatically from Tom Condon and Archie Manning ‘don’t take us,’ that hit me — call me a traditionalist — it hit me the wrong way,” Smith said. “I decided I was not going to play this game with them and I flipped it, in my view, to an unknown where they didn’t know what I’m going to do or how this is going to unfold — they really didn’t.”
In addition to getting quarterback Philip Rivers in return for Manning, the Chargers used the extra picks to draft pass rusher Shawne Merriman and kicker Nate Kaeding. All three had solid careers with Rivers still going, but it pales in comparison to what Manning accomplished in New York, winning two Super Bowl titles and two Super Bowl MVP awards thus far.
Smith retired in 2015 having never had an opportunity to win the big one as Rivers and the Chargers repeatedly choked in the playoffs, while Manning established himself as one of the most-clutch players in football over that same span.