By the time he traded for Eli Manning at the 2004 NFL draft, Ernie Accorsi was already an old newspaper guy and knew how the game worked. A former sportswriter at The Inquirer, Accorsi was the New York Giants' general manager from 1998 to 2007, and his signature decision over that period was to bank that, in a draft class that included Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger, Manning was the true crown jewel.
"I remember the Harrisburg paper - it's my local paper, where I grew up - said, 'Accorsi bets his future on Eli Manning,' " Accorsi, a native of Hershey, said in a recent phone interview. "I told the reporter, 'I'm 64 years old. I don't have a future. And if it doesn't work out, I really don't have a future.' "
As it turned out, Manning validated both that headline and Accorsi's ability to find a franchise quarterback. Over the 10 years since the Giants acquired him, Manning has won two Super Bowls and started 166 consecutive games, and he will finish one of the finest seasons of his career Sunday when he faces the Eagles. He's 19 passing yards from reaching 4,000 in a season for the fourth time, one touchdown pass from reaching 30 in a season for the second time, and has completed 64.1 percent of his throws - a career best.
It's not as if Accorsi was a novice at targeting talented quarterbacks when he settled on Manning. As the Baltimore Colts' GM in 1983, he drafted John Elway - even though Elway had said he wouldn't play in Baltimore - because Accorsi was going to be damned if he'd let meddling owner Jim Irsay stop him from selecting the best quarterback prospect he'd ever seen. Then, as the Cleveland Browns' GM, he took Bernie Kosar in the 1985 supplemental draft, and Kosar led the Browns to three AFC championship games in a four-year span.
Accorsi's first job in the NFL was with the Colts when Johnny Unitas was at the peak of his powers. Watching Unitas influenced Accorsi's thinking about the importance of having the right quarterback, and he later worked under executive Don Klosterman, who built the Kansas City Chiefs and Colts into Super Bowl champions in the early 1970s.
"He taught me very early on," Accorsi said. "He said, 'Don't ever evaluate the quarterback like you evaluate the other 21 positions.' They play in a different world. So much comes into it. You can measure them all you want: height, weight. Ultimately, to me, it's their instincts.
"It's not only instinctive on their part. It's instinctive on yours. It's a risk."
Accorsi said that, in his mind, a franchise "cannot overpay" for the right quarterback, but even that rule has exceptions. In '04, the Giants took Rivers with the No. 4 overall pick, then packaged Rivers and three others and sent them to the San Diego Chargers, who had taken Manning with the No. 1 overall selection. "If we were 12th or 13th, then God only knows what I would have had to give up to get up that high," he said. "I wouldn't have been able to do it."
Based on those parameters, it's almost impossible to think that the Eagles could move up high enough in the 2015 draft to get Oregon quarterback (and former Chip Kelly recruit) Marcus Mariota. Besides, Accorsi said, the Eagles would probably be better off allowing Nick Foles to develop more.
"You've got to give a quarterback a chance," he said. "Foles was playing pretty well. Heck, even Elway lined up under the right guard his rookie year. The guard said, 'John, I don't have the ball.' Everybody, with a few exceptions - [Dan] Marino, Roethlisberger - struggles. That's the thing about going for a quarterback. You have to have the patience, and people get impatient."
Because the NFL gives each division's best team an automatic playoff berth, a seven-win team from the NFC South - be it Carolina or Atlanta - will be heading to the postseason. The Eagles, who will have a winning record even if they lose Sunday to the Giants, will not. To Kelly, though, this quirk was no excuse for the Eagles' collapse.
"We knew the rules of engagement before the season started," Kelly said. "To sit here after it is over and say, 'Let's change the rules so this can happen,' that's just the way it is. There may be a year where we're in a situation where we're not in great shape, and we win our division and we get a chance to go. People said it about Seattle a couple years ago, and then Seattle won [its] wild-card game. It's still about winning each week and doing what you're supposed to do. . . . That's on us. That's not on anybody else or what the structure of the setup is."
Remember back in the summer when LeSean McCoy and Adrian Peterson were going back and forth about which one of them was the NFL's best running back? Those were fun times.