Bill Polian dismisses claim that Ryan Leaf manipulated the Colts


Sixteen years after the Colts chose Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf in the 1998 NFL draft, there’s a new controversy about the process that went into that decision.

Leigh Steinberg, Leaf’s agent, wrote in a new book that Leaf wanted to go second overall to San Diego instead of first overall to Indianapolis, and that Leaf manipulated the Colts by skipping a meeting with them. According to Steinberg, the Colts were initially leaning toward taking Leaf, and decided to go with Manning only when Leaf didn’t meet with them. Steinberg also claims that the Chargers were in on the plan.

“I first cleared the idea with Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard, lest San Diego also question my client’s reliability. Beathard went along with the ruse,” Steinberg writes.

But former Colts G.M. Bill Polian says that’s ridiculous.

Polian appeared on Mike and Mike in the Morning and said that there were many, many reasons that the Colts chose Manning over Leaf, and Steinberg and Leaf wouldn’t have been able to stop the Colts from drafting Leaf if they had liked him better than Manning.

“Agents cannot manipulate anything in the draft,” Polian said. “Leigh and other agents for years and years have told kids that they can get players drafted by a certain club at a certain spot, and nothing could be further from the truth. That assumes that we on the club side are idiots, that we’re able to be manipulated, that we don’t do our homework, that we don’t watch the tape, that we don’t go all the way back to the junior high school coach and high school principal, teachers, doing our due diligence. It’s just the kind of hubris that existed among agents years ago where they told kids flat-out, ‘I can get you taken here, I can get you taken there.’ Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Polian did confirm that Leaf had skipped a meeting with the Colts at the Scouting Combine, and Polian said that Steinberg lied about it afterward and claimed that the Colts had given Leaf the wrong time.

“I remember Leigh telling the press that we had blown it because we hadn’t given him the right time,” Polian said. “I knew that was false because I made the call. I’m glad after 16 years he’s finally told the truth.”

Beathard also appeared on Mike and Mike and seemed confused about the whole story, saying he didn’t remember much about it. But he said that the Chargers liked Manning better than Leaf, and so the Chargers wouldn’t have gone along with a plan to manipulate the Colts into drafting Leaf.

“We absolutely wanted to draft Peyton,” Beathard said.

Beathard says he realized at Leaf’s first practice that he had made a huge mistake by drafting Leaf with the second overall pick.

“He was in terrible shape — he couldn’t even complete the jog around the field at the start of practice,” Beathard said. “It was a disaster from the start and I’m responsible for it.

Ultimately, what’s really extraordinary about this is that we’re still talking about the Manning-Leaf decision, all these years later. Leaf is sitting in a jail cell, while Manning is preparing for a Super Bowl that may be the crowning achievement for the greatest quarterback of all time.

82 responses to “Bill Polian dismisses claim that Ryan Leaf manipulated the Colts

  1. This may be true, however Brady is in serious decline and the team needs a QB. Perhaps Ryan will be out soon, and not much mileage on his arm.

  2. One of the reasons I’ve always liked Bobby Beatherd…he’s honest about his mistakes Leaf being the singlemost obvious.
    As Leaf is the topic, let me initiate the obvious comparison to Leaf v2.0…Johnny Manziel.

  3. The fact that there was even a debate about these two back in 1998 just goes to show that talent evaluation is more an art than a science.

  4. A player looking to get drafted could, would, and SHOULD try less hard at individual workouts and meetings for a “dumpster fire” team that they really don’t want to go play for. And an agent could help that process.

    Did Leaf do that during the process? Maybe, maybe not. If he did, how much did it matter? Probably very little.

    But to say that it NEVER happens because teams know what they are doing when evaluating players for the draft… that’s a joke.

  5. Every personnel man from back then claims they wanted manning over leaf back then, but I just don’t believe it. Some are just lieing to save face and protect job opportunities. I remember all the talk and how close everyone had these two ranked.

  6. Its too bad that Beatherd can not remember what happened and it seems he would like to have never heard the name Ryan Leaf.It will be a scar that never goes away.The Chargers suffered for years because he did not do his homework on Leaf.

  7. Leigh Steinberg is just like Drew Rosenhaus, David Faulk and Scott Boras – they all think agents are the real stars and people turn on their TVs to watch them, not the players.

    Shut up, Steinberg. Go to the Big House and hang out with your loser client.

  8. I’d draft one of the guys on either side of Leaf in the picture before I’d draft him. Such a waste.

  9. Umm, YOU’RE talking about Leaf/Manning. Not us. I hadn’t thought about Ryan Leaf in years….

  10. It is too bad that Leigh Steinberg wasn’t better at manipulating his client to take his opportunity with San Diego seriously. That would be news. This story, not so much.

  11. I think the idea that Manning and Leaf were neck and neck for #1 is a little revisionist. It’s fun to imagine to because of how divergent their careers turned out to be, but it’s not really true.

    Manning was the clear #1 in every single mock draft I saw and no one seriously thought that the Colts were even considering not taking him. I know it takes some fun out of the “debate”, but it’s true.

  12. @jxt2521 says: Jan 21, 2014 9:53 AM

    Every personnel man from back then claims they wanted manning over leaf back then, but I just don’t believe it. Some are just lieing to save face and protect job opportunities. I remember all the talk and how close everyone had these two ranked.

    Maybe until they talked to Leaf’s college coaches who all said he had issues. Lacked maturity and was hard to coach. Prima Donna coming out of high school.

  13. greatest Quarterback of all time? you mean Joe Montana came out of retirement and is playing in the Superbowl? he may have the stats but even if he wins it will only give him 2 rings which is still a couple short of Joe and a couple of other qb’s. plus it will give him the same as his brother who I do not think anybody is calling the greatest of anything except maybe throwing picks.

  14. Agents and Lawyers both are defined by their ability to represent their clients interests. Lawyers are help accountable (supposedly) to speaking the truth, although they proudly describe their efforts as “messaging” the truth.
    Agents on the other hand are not so restricted. They say and do whatever is required to get their person the best deal and profit accordingly.

    So who are you going to believe? Polian, who is well known for his integrity, or Steinberg whose stock in trade has always been lying his a$$ off?

  15. How’d that work out for you? Stein berg lost money and the Chargers just lost. SD also got spurned when Eli told them where to go, so they lost out on both Mannings.

  16. the most notable thing about the whole deal is bobby beathard standing up and saying he was responsible. thats rare these days…

    pretty sure aj smith would never be a standup guy like that…..

  17. In 1998, Beatherd drafted a bust. So did most of the first round. Look at that draft – the first round has Manning, Charles Woodson, Randy Moss (who had a red flag the size of Montana), and Alan Faneca. After them, about 6 good players. After them, it’s dreadful. Curtis Enis and Andre Wadsworth were top 5 picks!

  18. My take from this story: The Colts sure know how to pick when to have a bad season. They had #1 pick when Elway, Manning & Luck were in the draft. Yes, Elway played hard ball with them & got traded, but still that is impressive display of being bad at a good time.
    My Dolphins got Jake Long when they had top pick, ugh. Not a shot at Long, he was Pro Bowler for a short run before injuries did him in & he still is better than anyone on Phins current OL, but Long is no Elway, Manning, or Luck. Bottom line: Stink at the right time!

  19. Just wow @ the account of Leaf’s first practice. I can’t imagine what that must have felt like as a GM. There were 10 Pro Bowlers from that first round and a couple of potential HOFers. And to think the only other serviceable QB’s went 91st (Brian Griese) and 187th (Matt Hasselbeck).

    The draft is a mysterious beast.

  20. I don’t understand why this is a story. Players like John Elway and Eli Manning have manipulated the draft to a greater extent.

  21. Still remember Leaf calling out a reporter in the locker room and screaming “Bitch” at the guy like a little girl……I guessed at that point that he would be a fail…I just never thought he would sink so low…..The look on his face while wearing the stripes is the final kicker!!

  22. As a Chiefs fan I hate the Donkeys! But I now hate Richard Sherman more. Go Broncos! (Though that makes me feel a little sick saying it)

  23. Manning IS the greatest of all time. The team around him helps determine trips to the superbowl.

    Manning is the best I’ve seen at picking apart a defense. Even on the sidelines he is thinking things thru, and then he implements his plans.

    He is with a team that has back to back superbowls in the past, and between Elway and Manning they my just do it again.

  24. Beathard didn’t seem to deny it. He acted confused. He did admit drafting him was a mistake.

  25. the name Ryan Leaf still stings.

    You are like that girlfriend I broke up with years ago, popping back up to see “how im doing”

    But then again, if the Chargers didnt draft leaf, they might not have had the chance to suck all those years and get LT.

  26. Ryan Leaf was a the epitome of the million dollar body and 10cent brain.

    He’s right along the level of the same type of person Jonathan Martin is. The single underlying difference is that Leaf was directly in the spotlight with more pressure than any other player.

    Virtually the same things that Jonathan Martin called bullying can be attributed to Ryan Leaf’s time in San Diego.

    Coddled his whole life he walked into a locker room full of alpha males and came up way short.

  27. If you all remember Lief had all the potential and rocket arm while Manning had already hit his ceiling. Every coach dies from hubris. All that potential, his previous coaches couldn’t get the most out of him. If I get him he will be the GOAT!

  28. With the Mannings long history of picking and choosing which team they should go to based off of best place to win a super bowl, they should be suspect a little.

  29. So how exactly would winning 2 out of 3 Super Bowls suddenly vault you past Tom Brady and Joe Montana, among others?

  30. “Steinberg’s new book” tells me that this is all about creating a buzz about nothing just to sell few copies of a book that only three WSU fans, Mike Price and Leaf’s mom, being two of them, might consider buying.

  31. No one seems to get the real point. Steinburg has manipulated the media. #1. Into talking about his new book. #2. To try to convince new and future draft picks that He can manipulate the NFL and get them what THEY want.

  32. You can’t quantify a players heart and determination. Leaf had a great college career, and had tons of potential. HIs natural talent made him a great college QB. But that’s it. He thought he could coast in the NFL, but everyone in the NFL has natural talent, so everyone plateaus together. Not to mention, everyone you talk to, unless you’re close friends, has ulterior motives. I bet Leaf got some great reviews from coaches who wanted their guy to be chosen first to bolster their own stock. If someone came to the Chargers and was like “listen, this leaf kid is a lazy pos. won’t put in anything above bare minimum,” i guarantee chargers don’t draft him, rick spielman probably still would though. You can’t fault the Chargers. This is why the NFL would benefit greatly from a farm system outside of the NCAA.

  33. Come on, Peyton is about to be out at his third Super Bowl, about to go in and throw a touchdown to either Wes Welker, Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas or Julius Thomas and we’re talking about a liquored up “bust” of a quarterback and his idiot agent.”The sad thing is, he’s a good agent. he’s a good agent.. But he’s an idiot.”


  34. Bobby Beathard should be in the HOF. He helped build the 70’s Dolphins, 80’s Redskins, and the 90’s Chargers to Super Bowl appearances.

    Sure he made a mistake on Leaf. But his body of work speaks for itself.

  35. Part of the hype of the draft is the whole character background check. One way that is tested is simply whether a prospective draft pick will show up to a meeting on time – if he doesn’t, it shows he is not reliable, professional, or a serious player. Leaf showing up late would tick off the Colts and be a strike against him while getting played up in the rumor mill. Why a player would choose to miss out on being a higher pick, where money matters, is unclear, even if his talent and competition may be better on particular teams. Regardless, the draft is all about deception.

  36. In that picture,is Leaf auditioning for a role in the remake of O’ Brother Where Art Thou?

  37. realitypolice says:

    “I think the idea that Manning and Leaf were neck and neck for #1 is a little revisionist.”

    “Revisionist” is a bit harsh. I remember the buildup to the draft that year, and I’d say 80-90% of the mock drafts had Manning going first. However, I remember a couple articles on ESPN and others laying out the case for taking Leaf OVER Manning. I should look those up actually… probably some hilarious reading.

  38. I think the Redskins & Lavar Arrington did this… Back when… The Redskins had the 2nd & 3rd picks in the draft… Courtney Brown & Lavar Arrington were the consensus #1 & #2 picks.. Lavar basically avoided anything to do with Cleveland leading up to the pick, forcing the Browns to take Courtney Brown & I think the Redskins would of taken Lavar #1 if they had that pick.

    This situation was just a lose / lose for San Diego because they couldn’t get Peyton & they were helping Ryan Leaf become a Charger… Epic fail.

  39. one supper bowl and everyone thinks he is the best that ever played the game. He got the supper bowl from the Bears with Rex Grossmen .
    I wouldn’t call that a win. It was a gift. !!!!!!!

  40. Polian loses some credibility when he claims the teams and GMs do proper due diligence and that teams can’t be manipulated. Clearly some do and some don’t. Al Davis was a draft disaster for decades. Teams were enamored with workout wonders like Mike Mamula, Aaron Curry, etc. Brady was a 6th round pick. Teams WERE manipulated by Alex Smith’s agent who put out the BS about Aaron Rodgers and that his mechanics were lousy or that he was a Tedford product. All he did was hold the ball high on the shelf. This did NOT affect his deadly accuracy or rocket arm. He only tied the record for consecutive completions against the eventualy BCS champions.

  41. Those who say Manning is the greatest ever must be young and basing it on only what they’ve seen.

    That must be it.

  42. All this story does is give Polian more air time. So he can tell us what a genius he is.

    It’s a slap in Peyton’s face from Polian, to use Peyton’s Super Bowl appearance for his own personal gain.

    It’s funny to hear Polian say that he is glad that they finally told the truth! Polian is one of the biggest liars in the NFL.

    The only real truth is talking about evaluating players, and Polian AND his staff, at that time, made the right decision .

    Good luck Peyton!

  43. metalhead65 Greatest all-time is subjective of course, but Montana is not even in the obvious Top 5 that gets debated about. Top 10… sure. He was very good; no slouch. But a system QB (west coast offense in infancy) probably, unquestionably the best to run that system. Manning (and Brady) however can enter that discussion — smart with skill between the ears like Montana with physical skills to match.

    BTW my top pick (and I vacillate) would be Elway over Staubach.

  44. @donewithfootball

    I think it was more their special teams and defense rather than their offense. I remember alot of the talking heads were picking the Bears over the Colts because of their defense. It’s a win a no matter how look at it.

  45. If you all remember Lief had all the potential and rocket arm while Manning had already hit his ceiling.

    Yes, I remember it well. I think a lot of folks on this board are too young to remember.
    It was HOTLY debated.
    Manning was considered “more ready” to start in the NFL, but was considered to have questionable arm strength, they weren’t sure he could “make all the throws”, and as you stated they thought he topped out his potential.

    Leaf was considered the potential “blue chip”, “once in a lifetime” type talent with a “rocket arm” who made “EVERY throw” in tryouts.

    and I don’t recall ONE SINGLE reporter bringing up a question on character or maturity.

    Funny to look back on it now…

  46. This is preposterous. No one could ever fool the Colts into taking a draft bust. Darrius Heyward Bay and Trent Richardson have worked out so far right?

  47. At the time, Ron Wolf was the GM of the Packers. On an off the cuff remark that got picked up by local media, Wolf was quoted as saying “All the talking heads are talking up Leaf, but I know Polian well enough to know there is no way in hell he is not picking Manning.”

  48. I see Leigh has been hitting the sauce again. Poor Bobby Beathard’s career ended because of that mistake, lol. No one even remembers his days in Washington with Joe Gibbs. He’s the Ryan Leaf GM.

  49. If QB doesn’t have the sense of responsibility or attention span to get his Degree wouldn’t pick him in the top 5 .plain and simple….which is baffling that Cleveland is willing to trade up and pick Johnny Football #1 overall.

  50. Mr. Polian, please explain how John Elway wound up in Denver and Eli Manning in New York if players and agents can’t manipulate the drafting order? Leverage is leverage and the NFL draft is not immune to it, especially at the top of the draft.

  51. To the idiots who call out quarterbacks with the highest winning percentages as “system QBs”: What do you value more, a guy with tools that couldn’t win a SB despite great teams (Marino and Rivers) or guys with smarts that managed every game of every year and won Super Bowls (Montana and Brady), and in Brady’s case with teams of far less talent than his competition. To say that Montana and Brady had less talent than other quarterbacks is to to make their greatness call for even greater accolades.

  52. Flatly untrue– and who can trust Leigh Steinberg these days anyway?

    Back in those days, there was really only a question between Manning/Leaf at the very beginning of the evaluation process. Though Ryan Leaf was the clear choice physically, in the mental and preparation areas, Manning was a Rhodes Scholar compared to a h.s. dropout.

    The Chargers badly wanted Manning, but had no choice but to settle for Leaf and hope for the best.

    There have been very few QBs with Leaf’s level of physical gifts. But there have been just as few with Leaf’s immaturity and selfishness.

    Steinberg is likely letting his ego and his past drinking problems get in the way of correct recollection. I remember the Chargers badly wanting Manning but putting a brave face on the Leaf pick.

  53. John Elway didn’t manipulate the draft order.
    He was upfront and told the Colts he wouldn’t play for them and told them not to waste their pick. They drafted him anyway, Elway went to spring training with the Yankees, and eventually the Colts traded him.

  54. The Leaf/Manning debate puzzled me at the time because Peyton was bred to be an NFL QB. You couldn’t ask for a better-prepared quarterback. Why would any player personnel director gamble on an unknown quantity in Leaf over the closest to a sure thing you can get in this business? And why is Steinberg–then the top sports agent–wasting editorial pages claiming to have manipulated the Colts into taking arguably the best quarterback in football history while passing on the biggest bust of all time?

    Yeah, Leigh … nothing like reminding people you represented a dud who came out of the gate as an also-ran. I’m sure that will cement your legacy.

  55. Remember when the Colts drafted Jeff “coach killa” George. He could run pass but oops spoiled rotten brat.
    The Steve injury prone Etman and Coryatt 3 yr later they combined for 16.5 sacks and lasted 6yr not really what you expect out of the 1 and 2 overall

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