It rarely happens. As explained in Playmakers, it should happen more often.
The best prospects in any given draft, destined to be selected by a potentially hapless franchise, should always consider making a power play in the hopes of landing with a better team. In the past 40 years, however, it’s only happened twice: John Elway in 1982, and Eli Manning in 2004. (In 1986, Bo Jackson told the Buccaneers to not make him the first overall pick. They did anyway. He played baseball before the Raiders took a seventh-round flier on Bo the following year.)
So with the next Manning up recently choosing to play college football at the University of Texas, it’s not too early (OK, maybe it is) to wonder whether Arch will be the next guy to say to the team that has failed its way to the top of the draft, “No thanks.”
Players are reluctant to do it. Fans and media instantly vilify anyone who dares to in any way buck the honor-and-privilege of the NFL’s version of the sorting hat. Some consider it. Few do it.
Eli was able to do it in large part because his father, Archie, provided cover for him. With Archie, a former NFL standout who would have been a Hall of Famer if he hadn’t been drafted by and stuck with a perennially pathetic franchise, making the case for Eli not playing for the Chargers, Eli emerged from the effort with minimal scars to his reputation.
But make no mistake about it. Eli didn’t want to play for the Chargers. He opted out in large part because he was getting mixed signals about whether the team really wanted him. That’s no surprise, given the extreme dysfunction that prevailed between G.M. A.J. Smith and coach Marty Schottenheimer. So Eli took a stand, and it worked.
If Arch, thanks to a combination of NFL genes and access to Archie, Eli, and Peyton, emerges as the top pick in whichever draft Arch enters, why not take a hard look at whether signing with the team that has sucked its way to the top pick puts his career between a rock and a hard place?
If he thinks it’s the right thing for him to do, he should. Every clear-cut top pick, especially at the quarterback position, should do it. Don’t you think that at some point last season (or at multiple points), Trevor Lawrence asked himself why he didn’t refuse to go to the Jaguars? Even with Urban Meyer gone, the first year of Lawrence’s career was largely wasted. While things could indeed work out well for him, he could be better off if he’d landed somewhere else.
It’s too late for Lawrence. It won’t be too late for Arch Manning. And if/when Archie, Peyton, Eli, and/or Cooper launch a private and/or public campaign to get the team with the first pick to not take Arch or to pick him and then trade him, it won’t be easy for that team to refuse. Especially as more NFL teams seem to gradually be evolving in the direction of, as Steelers coach Mike Tomlin puts it, seeking volunteers and not hostages.
The issue won’t be relevant until Arch emerges at a top prospect in the draft he enters. But that day will be here before you know it. When it comes, Arch could be the next in a too-short-line of short-list prospects who push back against a system that gives them no say in where they will live, work, and play.
However it plays out, it shouldn’t be something that happens once every 22 years.