The quarterback-needy teams at the top of this year's NFL draft are miserable, and justifiably so. No one's sold on this year's top quarterbacks, so taking one with a top-five or a top-10 pick is a frightening proposition. If you spend a resource that valuable on a quarterback and you get it wrong, you've made a franchise-crippling mistake.
Oh, but if you get it right ... well, then, you've made a franchise.
The New York Giants were one of those teams 10 years ago. They held the No. 4 pick in the 2004 draft and needed a quarterback, and the guy they wanted was going to go No. 1. In order to get Eli Manning from San Diego (and he'd made it clear he didn't want to play there), they had to pick Philip Rivers at No. 4 and trade him and a third-round pick to the Chargers. The Giants also would have to send their 2005 first- and fifth-round picks. 'Twas a heavy price, and a difficult one to pay. But pay it the Giants did, because they decided they were sure that Manning was their guy. They were certain they were getting the right quarterback, and that the price to do so was worth it.
Ten years later, in advance of a draft that has no Eli Manning (and no Philip Rivers, for that matter), the Giants' move to get Manning stands as a prime example of getting the quarterback right. Manning hasn't always been perfect, and he's not and never will be his brother. But as No. 1-pick quarterbacks go, he's one who has lived up to the promise and the price.
Could the Giants have won Super Bowls XLII and XLVI with Rivers as their quarterback instead of Manning? Sure, it's possible. Rivers is a fine player who at times during the past decade has been better than Manning. And those Giants Super Bowl teams did have other high-quality aspects to them. It's entirely possible that had the Giants emerged from that draft with Rivers and their 2005 first-round pick, they'd still have won those titles.
But it's not certain, and what is certain is that Manning did deliver those two Super Bowl titles. While Rivers and others who haven't been there continue to carry uncertainty about whether they can be championship-caliber quarterbacks, Manning has been a championship-caliber quarterback. Twice. He was absolutely instrumental in those playoff runs and Super Bowl wins, and to say that Rivers or anyone else would have won those titles with those teams is to presume they'd have played at least as well in those games as Manning did.
The result has been franchise-altering in the best possible way. Think about the difference in the way you perceive the Giants now and the way you'd perceive them if they still hadn't won a Super Bowl since 1991. Think of what having Manning at quarterback has done for the reputations of Tom Coughlin, Jerry Reese ... John Mara, for goodness' sake. These are regarded around the league as men at the absolute top of their profession, the Giants as one of the league's exemplary franchises. Would that still be the case if they were working on a 23-year Super Bowl drought? If they'd only ever won two titles instead of four?
Just as Manning wasn't the only reason for the Giants' past two Super Bowl titles, he's not the only reason the reputations of the men in the previous paragraph stand out. But had they not made the move to get him in 2004 -- or had he not turned out to be the player they believed he would be -- they'd have spent all, or at least a good chunk, of the past decade trying to figure out the quarterback spot. And when you look around the league at teams that wander in that desert, you don't exactly see a lot of stability in the general manager's and coaches' offices. A franchise quarterback is an anchor. Having one makes everything else about your team and your football business seem brighter, all of your problems feel easier to solve. That's what Eli Manning has brought to the Giants since then-GM Ernie Accorsi made the move to get him in the 2004 draft. Because of what Manning has delivered on the high end, not even the low moments or the down years have ever given the Giants any reason to doubt whether they did the right thing.