Antonio Gates still baffled by Eli Manning’s NFL Draft diss

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The retirement announcement of one Chargers legend has reopened old wounds for another.

Retired tight end Antonio Gates is throwing shade at the blockbuster transaction orchestrated by the Manning family 17 years ago that sent Philip Rivers to San Diego and Eli Manning to New York.

“I think I was frustrated in terms of who gets drafted and worries about where they’re playing?” Gates told CBS Sports Radio on Wednesday night via WFAN New York. “As a high school and college kid, as you move up the ladder, your dream is about playing professional sports; at that moment, to me, you should be happier about being in a position to live a dream than worried about where it is.”

After finishing the 2003 season with a 4-12 record, the then-San Diego Chargers had the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft and were poised to draft Manning, the most sought-after prospect in the class. The Ole Miss product — reportedly on the advice of his father Archie, however — refused to play for the Chargers and influenced the team to broker a deal with the Giants which Gates viewed as ungrateful.

“Eli still had a great career in New York, but it’s unfortunate that he had his father guide him in the way he thought was best for his son,” Gates said. “You see that with a lot of athletes, but for the most part, I felt like it was an honor and privilege to play, let alone in San Diego – who wouldn’t want to play in San Diego?”

Rivers was selected by the Giants No. 4 overall and was immediately dealt to San Diego, along with a 2004 third-round pick, a 2005 first-round pick and a 2005 fifth-round pick, in exchange for Manning. Both quarterbacks enjoyed prolific NFL careers. Rivers had sexier numbers, but Manning has two Super Bowl rings.

“It worked itself out for everybody,” he said of Rivers, whom he referred to as a “first-ballot Hall of Famer.”

Gates, 40, was an undrafted free agent in 2003 out of Kent State. He spent 15 of 16 seasons in the NFL alongside Rivers as a member of the Chargers and caught 955 passes for 11,841 yards and 116 touchdowns through 236 regular season games. The decorated tight end is an eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro.

Manning, also 40, has a 60.3 completion percentage and threw for 57,023 yards, 366 touchdowns and 244 interceptions through 236 regular season appearances. He is a four-time Pro Bowler, two-time Super Bowl champion and two-time Super Bowl MVP. He announced his retirement in January 2020 after 16 seasons with the Giants.

Rivers, 39, announced his retirement this week after 17 seasons in the NFL — 16 of which were for the Chargers. The Bolts’ quarterback posted a career 64.9 completion percentage and accrued 63,440 passing yards, 421 touchdowns and 209 interceptions through 244 regular season appearances.

He and Manning went head-to-head just four times through 16 seasons; the Chargers were victorious in all four meetings.

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