NFL Bill Parcells ‘definitely’ would have drafted Peyton in 1997

One of the all-time great “what ifs” in NFL draft lore has to be the missed opportunity of pairing Peyton Manning and Bill Parcells.

When Manning was a junior at Tennessee, he faced a tough call: stay in school or declare for the 1997 draft. That sounds odd in the era of underclassmen quarterbacks, but it wasn’t a completely absurd debate at the time.

Still, many thought Manning would declare. Instead, he stayed. Volunteer Nation rejoiced. The Jets and Parcells, one would assume, were nonplussed. 

The Jets were coming off a 1-15 season, led by Rich Kotite. He was fired, and Parcells was brought in as the head coach and general manager.

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning (R) shakes hands with Dallas Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells (L) at the end of NFL action in Irving,Texas, November 19, 2006. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi (UNITED STATES)

Neil O’Donnell was a well-paid quarterback, but Parcells moved on from him after 14 starts anyway. So was it a given that Parcells and the Jets would have picked Manning first overall had he come out early?

It’s been debated for years, and Parcells has always been a bit … cagey on the matter. Naturally, it was stirred up Monday night when Parcells joined Peyton and Eli Manning on ESPN’s Manningcast for the New York Giants-Tampa Bay Buccaneers game.

And Eli — ever the instigator — wasted no time bringing up the subject, asking Parcells what he would have done.

“We definitely would’ve drafted him,” Parcells said.

Eli then followed up by asking how Parcells would have handled the 28 interceptions Manning would throw the following season as a Week 1 rookie starter for the Indianapolis Colts. Parcells joked that he probably. would have benched Peyton after “about 15” INTs.

Everyone shared an awkward laugh. The broadcast clearly suffered from a few technical difficulties. 

But was Parcells telling the truth? That’s actually debatable, believe it or not. 

Now it’s easy to say that the Hall of Fame coach would have drafted the Hall…

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