The Chargers may hold the keys to Eli Manning's future, but the Raiders hold the keys to Saturday's draft.
With the second pick, the Raiders have many options and most of them are unpredictable. Add to the drama that Al Davis is pulling the string on these decisions, and the pick has extra intrigue.
Take a guess as to what they will do. That's what it will be -- a guess. Conventional wisdom says trade down. But nothing has been conventional about Raiders decisions, and this year may be the most unpredictable.
It's been a good offseason in Oakland. Despite earning the second pick in the draft with a 4-12 record, the Raiders have attacked free agency like Noah filled his ark. The Raiders did things in twos. They signed two defensive tackles (Warren Sapp and Ted Washington), two linebackers (Dwayne Rudd and Danny Clark), two guards (Ron Stone and Brad Badger) and two key additions in the secondary (cornerback Denard Walker and free safety Ray Buchanan).
One big possibility slipped away Monday when the Patriots traded a second-round choice, the 56th pick in the draft, to acquire Corey Dillon from the Bengals. For the Raiders to top that offer with their second-rounder might have been too much of a price. The Raiders have the 45th pick. In retrospect, though, trading their second-rounder might have made the draft easier.
Dillon would have been the 1,400-yard back new coach Norv Turner needs for his offense. Everywhere he's been, Turner has had a productive running game. The draft would have been made easier because the Raiders would have had Dillon in the backfield and could have traded down a few spots and added speed at receiver with Roy Williams of Texas.
Losing Dillon was one problem. Losing Maurice Clarett was another. The Raiders had been studying Clarett as an option with a lower draft choice, but the Second Circuit Court issued a stay that kicked him out of the draft unless the Supreme Court overturns the ruling.
The Raiders could survive at halfback with Tyrone Wheatley and Justin Fargas but the thoughts of getting Dillon spoiled them. In some trade scenarios the Raiders have been looking at, they tried to find a way to trade down a couple of times for Oregon State halfback Steven Jackson. Figuring out one trade is hard. Trying to figure out a double trade is almost impossible days before the draft.
Wednesday's news that San Diego was informed quarterback Eli Manning didn't want to be a Charger further complicated matters. Now, the Raiders have to make trade decisions on the clock, which is why they have spent the past 10 days exploring numerous options.
The Raiders would take Manning with the second pick. Who wouldn't? Of course, that does cause a problem for the Raiders. Drafting Manning could mean the end of Rich Gannon's days at quarterback.
Gannon has already gone on record as saying he's not going to play for a penny less than $7 million, so the Raiders want to stay on his good side. Lincoln Kennedy could be a June 1 cap casualty, but the team would lose money by cutting him now.
Gannon certainly wouldn't support the idea of the Raiders drafting a replacement who might be ready to step onto the field as a rookie. Plus, Gannon and Manning are represented by the same agent, Tom Condon of IMG.
Another possibility could be simply taking left tackle Robert Gallery. That would be easy in the sense the Raiders shouldn't have any trouble coming to a contract agreement with Gallery. It does create some cap questions, though. The Raiders guaranteed current left tackle Barry Sims will make $2 million. Moving him inside would be wasting money because the Raiders have four guards -- Stone, Badger, Mo Collins and Frank Middleton -- making between $1.35 million and $2.75 million this fall.
Their trade scenarios cause ripple effects up and down the first round. Let's say the Chargers keep Manning and the Raiders trade with the Giants and give them Gallery. The Raiders could take Williams, but taking the Giants out of the mix for drafting a quarterback causes Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers to fall. The Steelers and Bills would be waiting for both at choices 11 and 13. Quarterbacks falling would push back some of the defensive linemen such as Will Smith, Tommie Harris and Vince Wilfork to the middle of the first round after the 14th pick.
If you go by the trade charts teams have, the Giants would be fair in offering third- and a fourth-round choices to move up. The Raiders already have 10 choices, and probably don't have room to add a dozen rookie draft choices. The Raiders would probably hold out for a second-round choice. They might ask for one of the draft choices to be in 2005 a round higher than what they would receive this year.
The wildest negotiations involve the Browns, who want Gallery. The Browns could take care of the halfback need by offering William Green. They've already offered them Dennis Northcutt. They will throw in some draft choices. Under the charts, the Raiders would need to get the equivalent of two seconds and a third. They could get safety Earl Little. Heck, the Browns would throw in Tim Couch but his $7.6 million salary wouldn't work.
There is an immediate cap consequence of getting veteran players. The Raiders tipped their hand by showing interest in those moves. They cleared enough room to get to $2 million under under the $80.6 million cap. On Monday, they were $151,000 under. Green only makes $380,000, so there is no problem there. Northcutt makes $619,000. Little makes $535,000. They have the cap freedom to make those moves.
If the Raiders trade down to No. 7, they would be tipping their hand that they want Williams, giving value to the Lions pick at No. 6. The Falcons could jump two spots for Williams, whom owner Arthur Blank likes. The Jaguars could trade up and take Williams.
The Raiders know the Jaguars want to trade up for a wide receiver because they are the third option in trade down talks. The Jaguars want Williams or Larry Fitzgerald and aren't going to get them at No. 9. Along with draft choices, they've offered safety Donovin Darius, but the Raiders would have to cut John Parrella or Gannon to make that trade. Donovin has a $4.11 million salary.
Do they stay or do they trade? The Raiders' answers to those questions will dictate a lot in how this first round works.
John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.