Fifteen minutes. That's all it will take for the San Diego Chargers to learn the identity of their franchise quarterback.
The Indianapolis Colts will open Saturday's NFL draft by taking Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf. Choosing second, the Chargers get whoever's left. They hope it's Leaf, with his strong arm and emotional leadership.Leaf hopes to go to the Chargers, too.
"It would probably be the ideal situation," said Leaf, a 6-foot-5, 244-pounder who has relatives in the San Diego area and has let it be known for months he wants to wear the Chargers' lightning bolts.
General manager Bobby Beathard, who generally loathes first-round picks, is glad he has one this year.
Whether their new quarterback starts right away or needs more time to learn the offense, the Chargers begin a new era. Stan Humphries, the only quarterback to take San Diego to the Super Bowl, retired rather than risk another concussion.
And the Chargers paid a king's ransom to Arizona just to move up one spot in the pecking order. Knowing the likes of Leaf and Manning don't come around often, Beathard sent this year's second-round pick and next year's No. 1, plus star punt returner Eric Metcalf and linebacker Patrick Sapp to the Cardinals.
Only time will tell whether the Chargers are getting another Dan Fouts, who guided the Chargers during the Air Coryell years and landed in the Hall of Fame.
"I can't compare anyone to Dan because he's a Hall of Famer," Beathard said. "But you hope and expect that either one of these guys can be the kind of quarterback who's recognized as that special, in that elite group. Barring injury and having a good supporting cast, that's how we evaluate these guys."
Beathard said the Chargers will be happy with Leaf or Manning, but it's believed they favor Leaf, a junior who left Washington State after leading the Cougars to their first Rose Bowl in 67 years.
Leaf and Manning are both big and come from successful programs. Leaf is a little bigger and the Chargers like his arm strength.
"There just aren't many guys who come along with any stronger arm than a Ryan Leaf," Beathard said.
When asked which of his attributes means the most to him, Leaf said: "I just think I'm an emotional leader. The players around me feed off it."
Leaf, who grew up in Great Falls, Mont., says he plays for the love of the game, but now he and Manning will get a lot of money. The two are expected to seek signing bonuses ranging between $7 million and $8 million.
Leaf said if the Chargers draft him, he won't expect to start, but rather earn the job. He said he's told his agent, Leigh Steinberg, he wants to be in camp on time, with no holdout.