Former Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian does a variety of media appearances, and on Wednesday he had an interesting discussion with Alex Marvez on SiriusXM NFL radio. He mentioned that Bill Walsh was one of the neutral observers the Colts contacted when they were deciding on Peyton Manning vs. Ryan Leaf. I believe Walsh had finished up his time at Stanford, but am not positive. I do know he was not back working with the 49ers again.
According to Polian, Walsh was the first neutral observer to advocate for Manning over Leaf. Marvez tweeted this out, and it drew an interesting response from Peter King.
True, @alexmarvez … But Walsh told me month before ’98 draft that if he had 1st pick, he’d have passed on QB, then taken Brian Griese later.— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) April 1, 2015
Remember showing Walsh video of Manning+Leaf pre-draft ’98. Liked Manning more, to be sure. But wasn’t totally sold. Really liked Griese.— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) April 1, 2015
RT @DanaBecker: who would he have taken? Wadsworth? Woodson? Someone else? … I believe Wadsworth, but he hadn’t studied him.— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) April 1, 2015
The last tweet seems mostly speculation. And with the 49ers picking No. 28 in that draft, Walsh's thoughts were more just a general thought exercise. Based on what King tweeted, it would seem like Walsh did not see Manning or Leaf as a true franchise-altering quarterback. He could have really liked them, but his interest in Griese would seem to indicate he thought he could do enough with Griese, while still getting a significant contributor at another position at the top of the first round.
That year was all about Manning and Leaf, but Charles Woodson was a big name as well. In most years, Woodson might have been the high profile guy, but 1998 was obviously not "most years". Andre Wadsworth was a huge name, but two surgeries on his right knee and one on his left had him out of the league before his fourth year.
Brian Griese was not drafted until the Denver Broncos used the 30th pick of the third round. He did some solid things in Denver, albeit a bit unspectacular. He helped lead the team to the playoffs in 2000, but was released after the 2002 season when the team brought in Jake Plummer. Griese bounced around the league a few years before retiring following the 2008 season.