After his college career at Ole Miss, Manning was drafted in the 1971 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints with the second overall selection. Manning played for the Saints for ten full seasons, none of them winning. Nevertheless, he was well respected by NFL peers; Sports Illustrated senior writer Paul Zimmerman recalls opposing defensive linemen, "Jack Youngblood in particular" taking it easy on the poorly protected Manning.
For his part Manning seemed to appreciate Youngblood's kindness, telling the Los Angeles Times, on September 23, 1974, "The Rams front four is the best I ever faced . . . I've got to say that Youngblood was nice enough to pick me up every time he knocked my (butt) off." Today, Manning jokes that Youngblood's career would not have been as successful without him, "I really should be his presenter. He wouldn’t have gotten in [to the Hall of Fame] without having me to sack."
In 1972 he led the league in pass attempts and completions, and led the National Football Conference in passing yards, though the team's record was only 2–11–1.
In 1978, he was named the NFC Player Of The Year by UPI after leading the Saints to a 7–9 record
. That same year, Archie was also named All-NFC by both the UPI and The Sporting News.
Manning was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1978 and 1979. He went on to conclude his career with the Houston Oilers (1982-1983), and the Minnesota Vikings (1983–1984), where the teams posted a collective record of 6-35. He ended his 13-year career having completed 2,011 of 3,642 passes for 23,911 yards and 125 touchdowns, with 173 interceptions.
He also rushed for 2,197 yards and 18 touchdowns. His 2,011 completions ranked 17th in NFL history upon his retirement. His record as a starter was 35–101–3 (26.3%), the worst in NFL history among QB's with at least 100 starts.