No, this is not the end of the Eli Manning era. Don’t get it twisted.
Geno Smith will start for the New York Giants on Sunday, a decision that means Manning won’t be their starting quarterback for the first time in 210 consecutive starts. It has been a span of great success for the Giants and Manning, who became one of the league’s top quarterbacks capped off by two Super Bowl MVP's and twice lifting the Lombardi Trophy.
Sunday, also won’t be the end of his time with the Giants. He can be and should be and likely will be the team’s starter once this debacle of a season is completed.
To read anything more into this personnel decision other than the fact that the Giants are 2-9 and sputtering is absurd. They are officially out of playoff contention as of last Thursday’s loss and the offense is borderline putrid.
Manning still is one of the best selling points this offseason for a team in rebuild mode. Despite the pundits who debate whether he is elite and Giants fans who get flummoxed over his demeanor or occasional interception, Manning is nonetheless respected around the league.
For a team that will need to rebuild and add veteran pieces, selling a four-time Pro Bowl quarterback under center in 2018 will be far more enticing than the other options currently on the Giants roster. Think a top wide receiver wants to catch balls from Smith next year or the rookie Davis Webb? Or an offensive lineman sees potential blocking for either of those two?
The Giants will need to sell something to free agents and Manning is their best bet. Recent years, outside of this past season which has been abysmal for nearly the entire offense, has shown very little drop-off in Manning’s performance.
To suggest that Manning is being judged and found wanting while playing behind the league’s worst offensive line and minus his top two wide receivers is just plain silly.
There is also the plain fact of cold, hard cash. Manning has a dead cap hit of $12.4 million next year, an unlikely pill for the Giants to swallow just to move on from their 36-year old quarterback. It doesn’t make any sense that Manning won’t be the Giants starter heading into next year. His contract size essentially dictates it as does the continued value on the field.
This is a quarterback not just with playoff success but who statistically over the past three seasons before this year put up some of the best passing numbers in the league. To say that this year should signal the end of his tenure with the Giants is naïve.
Why should the Giants suit-up Manning and continue to see him take massive hits week in and week out? They know what they have in their veteran quarterback and now, with nothing left to play for, is the time to kick the tires on the aforementioned duo of Smith and Davis Webb.
It makes perfect sense for the Giants to see what the talent behind Manning is all about.
It also is a calculated roll of the dice by head coach Ben McAdoo.
After all, McAdoo is on the hot seat, perhaps two-and-done here with the Giants. If Smith, who is far more elusive in the pocket than Manning, can come in and perhaps move the ball a bit, it might be enough for the Giants to rattle off a couple of wins. Smith isn’t better than Manning but he’s more mobile. Perhaps he can survive better back there and rattle off a win or two as this season gasps its final, painful breath for ‘Big Blue.’
Enough momentum, perhaps, for McAdoo to save his job. It is a long shot but for a man coaching for the chance to be here next year, he might as well throw the proverbial Jell-O against the wall and see what sticks.
Nothing else has worked this year. Might as well try this.
The benching of Manning is all about this week and the four remaining games after this Sunday in the Giants season. It shouldn’t be a fundamental shift in the direction of the franchise. It doesn’t make last Thursday the final time that Manning plays for the Giants.
Instead, it was the right move during what has been a dreadful year for the Giants. But if this team is to have any hope heading into this offseason let alone next year, than Manning needs to be the Giants starter again come 2018.