On Monday, New York Giants fans woke up to news that the team was looking to extend the contract of quarterback Eli Manning. Then the fans looked at the calendar and realized that it was the first day of April. The news must have just been a terrible April Fools’ Day joke. Hey, even Tom Brady couldn’t resist making a joke yesterday, as he created a twitter account to prank everyone into thinking that he had retired from professional football (Sorry, Tom, no one believed you).
Unfortunately, what seems like a joke to others is usually the norm for the Giants these days. General manager Dave Gettleman has repeatedly defended Manning and, despite all logic, thinks that Manning can still lead this team to an NFC East title and success in the postseason.
Gettleman is not all wrong when it comes to his evaluation of Manning. The 38-year-old signal-caller still can make NFL throws. He can still go through his progressions and find an open target. Manning can still lead a game-winning drive in the final minutes of a close game.
The major problem with Gettleman’s logic is that Manning cannot make NFL throws often enough for the Giants to win enough games to make the playoffs. Over the past fifteen months, the Giants front office has gotten rid of some of the team’s best players, which has put more weight on the quarterback. At one point in his career, Manning could carry that weight. In 2011, he set an NFL record with 15 fourth quarter touchdown passes. He led the Giants to five fourth quarter comebacks that season, and the Giants needed every single one of their victories in order to win the NFC East and make the playoffs.
In 2019, Manning cannot carry a team. He is too far past his prime, and he does not have the pieces around him that he needs in order to win at his advanced age. The Giants defense has ranked in the bottom ten in the league in most statistical categories in three of the past four seasons. In 2016, when the defense finished in the top five in most categories, the Giants won 11 games and made the playoffs despite scoring just 19 points per game. The Giants’ success has had more to do with the performance of its defense than it has had to do with its quarterback.
The Giants may want to bring Manning back in 2020 to mentor a young quarterback who will eventually replace the aging legend. There are a few reasons why this plan does not make sense. First of all, Manning will be an expensive backup. The organization loves him, and ever since they benched him for Geno Smith, the organization has given him everything he has wanted. Giants ownership and the front office seem to be scared to do anything that would upset Manning. He and agent Tom Condon will get what they want at the negotiating table. Instead of signing a cheap veteran to serve as a mentor, the Giants will be paying Manning a fortune to essentially be a low-level assistant coach.
It will be interesting to hear what Gettleman has to say if the 2019 Giants are bad enough to equal the 2018 Giants’ abysmal 1-7 record at the midway point of the season. Will he defend Manning and, by default, blame the rest of the team? Of course, the ultimate irony is that the team was put together by none other than Gettleman himself. Will the GM reverse course and admit that the Giants must move on from Manning? I doubt it.
Manning is not simply going to give up his roster spot. Like his brother Peyton and so many others before him, Eli has been a quarterback for all of his adult life (and even for most of his childhood). For each of the past 25 years, he has performed the same routine. I can’t imagine that Manning has given thought to life after football. Of course, Manning can do almost anything he wants to do- but he will be without the one constant that has fueled him for so long. The only way he retires without being forced out is if he has absolutely nothing left in the tank, as Peyton Manning did in 2015. Eli’s older brother threw for nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions before giving way to Brock Osweiler in the middle of the season. He returned in time for the postseason and won a second Super Bowl ring, but he simply had nothing left to give after that. Until the Giants have the guts or smarts to take the football from Eli, they will be stuck in neutral and will be a last-place team.
Gettleman may be a fool, but the Manning extension talks are not an April Fools’ joke. They are yet another sign that the Giants are not the franchise they once were.
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