The New York Giants have been the NFL's most active team so far this offseason, adding 14 free agents from outside their organization and re-signing 10 of their own. But free agency is no cure-all, as we've all heard countless times. So each day this week, we'll take a look at one question that still remains following the Giants' spring splurge. Today we ask:
What can the Giants expect from Eli Manning?
I swear this post was planned before Thursday's news that Manning was having surgery on his sprained left ankle. But obviously, the fact of offseason surgery can only add to the legitimacy of the questions surrounding the Giants' franchise quarterback following his worst season. Manning threw a career-high 27 interceptions in 2013 to go with 18 touchdown passes, his lowest total since becoming the Giants' full-time starter. His passing yardage total of 3,818 was his lowest since 2008. His 57.5 completion percentage was his lowest since 2007, and for the third year in a row was lower than it was the year before.
There are those who wonder whether Manning is a player in decline at age 33. This is a question that has not gone unasked within the ranks of the Giants' front office. It is part of the reason the Giants decided not to try this offseason to extend Manning's contract, which runs through 2015, even though doing so would have offered them significant salary cap relief. They would like to see him pull out of his downward trend before they commit to his late 30s. Their hope is that he has a big year and that extending him next offseason makes sense.
But there's no way to know, and the Giants didn't exactly load up around Manning this offseason. They brought in a couple of new offensive linemen who may or may not be upgrades. They added a running back who's probably better than what they had in the second half of 2013. They did not upgrade at wide receiver or tight end. Manning is going to have to make his recovery more or less on his own. He's going to have to find a way to improve the aspects of his performance that were his fault in 2013. The Giants hope that, in doing so, he can elevate the personnel around him on the offensive side of the ball.
They're also hoping, as coach Tom Coughlin has said more than once, that Manning will be "energized" by the arrival of new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. After 10 years in basically the same system, Manning will be learning new things this summer and putting them into practice in the fall. We do not yet know enough about the offense McAdoo is installing to guess whether Manning's skills are suited to it, but it's safe to assume the Giants asked (and answered) that question before hiring McAdoo. The new offense, if it bears any resemblance to the one in which McAdoo worked in Green Bay, is likely to rely on quick decision-making (a Manning strength) and short-range accuracy. The old reliance on downfield timing and the ability of his receivers to read coverages exactly as he does from play to play could dwindle, and with it the interception total.
Those are the theories, at least. We'll all find out together whether they hold up. The last time Manning had a 25-interception season was 2010, and it bothered him greatly. I remember speaking to him about it in training camp in 2011 and him telling me, "Some you can't control and some are the result of bad decisions. We just have to eliminate the bad-decision ones." Once he gets on the field, I imagine that will be his focus once again this year, with the hope that it ends up for him and the Giants the way that 2011 season did. From here, that seems like a stretch. I think the Giants would just like to see Manning look like he's in command of things again. Because last year, there were very few moments when that appeared to be the case.