EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As the chips start to fall and the New York Giants' vision for the future begins to crystallize, it is becoming more evident that the quarterback who won two Super Bowls but produced three wins in 15 starts this season is destined to return.
The Giants and new general manager Dave Gettleman want Eli Manning back next season. Look no further than their recent moves: firing coach Ben McAdoo, general manager Jerry Reese and vice president of player evaluation Marc Ross. They blew the anti-Eli crew out of the building over the past month and replaced them with a more agreeable face from the past.
That’s the reality of the situation. It’s all positive for Manning, who just a month ago was losing his grip on the starting job, as the process of pushing him out the door began. But things have changed, and Manning now wants to return under the right circumstances.
“Yeah, I mean, this is what I want to do,” Manning said as the Giants cleaned out their lockers Monday after a disappointing 3-13 season. “I want to play quarterback for the New York Giants. That’s what I hope happens, and obviously we’ll talk and figure out what’s the plan for the franchise going forward.”
Manning will celebrate his 37th birthday on Wednesday. He will spend some time with his family and take a few weeks off before starting to train for the 2018 season.
There is nothing that indicates Manning will step away from the game, even if the Giants reverse course and draft a quarterback with the second overall pick or cut him altogether with two years remaining on his contract. Manning wants to play regardless of whether it is with the Giants, and he pretty much controls his fate with a no-trade clause in his contract and a $5 million roster bonus due in March.
“I feel like I can still play at a high level,” Manning said. “I feel like I can make the throws and, if you get the right guys around, that I can be very effective and play at an extremely high level.”
Gettleman shares that sentiment. He said as much during his introductory news conference.
“If what I saw [against] Philadelphia was not a mirage -- and I don’t believe it was -- then we’ll just keep moving,” Gettleman said.
That seems to be where this all is headed, whether the Giants take a quarterback high in the draft or not.
It is impossible to know exactly what the Giants' overall plan is right now. Even they probably don’t know. They don’t yet have a coach or an offensive system in place. The process of hiring a coach went into full swing this week, so they haven’t gone into great detail about their personnel following the debacle of 2017.
As of Monday afternoon, Manning and Gettleman hadn’t yet sat down to talk at length. Manning indicated that they would likely talk soon.
After that, there might be a better understanding of where the Giants are headed and exactly where Manning fits into the puzzle. At the very least, he’s in position to serve as the bridge or mentor for their next franchise quarterback, whether it be Davis Webb or somebody else.
For now, though, Manning is planning to be the Giants' quarterback in a new offensive system in 2018. He’s already planning to tailor his offseason work around what happens with the coaching staff in the next few weeks.
“I guess it just depends when all that is finalized and when you know who’s the head coach and who’s the offensive coordinator and what kind of offense is being put in,” he said. “I guess I don’t know what all the rules are, but as soon as you can get that information and get started on learning the system, the better.”
That isn’t the sound of a quarterback who intends to go anywhere, despite his being benched in favor of Geno Smith several weeks ago. That was spearheaded by McAdoo and Reese, now the former coach and former general manager.
John Mara and ownership maybe agreed to the plan, but they have since flip-flopped after seeing the reaction of the fan base. They appear back in the corner of the most accomplished quarterback in franchise history.
The Giants know where Gettleman stands. Manning was a topic during the general manager interviews. The team's brass is committed to Manning once again -- until they aren’t. Eventually, they will be back at that point, and probably sooner rather than later, given his age and recent performance.
At this stage of Manning's career, the moment when he’s no longer the Giants' starting quarterback isn’t especially far off. As Reese explained almost a year ago, Manning is on the back nine of his career. After all that has unfolded, the second he struggles again, he will probably end up back on the bench. He understands.
“Well, wherever you go, wherever you’re playing, you’ve got a job to do, and that’s to play well, to win games. And if you’re not doing that, you can easily be replaced,” Manning said. “So that’s a part of playing football in this position.”
More so than at any point in his career, it’s the reality of his situation. He appears just fine with that. The Giants likely will be, too. It works for both parties at this stage of Manning's career.