The debate flared up at some point Thursday, following the circulation of a USA Today story in which former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms said that both Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin "both absolutely one day will go in the Hall of Fame." Simms' point seemed to be that the effect the 2011-12 Super Bowl run had on the resumes of the Giants' quarterback and coach was to make them unassailable, where not long ago both were the targets of somewhat unwarranted criticism. And his point is well made.
But the debate about Manning somehow turned to this question: If he never played another game -- say he shocked everyone and announced his retirement this afternoon -- is he already a Hall of Famer, based on his career accomplishments to date?
I think the answer is pretty clearly "no." The two Super Bowl titles, and his own significant role in delivering them in toe-to-toe matchups against certain Hall of Famer Tom Brady, form the counter-argument and the basis for the question. But Hall of Famers are players with long, distinguished careers whose numbers and accomplishments rank with the all-time greats. Having played just eight years in the NFL, Manning ranks 51st all-time in passing yards and 42nd in touchdowns. He's thrown exactly one more touchdown pass than former fellow Coughlin quarterback Mark Brunell, who is not going to the Hall of Fame. Put simply, as one would expect after only eight years, Manning has more work to do to become a Hall of Famer.
Personally, I think he's one of the great quarterbacks of his era and will play well enough over the next half-decade to reach the Hall of Fame. Say, for example, he passes for 4,000 yards in each of the next four years -- entirely possible, given his age, his talent, his supporting cast and the way the modern game is structured. That would land him somewhere around 11th or 12th on the career yardage list. And if he throws for 27 touchdowns per year for those same four years, that'd land him around eighth all-time. Those rankings, combined with his at-least-two Super Bowl titles and MVP trophies, look like Hall of Fame numbers to me. And I don't see any reason to believe he can't get there.
So the conclusion is that, while I agree with Simms that Manning is likely Canton-bound, I don't agree with those who would argue, as Jason Taylor did in that video linked above, that his ticket is already punched. We live in the instant-analysis, instant-gratification sports era, in which what's going on right now is held up as the most important stuff that's ever happened. But Hall of Fame voting takes the long view, and in order to get there, Manning has to keep being excellent for a while yet.