The specifics of Eli Manning's ankle injury, which was requiring him to have surgery Thursday, are not really at issue here. His recovery will be what it will be, and the timetable at this point does not seem as though it will conflict with the significant on-field portion of the New York Giants' offseason program. Those who would panic over Thursday's news are no more or less correct than those who would dismiss it outright.
This is not nothing. The franchise quarterback is being operated on, and there are things he'd normally be doing at this time of the year to prepare for the season that he won't be able to do. But at this point it also does not appear to be something about which to be overly alarmed. If it lingers into June, and the Giants are on the field learning the new offense without Manning, then we can talk about ways in which it might affect the 2014 season. For now, we can give the most durable quarterback in the NFL the benefit of the doubt.
But because Manning is the most durable quarterback in the league, having not missed a game since he got the starter's job as a rookie in 2004, it's worth examining the concept of an Eli Manning injury in general. He doesn't, in any meaningful way, ever have them. Oh, sure, he has played through pain and maybe even an ailment or two that would have sidelined other quarterbacks. But an injury that forces Manning away from the field is not something the Giants have had to confront. Ever.
That's important. The Giants make their plans, every year, around the idea that Manning won't miss any time. He doesn't miss games, practices or offseason workouts. He is always there, without exception, and that and his two Super Bowl MVP awards are the reasons he's paid as one of the top quarterbacks in the league. The Giants don't really employ a backup quarterback in the fill-in-starter sense. What they look for in a backup is a good scout team quarterback. Curtis Painter isn't a real option to play if Manning has to miss a bunch of time, and Ryan Nassib remains what he was on draft day last year -- a long-range project who may or may not ever play for them. If Manning were to have to miss games, the Giants would quite honestly have little reason to show up for those games. He's as important to his team as any player in the league, and the key to that importance is the reliability of his health.
Which is why this is a faint-sounding, long-range alarm bell if not a short-range one. Manning is 33, which isn't old by modern NFL quarterback standards but certainly isn't young. There will come a time when he's not able to answer the bell for every single game and every single practice. Whether that time comes this year, next year or five years down the road, it is coming. At some point in the not-too-distant future, the Giants will have to answer questions at quarterback that Manning's reliability has kept them from having to address for the past decade. News that their indestructible franchise quarterback is having surgery is cause to appreciate what Manning has meant to the Giants, and a warning that he won't always be there for them.