EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The hubbub over whether New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning wants to be the highest-paid quarterback in the league is mere distraction. First of all, who wouldn't? Second of all, if the Giants can't get a deal done by next spring and they franchise him to keep him off the market, his franchise number will be $23.7 million, which would make him the highest-paid quarterback by far. Why wouldn't a smart agent start there?
And that's what we're talking about, really. Starting points. The making of the sausage. The Giants started low, offering Manning about $17.5 million a year, which is what he makes this year. They know he's not going to take that, and Manning's agent surely knows the final deal will come in somewhere under his own initial asking price. This is called negotiating, is normal, and shouldn't distract from the near-certainty of Manning and the Giants staying together until the end of his career.
Of course, nothing is 100 percent certain. Manning himself has pointed out more than once that his brother never imagined leaving the Colts. Plans change, people get hurt and when you're dealing with human beings there's always at least one what-if.
In the case of Manning and the Giants, it's this: What if the Giants decide the best thing for the franchise is to move on and rebuild around a quarterback who doesn't eat up 15 to 19 percent of the salary cap every year?
That's the only way a Manning-Giants deal doesn't get done -- if the Giants make a decision to move on from Manning. Now, there are a couple of things that could happen to make them decide to do that. First, Manning could get injured, which has never happened before and which, if the injury were serious enough, could legitimately change the Giants' perception of Manning and his value. Second, the Giants could have another rough year and decide there are still so many holes on the roster that they need to commit resources elsewhere and can't spend so much on one position when they still need help at so many others.
The latter scenario is realistic, since the Giants' roster is still full of holes at a variety of positions. But the idea that the Giants would kiss off a still-healthy-and-productive Eli Manning in reaction to another bad season and a roster reality check is far-fetched. It also would be a huge mistake.
Letting Manning walk after this year would give the Giants a lot more cap room to rebuild their roster. Assuming another sub-.500 season, it's entirely possible they'll have a new coach who will bring his own program, and I've heard the argument that said coach might possibly want his own quarterback. But I don't buy it. First of all, the cap is projected to continue skyrocketing, which means Manning on a premium-price quarterback deal really won't cripple the Giants in pursuit of other improvements. It's not as though they have a bunch of other big contracts to get done. They have Odell Beckham Jr. under control for three more years after this one. The Jason Pierre-Paul marriage is clearly on the rocks. Prince Amukamara could land a big deal if he gets through the season healthy, but otherwise there aren't any major expenditures coming due any time soon.
And fundamentally, whoever the coach is and whatever the plan is for building the Giants back into contention in 2016 and beyond, it's hard to imagine wanting to go through any of that while searching for an answer at quarterback. Teams like the Texans, Bills and Jets, who have strong rosters otherwise but struggle to win because they don't have a franchise quarterback, are not teams to envy. They dream of Eli Manning hitting the open market and complicating the rest of their salary-cap decisions.
So the Giants should stay the course and pay Manning at the top of the quarterback market. His resume, his durability and his reliability as a face of the franchise justify that decision. It's almost certainly the one they will make. The only reason they haven't made it yet is that they don't have to. The only reason not to do it at some point in the next six or seven months is if they make a cataclysmic, franchise-shifting decision to move on from Manning and rebuild around someone else. And frankly, no matter what happens this season, as long as Manning is healthy, now is not the time.