That is the decision the Giants organization faces as it makes the awkward transition away from the Manning era, which dates back to 2004. It was already botched last season with his one-game benching in favor of Geno Smith. That halted his consecutive-games streak at 210 and prompted public outcry. He was eventually reinstated as the starter and brought back for at least one more season.
That hasn't gone particularly well. The Giants (3-8) are among the league's worst teams, and Manning has struggled throughout large parts of this season behind an offensive line that has had trouble pass protecting. He will remain the starter for at least one more week and likely more.
Coach Pat Shurmur named Manning the starter for Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears. Manning expects to start "until I'm told not to." That could be at some point later this season or after next season. He has one more year remaining on his contract at $17 million. It includes a $23.2 million salary-cap hit for 2019.
The Giants can get out of the deal if they so please, save $17 million in cap space, eat a digestible $6.2 million in dead money and turn the page on a legendary career that included two Super Bowl titles but didn't end particularly well. This is destined to be the sixth time in seven seasons the Giants and Manning have missed the playoffs.
Cutting Manning is one of their options. It's not the only one.
One more year!
All indications to date have been that Manning would like to continue playing. And he would like to do it with the Giants. He has a family with three young daughters and their life is in New Jersey.
Undoubtedly, Manning would like his playing career to end on a more positive note than the past two years. Maybe general manager Dave Gettleman sees the Carolina and Tampa Bay games this season in the same light as he did the Eagles game in 2017? “It was not a mirage,” Gettleman said of that Philadelphia performance in Week 15 of last season, when Manning completed 37 of 57 passes for 434 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
Gettleman has not commented publicly about his quarterback's play this season, but it's possible the Giants bring Manning back as their bridge quarterback or mentor to some younger options. They could also view him (right or wrong) as their best option for next season while the search continues to find their next franchise quarterback. One might not be available in the 2019 draft.
Regardless, Manning will be 38 years old in January. He's not a long-term solution.
Manning's return for another season would likely have to come with a pay cut. A $23.2 million cap figure isn't crazy in today's NFL, but it's not anywhere near commensurate with Manning's current skills or recent production. He's on pace for 20 touchdowns and 13 turnovers while being sacked 55 times in a season where the Giants appear destined for a top-10 pick.
But a starting quarterback at $10 million or so might entice the Giants and Manning to go down this road one more time and hope for a different result.
This would provide the easy out for the Giants, who haven't been able to cut the cord yet even after beginning the process late last season. Manning can call it quits on a legendary career that will likely land him in the Hall of Fame. The Giants can seriously begin the process of developing a new identity. It seems necessary for both after they've been stuck in no-man's land for years.
It doesn't appear likely, though. Manning has shown no signs of a player who has lost his desire to compete.
"I want to play," he said Monday when asked about the possibility of being mathematically eliminated and the Giants turning to rookie Kyle Lauletta or backup Alex Tanney at some point. "You all can speculate, you all can 'what if.' It's not my decision."
Manning would like continue playing this season and at least through the end of his contract. He's talked in the past of playing into his 40s.
The Giants might decide to move on this season, but Manning might not. He might want to continue playing elsewhere, even if it's just for a season or to prove them wrong.
The Jaguars and his former coach Tom Coughlin are going to be looking for a quarterback this offseason. Maybe they want to make one more run at it with their current group and Manning at the helm while they try to find a long-term solution. Maybe the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are willing to use him as a stopgap, or there is a team out there that finds him enticing for his name recognition. Manning can at least sell some jerseys for a franchise.
It's unlikely at this point of his career and with his current price tag that there would be much trade value. Plus, he would have to agree to any move because there is a no-trade clause in his contract.
At most, Manning could bring back a late-round pick from a desperate team. So if he does land elsewhere, it will likely come after the Giants decide to move on and cut their Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
The markets for 38-year-old quarterbacks on the decline aren't usually robust. It's possible nobody wants to commit to Manning as their starter for 2019. At that point, he would be faced with a decision. Retire or go elsewhere as a backup.
The latter appears unlikely. Manning doesn't need to chase another paycheck. He's collected over $200 million from the Giants alone. He also doesn't really need to chase a championship. He has two of those.
This would ultimately be the sad ending if it comes to Manning still wanting to play but being unwanted. It seems unlikely given the need for competent quarterbacks, but it's one of the seemingly feasible options that could unfold over the next six months.