EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There have been only a few constants for every first-team rep at New York Giants practice this summer. Will Hernandez has been the left guard, Kevin Zeitler the right guard and Eli Manning the quarterback.
That Manning is in this position shouldn't be a surprise. It has been an annual tradition pretty much since Facebook was launched. It's been that long since the Giants experienced anything different.
But now everything has come full circle. Back in 2004, Manning opened training camp behind veteran quarterback Kurt Warner, who started nine games that season before giving way to the rookie. Now, it's No. 6 overall draft pick Daniel Jones who is spending this training camp behind Manning.
Jones' time will come. It's a matter of when, not if, given the team's investment and belief that he's the next great one. That time isn't here yet, and probably won't be before there is enough hand-wringing to make the pro-Eli and anti-Eli camps heard.
For this relationship status, let's just say: It's complicated.
Manning is self-aware. He's an aging quarterback in the final year of his contract with the future of the franchise waiting patiently in the wings. Jones can learn only so much while sitting.
"Listen, [Manning is] well aware of everything that everybody has said," coach Pat Shurmur said. "He's well aware that he is closer to 40 than 20."
Jones has mostly looked good since the Giants began working in the spring, even if two practices this week in training camp might have been his roughest. He's a rookie. That's his reality.
Shurmur said Tuesday that first-team snaps "might happen" later this summer, that the Giants have a quarterback plan.
"We'll just let it unfold for you," Shurmur said of the highly anticipated succession plan.
Manning is clearly the better quarterback right now. That is evident every day at practice, where the veteran looks like a younger incarnation of himself when he wears a red jersey that indicates he can't be hit. Maybe that will change in the regular season when the red jersey comes off, or perhaps Manning will defy logic once more and have a bounce-back season at 38 years old. This will ultimately determine when (barring injury) Jones gets his full-time crack with the first team.
It's a delicate balance the Giants must juggle in the meantime. Aim for the best in the moment or start preparing for the future. It's certainly part of the daily discussions general manager Dave Gettleman said he has with his head coach, who will ultimately be the driving force behind the decision to finally pull the plug. These Giants are trying to win while simultaneously rebuilding, a philosophy that rarely works.
It's the same dilemma rookie general manager Ernie Accorsi and coach Tom Coughlin faced in 2004, when they made the switch from Warner to Manning despite a 5-4 record and the playoffs within reach. They opted to start the clock on the future.
"You know the time is going to come where they want to go to the young guy," Warner, now an NFL Network analyst, said last week during a stop at Giants camp. "It's just a matter of if it's midway through the season, are they going to give me the season, are they willing to give me two more years and let him grow behind me like an Aaron Rodgers. If you don't know that, that becomes the hard thing pushing it out of your mind."
It's not comparing apples to apples when talking about Warner in 2004 and Manning in 2019. Warner was a mercenary trying to resuscitate his career with the Giants. He had just arrived and had no previous connection to the team.
Manning is a franchise legend. This complicates the transition. He has won a pair of Super Bowls and it was already put on full display how difficult it will be for the Giants to sever ties. Former coach Ben McAdoo benched Manning for a game in 2017 and there was an outcry from fans and former players. He's still the starter 20 months and six wins later. As Warner explained, Manning still can be successful, but he needs to play in a perfect world where the pressure is minimal and pocket is clear.
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Entering his 16th season, Manning changed his offseason routine and went to the baseball world to improve his arm strength. He was referred to Annex Sports' Mickey Brueckner through a mutual friend, former MLB baseball pitcher Al Leiter. Manning and Brueckner began days after the season ended in early January and worked through the start of the Giants' spring workouts in April.
"With him, his mobility and flexibility were great, his throwing mechanics were great," Brueckner said. "A lot of the stuff we did, we enhanced all the stuff he did really well, but kind of filled the buckets he was limited in."
The early returns are positive. Manning seems to be throwing the ball with more velocity early this summer. He feels better and stronger.
He insists the offseason adjustment -- while not completely unique (he dipped into the baseball world several years back to improve his arm) -- isn't a result of Jones lurking.
"My motivation is more it's a desire to win," Manning said. "It's the desire to chase that feeling of winning games. What that feels like in the locker room, what it feels like to get on a hot streak and win four or five in a row. The excitement, the attitude, winning a playoff game, and getting that feeling of winning a championship, and the things you get to experience when you go through those scenarios and try to prove someone else wrong."
Winning is the only thing that will eliminate the speculation that Week 7 against the Arizona Cardinals is the ideal spot to make the quarterback change. Or maybe it's when the Giants are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Making the playoffs will keep Jones pinned to the bench.
Though Shurmur and Manning think the situation will be business as usual, Warner warns there will be unusual thoughts in the quarterback's head. He knows from experience. You naturally wonder how long the leash will be if there is a bad half, game or games. Manning wants to play and the Giants want to play him -- at the very least, early this season.
"You always want to be able to go out on your terms. You want to be able to dictate," Warner said. "But that becomes the hard part. When you're entrenched as the starter, you get the luxury to have a bad game or bad season, whatever that is."
Those bad games for Manning will stick out now more than ever. There is no way around it. Whenever he falters, there will be calls for Jones. His time is coming.
For the Giants, finally, there is a succession plan in place.