This is the beginning of the end for Manning with the Giants. He’s 36 and has been benched after 210 consecutive starts and two Super Bowls. He has started every game since he took over for Kurt Warner as a rookie during the 2004 season. That will change on Sunday, when the Giants play in Oakland with Geno Smith as their starter.
Coach Ben McAdoo explained that the Giants want a "complete evaluation of the roster, especially at the quarterback position.” They’ll do that by starting Smith against the Raiders and working rookie Davis Webb into the lineup in future weeks.
The Giants won’t admit it, but this is their first real concession that they are ready to move on from Manning. It’s over. Drafting a quarterback in the third round is one thing, but this is another.
No matter how many games he has won, how many touchdowns he has thrown, how many comebacks he has led, the Giants decided it was time to look toward the future while Manning was still willing and able to play. McAdoo made the decision, but he claims it was stamped by management and general manager Jerry Reese.
Even an emotional Manning couldn’t answer Tuesday whether he had played his last game for the Giants.
“I don’t know,” he said with an accompanying whimper. “Take it one day at a time.”
It’s a sad reality, but the Giants (2-9) simply weren’t good enough this season with him on the field. They’re 31st in the NFL, with an average of 15.6 points per game. Manning has thrown 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The Giants were officially eliminated from playoff contention this past weekend.
It isn't all Manning’s fault. Not even close. His supporting cast (especially the offensive line) hasn’t been good for years. This team is far from winning another Super Bowl, and Manning isn’t capable of putting them on his shoulders. That much has become evident this season.
The Giants feel forced to look elsewhere, for the benefit of the team’s future. It might not be ideal, but it’s reality.
“A lot of Hall of Fame quarterbacks who have done a lot for a lot of teams haven’t been able to choose the way that they get to move on, and I’m not saying that we’re moving on, but at some point in time, you have to make hard, tough decisions for the best of the franchise,” coach Ben McAdoo said. “And that’s what I have to do here.”
It’s hardly going to be looked at as a popular decision or one that was handled correctly. Really, is there a right way to push the greatest quarterback in franchise history out the door? Probably not in the eyes of a devoted fan base.
McAdoo conceded that he wasn’t sure if Manning still had a future with the Giants.
“Time will tell,” he said.
Manning is signed for two more years. He has a no-trade clause in his contract, and despite still wanting to play, he might not be willing to do it elsewhere. The four-time Pro Bowl quarterback has made a home in New Jersey with his wife and three daughters. He doesn’t need to chase another championship to validate his career. He is already considered the best quarterback in Giants franchise history and a likely Hall of Famer.
Regardless, this was admittedly one of the hardest days of Manning’s career. He came to the facility Tuesday knowing the situation. McAdoo and Manning talked about it the previous day.
The Giants wanted Manning to play the first half before being replaced by Smith. That would allow his consecutive games streak to continue. Manning slept on the idea and thought it was best to just step aside. If the Giants want to see what was on the other side of that curtain, they should do it. The streak wasn’t built on Manning starting for the sake of starting.
None of this seemed to sit well with the accomplished quarterback.
“I don’t like it, but it’s part of football,” Manning said of the decision. “You handle it. I’ll do my job.”
The question now is for how much longer.