The catch, in traffic, 38 yards up the left sideline with his toes just in bounds in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, isn't going anywhere. That's part of New York Giants lore forever, and because of it Mario Manningham won't ever get booed by Giants fans unless he does something to beat their team. But before, during and after that catch, which was such a key part of the Super Bowl victory over the Patriots last month, the Giants and everyone else knew Manningham wasn't going to be on their team in 2012.
He found his new home late Saturday night, agreeing with the San Francisco 49ers on a two-year contract. He becomes the first to defect from the Giants' latest championship team. The cost of doing business in the NFL is that if someone does something to help you win a championship, other teams want him.
In the Giants' case, they knew they'd lose Manningham because they knew the free-agent market for wide receivers would deliver him offers that were higher than what they wanted to pay for their No. 3 wide receiver. They have superstar-caliber players at the position in Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz -- players who will be needing their own new contracts before long -- and with salary-cap concerns and other needs to fill, they've long been prepared to bid farewell to Manningham. The offense functioned very well when he came back healthy at the end of the season and gave Eli Manning another option, but it's not as though Manning had been incapable of functioning without him. He threw for 406 yards in New Orleans, 347 in the regular-season loss to the Packers, and Manningham didn't suit up for those games.
The Giants will find their No. 3 receiver somewhere, be it in the draft or from a holdover group that includes Ramses Barden, Jerrel Jernigan and Domenik Hixon. The Giants, as much as any other team, always believe the potential solution can be found on their roster. Manningham was a fine player for them, but once Cruz exploded onto the scene he became a luxury. Their offseason priorities at this point are linebacker, offensive line and running back.
As for their own free agents, they've been told go out on the market and see what they can get. If Aaron Ross, Jonathan Goff and even Brandon Jacobs come back and want to sign for the low, low prices the Giants have budgeted for them, they'll be welcomed back. If not, they'll be replaced. But they knew all along that Manningham would find something better than what they had to offer him. They'll wish him well, and thank him for all he did, and then they'll move on without him, just as they'd planned to.