Before I get started, I'd like to take a moment for an introduction. This is going to be a recurring piece from me, similar to Ed's weekly "Five Things I Think I Think". I'll be using this as an opportunity to discuss or offer my opinion on a question I've been mulling over.
So, with that said, on to this week's topic:
What if we've been spoiled by Eli Manning?
Coming in to the 2014 season, one of the most common topics of conversation -- and more commonly tooth gnashing scream-fests -- was New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning. Is he in decline? Is he done? Should the Giants consider moving on from him? Can he survive in an offensive scheme that relies on quick decisions, efficient footwork, and accurate, timely passes?
Opposing camps were set up, battle lines drawn, and arguments entrenched.
There were compelling arguments on both sides. 2013 was Eli's worst year as a mature quarterback. He lead the league in interceptions and clearly cost the Giants wins. On the other hand, he was dealing with an offense that had sustained a historic number of injuries, and an offensive coordinator who appeared apathetic in his play-calling.
The battle has continued into the 2014 season. It isn't uncommon to see people advocate letting Eli play out his contract, then moving on. There are even some openly questioning whether or not Eli Manning should be cut after the season as a part of a massive, franchise-wide demolition and re-build.
There are, of course, some Giants' fans who never wanted Eli Manning. Back in 2004, there are those who wanted Philip Rivers or Ben Roethlisberger, or formed their opinions on Eli in his first two years, and no number of championships will change their minds.
But leaving those who have spent the last decade trying to get Eli cut aside, have the rest of us been spoiled by Eli, and are taking him for granted?
Personally, I think the answer is "Yes".
'Injured' Manning On Track For Sunday Start
•Big Blue ViewEli Manning might be on the injury report, but he certainly isn't acting like a guy who is hurt.
This season, I think appreciation for Eli Manning is hitting an all-time low. He is coming off the worst season of his career, he is well into his 30s -- and therefore old by football standards -- and the Giants are limping to the finish of another horrible season. Other than tuning in to see what Odell Beckham is going to do this week, fans don't have much reason to be invested at the moment.
But what about Eli? Does he deserve the apathy, or even hostility, he is getting from fans? I suppose that depends on how much blame you lay at his feet for the way this season has gone.
Outside of the San Francisco game, where Eli was the reason why the Giants lost, I have a hard time blaming him for any of the Giants' losses.
More importantly, I don't think enough credit is given to what Eli has accomplished this year in changing offenses. Sure, players change offenses all the time, so what makes Eli so special?
Well, he has had to adapt to a new voice in his ear for the first time in a decade, and a completely new offensive philosophy, called by a first-time coordinator. In the process of adopting the new offense, Eli has had to completely rebuild his fundamentals, learn how to communicate with his new coaches and an almost entirely revamped offensive personnel group. In short, Eli has had to re-learn how to play quarterback in an alien offense, on an unfamiliar team.
The result, is that Eli is on pace for the best completion percentage, second-lowest interception percentage, and fourth-best touchdown percentage of his career. All while being on pace for the highest number of attempts of his career.
For comparison, when Big Ben had to adapt to Todd Haley's offense -- incidentally, a relationship that has gotten off to a much rockier start than Eli and McAdoo -- his year was remarkably similar in terms of numbers to Eli's this year. Particularly if we look at Eli's game against San Francisco as an outlier. Unlike Eli, Ben wasn't asked to significantly alter his fundamentals and the offensive personnel were relatively consistent from the year before, when the Steelers went 11-5.
Of course, Ben was injured and only played 13 games that year. But that brings me to another thought. Maybe part of the reason why Eli is taken for granted, is because he is the current Iron Man of NFL quarterbacks. It has been a decade since Giants fans have seen what the team would look like without Eli for any significant stretch. We haven't seen a quarterback like Branden Weeden or Curtis Painter running the offense -- and I sincerely hope we don't. Franchise quarterbacks, guys who can win you a Super Bowl, are incredibly rare.
For one last exercise, let's look back a the first three rounds of the last five drafts.
2014: Blake Bortles (1), Johnny Manziel (1), Teddy Bridgewater (1), Derek Carr (2), Jimmy Garoppolo (2)
2013: EJ Manuel (1), Geno Smith (2), Mike Glennon (3)
2012: Andrew Luck (1), Robert Griffin III (1), Ryan Tannehill (1), Brandon Weeden (1), Brock Oswieler (2), Russell Wilson (3), Nick Foles (3)
2011: Cam Newton (1), Jake Locker (1), Blaine Gabbert (1), Christian Ponder (1), Andy Dalton (2), Collin Kaepernick (2), Ryan Mallett (3)
2010: Sam Bradford (1), Tim Tebow (1), Jimmy Clausen (2), Colt McCoy (3)
That is 26 of the best quarterbacks to come out of college in the last five years. How many would Eli be cut for? How many would actually perform better than Eli Manning over the next four or five years? How many could the franchise trust and depend on the way they do Eli?
Personally, I couldn't comfortably cut Eli for any of them, but I would trust the franchise to Luck and Wilson, but that's about it. Even then, Luck has much of the same gunslinger mentality as Eli, and we haven't seen Wilson without a dominant defense and running game to rely on. Would either be demonstrably better than Eli if they were the Giants quarterback right now?
What does all of this mean? Honestly, It's a long way of saying that I think even with the mystifying decisions and brain farts, and the abuse from the media, the Giants are lucky to have Eli. I think that despite his inconsistent play, he has been such a consistent pillar of the team that he is taken for granted.
But, to steal a line from Dennis Miller, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.