Eli Manning will play his 216th game for the New York Giants on Sunday when he starts against the Washington Redskins, tying Michael Strahan for the franchise record for games played. Will it be the final time Manning wears a Giants’ uniform?
That is certainly a possibility.
We know Manning, 36, has said he has no intention of retiring after this, his 14th, NFL season. We also know he has two years left on his contract. We know he wants to stay with the Giants, the only organization for which he has ever played.
There is, however, much more that we don’t know.
We don’t know who the general manager or coach will be, and we have no idea how they will feel about going forward with a 37-year-old quarterback about whom there is, and in fact has always been, a split of opinion over just how good he is.
We don’t know if the new GM and coach will be willing to stomach the $6.2 million cap hit the Giants would incur by making Manning a post-June 1 release, or trading him after that date.
We don’t yet know if the new regime will draft a quarterback in Round 1 of the 2018 NFL Draft. Or, if the new GM and coach will put their long-term faith in Davis Webb.
We also don’t know what life without Manning would be like for the Giants.
We know that Manning, for all of his warts, has been a franchise quarterback for the Giants since he took over the job in 2004. We can argue forever about Manning’s shortcomings — there are plenty. I will always argue that in recent years the organization has failed Manning more than he has failed it, but I will acknowledge Manning has failed the Giants at times. There should, though, have been better teams and more winning, and the fact that there hasn’t been ultimately cost Reese his job. But, let’s not digress too deeply into that argument.
What we do know is that teams without franchise quarterbacks rarely win big in the NFL, especially when it comes to winning Lombardi trophies. We know that franchise quarterbacks don’t grow on trees, and that franchises who don’t have one often spend years chasing one — and making lots of bad decisions along the way in an effort to get one.
There are plenty of current examples around the league of teams chasing ... and chasing ... and chasing franchise quarterbacks in vain. The Giants are also a great example.
Phil Simms was released by the organization after leading the Giants to an 11-5 record in 1993. The next franchise quarterback the Giants had was Manning, who showed up 11 years later.
Jeff Hostetler, Dave Brown, Kent Graham, Danny Kanell and Kerry Collins were among the quarterbacks who tried — and mostly failed — to assume the mantel until Manning showed up.
So, it’s a cautionary tale for those who want Manning gone. You might be about to get what you wish for, and getting what you wish for isn’t always a good thing.
No one with any common sense is going to tell you that Manning is an iconic NFL quarterback on the level of Tom Brady, Johnny Unitas or even his brother, Peyton. He is, however, the best quarterback the Giants have ever had and one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in the history of the sport.
He’s definitely not irreplaceable. He definitely, though, won’t be as easy to replace as many of you seem to believe.