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Eli Manning to start Sunday, but Giants’ QB drama hasn’t ended

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What will happen beyond this week, and even next season, is anyone’s guess

NFL: New York Giants - Practice
Eli Manning throws during Wednesday’s practice.
Northjersey.com-USA TODAY Sports

Stve Spagnuolo’s first major decision as interim head coach of the New York Giants was to return Eli Manning to the role of starting quarterback, where he had been for 210 straight games before Ben McAdoo replaced him with Geno Smith last week.

That put an end to the Giants’ quarterback melodrama. For this week.

“Why Eli? All I can tell you is this. When John Mara and I talked, one of the first things he asked was about the quarterback situation and I said, ‘John, my gut right now is that Eli should be the starter,’ “ Spagnuolo said on Wednesday. “What you have to understand is when I was coaching just the defense, I had the blinders on and all I’m worried about is the defense. I stay in my lane. So, I didn’t have my eyes around what was going on on offense – who was playing what. None of that. So, I took my gut and visited with the offensive coaches and together with that and my gut, Eli Manning is going to be our quarterback.”

The quarterback melodrama, though, isn’t over. Not for this season, at least. Perhaps not even for next season.

Eli will get Sunday

There is no doubt about that. When Manning found out Spagnuolo would be replacing McAdoo, he went to the coach and made sure Spagnuolo knew that Manning wanted to play.

“I just wanted him to know that I do want to play. I want to be the starting quarterback,” Manning said. “So, I’m happy that he went with that decision and he has the faith in me, we can go win this football game with me as the quarterback.”

Sunday figures to include an outpouring of thanks for Manning, who deserves as much after 14 seasons as a starter and two Super Bowl titles. Whatever the final stats are and whatever his weaknesses are, when the Giants traded for Manning in 2004 it would be hard to believe there are Giants fans who wouldn’t have signed up for what Manning has delivered.

“I appreciate all the support that the fans have given me this past week, it’s been overwhelming. And I appreciate them so much for all the texts, the letters, the way they expressed their appreciation for me, so I’d appreciate it if they came out on Sunday and cheered the team on,” Manning said.

He got similar support from former teammates, as well as others around the NFL.

“It helped me to kind of keep my head up during last week and just realize the impact you’ve made on so many people and the championships and the games and how I’ve conducted myself makes a difference,” Manning said. “So, all the former teammates that sent me text messages that voiced their opinions on things, even some players that I just met over the years, the text messages and their support was very helpful and I appreciate that a lot.”

So, Sunday figures to turn into something like an Eli Appreciation Day at MetLife Stadium.

Nothing is guaranteed after this week

At 2-10, with a rookie quarterback who was a third-round pick on the bench, and the possibility of selecting a QB looming in the first few picks of the 2018 NFL Draft, the idea of getting an in-game look at Davis Webb still has merit.

Spagnuolo wasn’t committing to anything on Wednesday.

“Well, Mike (Sullivan) and I and the offensive coaches will talk about that as we go. The number one focus right now is to figure out a way to beat the Dallas Cowboys. I can tell you that,” Spagnuolo said. “And, each week we’ll talk about those other things, but right now, in the midst of everything that’s going on with the changes and what not, little tweaks here and there, the focus is still going to be to beat the Dallas Cowboys.”

Webb, of course, would love to play. He would love the opportunity to show whoever is making the decisions, that Manning’s heir is already on the roster. On Wednesday, Webb artfully side-stepped a question about wanting to play.

“It’s not up to me. I don’t get to pick and choose what happens, all I get to do is control what I can control and that’s being a good quarterback for the scout team right now and being a great teammate to Eli and Geno [Smith] and help all of our receivers get ready and I’m still doing the same cutups, still getting up here early and staying up here late,” Webb said. “So, it doesn’t really affect me and again, that’s out of my control, so I don’t really think about it.”

Webb’s workload did increase a bit on Wednesday as he ran scout team alone rather than splitting those reps with Smith, the current No. 2 quarterback. Spagnuolo said that “right now” Smith remains the backup to Manning.

Manning, for his part, wants to be what he has been for 210 of the last 2011 regular-season games — quarterback of the Giants.

“It’s important to play. That’s what I love to do. I love to play quarterback and love playing quarterback for the New York Giants,” he said.

As for Webb getting some time before the season ends, Manning said that “hasn’t been discussed” and “I’m not sure what the plan is.”

“That (Webb playing) may come up, I understand. That’s why you take one game at a time and obviously, that starting job was taken from me, I don’t want to lose it, but I understand the position that we’re in, I understand why they did it last week,” Manning said. “So, I understand the circumstances and where we stand. I’m going to try to do my best this week and see what happens going forward.”

What about 2018?

Manning has already suffered the indignity of having to watch Smith, a flop with the New York Jets and a guy who seems unlikely to be a Giant beyond this season, start in his place last week. He has to be aware of the calls to look at Webb, even the curiosity of co-owner John Mara. He has to be cognizant of the possibility the Giants would draft a quarterback with their first pick in the upcoming draft.

Manning has two years beyond this one left on his Giants contract and said he has “no retirement plans.” He told Steve Serby of the New York Post that “I want to be the starting quarterback next year.”

What happens if he’s not?

“Hey, this is all I know. This is all I know, is playing for the New York Giants and I’ve never wished to change that,” Manning said. “I appreciate everything the Giants organization has done for me and you have so much family in this building. From the Mara family, the Tisch family, people in the equipment room and the film room, the training room. I’ve known a lot of these people for 14 years and grew up around them. So, this is all I know.

“Hey, I’m going to finish out this season and then I’m sure there’ll be a discussion with the organization to figure out what’s the plan going forward.”

That discussion could lead to someone being the Giants quarterback next season, and the guy who has held that job for all but one game since taking over in the middle of the 2004 season being elsewhere.

So, consider this Sunday’s game against the Cowboys the calm before, or maybe between quarterback storms for the Giants.