“I think Eli is our quarterback; but I did say, and again, I know you’re all trying to tease a headline out. At this point, Eli is our quarterback, and we are looking at all areas to improve,” Shurmur said on Monday. “That’s where it’s at.”
Thing is, Shurmur doesn’t really have to say Manning isn’t part of the future. It’s apparent.
Whether Eli Manning is the starter Week 10 against the San Francisco 49ers or not doesn’t really matter. He may start a few more games as the Giants assess the readiness of rookie Kyle Lauletta, but the reality of it is the Eli Manning Era is really already over for the Giants. He is no longer their unquestioned franchise quarterback. He isn’t part of the future the Giants’ recent actions are admitting they know they have to lay the groundwork for. He won’t be the quarterback if and when the Giants come out the other side of rebuild they have to undertake.
Manning is now part of a championship past that was far too long ago, a last link to the glory days. Even if he continues to start games for a bit, he is only a placeholder until the Giants begin the process of trying to find their next franchise quarterback.
There are fans who who have been done with Manning and thought that process should have started years ago. I have never been one of those. I have never believed Manning was on the level of his brother Peyton, of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre or other all-time great quarterbacks.
I have, however, always believed Manning was a quarterback capable of winning — and that it wasn’t his fault that the Giants didn’t do more of it in recent years. I have always believed that the organization, with bad personnel and coaching decisions, let Manning down. Not the other way around.
You know that co-owner John Mara wanted to make it work one last time with the guy who remains the best quarterback the franchise has ever had. So did first-year GM Dave Gettleman, part of the Giants’ organization when Manning won two Super Bowl MVP trophies. Coach Pat Shurmur, too. In his first stint as a head coach, Shurmur went 9-23 with the Cleveland Browns. Think he was signing on with the Giants and relishing the idea of presiding over a long-term tear down and rebuild? He signed on thinking/hoping Manning had enough left to be the quarterback for a few seasons yet.
Remember Shurmur’s “I think he’s got years left” comment during his introductory press conference? In that same press conference Mara had said Manning as the starter is “something that we wanted.”
Manning wanted nothing more than to reward that faith from the organization. This is what he told me during a 1-on-1 interview last summer:
“It means a lot that vote of confidence in me that they still believe I can perform at a high level and win games and win championships for this organization and I want to prove them correct. I’m on a mission to continue to play well, play at a high level, get this team going and know that I can get this team back in the right direction and win a lot of games.”
It isn’t, however, working. At 1-7 and with just four victories in their last 24 games the Giants are, obviously, not winning.
This mess is not all Manning’s fault. It isn’t his fault that Evan Engram dropped a pass Sunday on fourth-and-3 that would have given the Giants a first down in a one-score game. Or that Sterling Shepard couldn’t hold a nicely thrown deep ball. Or that the offensive line is awful. Or that the defense can’t rush the passer or stop giving up back-breaking big plays. Or that the Giants drafted horribly during Jerry Reese’s final few seasons as GM. Of that Gettleman’s free agent moves have flopped.
Still, Manning has been part of the problem. He’s missed some throws he should have made this season. A 15-year veteran can’t mis-read coverages and throw crushing red zone interceptions. Former quarterbacks — and ex-teammates who have won rings with him and love him — tell you they don’t like what they see.
It’s not the arm strength — he still has enough. It’s not even the lack of mobility — he’s succeeded in the past while being a stationary target. As I’ve said before, it looks like the problem is in his head. It is the accumulation of hits and losses from playing behind bad offensive lines and for bad teams. Here is what I wrote Monday in “Kudos & Wet Willies.”
Manning shows you at times that he still has the ability to make throws. Not that he has any reason to, but it’s easy to see the biggest issue is he doesn’t trust his protection. That he’s sometimes too quick to take the check down. Other times, too hesitant to throw the ball or get out of Dodge and move out of the pocket. Sometimes just plain off target because his feet are moving and his base isn’t set properly when he releases the ball.
What you see from Manning is understandable after so many years of playing behind lousy lines, especially since this looks like the worst of the bunch. Still, you can’t play quarterback effectively with the pass rush in your head. I don’t know if it’s reversible, or if the Giants are willing to find out. I do know it’s tough to watch.
The bottom line is that the Giants have to begin preparing for the future — and they really have already begun doing that. It’s a future Manning, 37 and beyond his best years, won’t be a part of. You just can’t rebuild around a 37-year-old quarterback who isn’t going to get more mobile or gain arm strength.
Manning said Monday that “I expect and want to be the starting quarterback until I’m told differently.”
However many games that is for — zero, one, three, eight — it’s not going to long enough for Manning to get the Giants back to the glorious heights he took them to once upon a time. That job will belong to someone else.
Will Kyle Lauletta be that future?
That is impossible to predict. I like the young man, with whom I’ve had several good conversations dating back to well before the Giants made him their fourth-round pick. I am optimistic that Lauletta has a number of traits — intelligence, scheme versatility, accuracy, anticipation, escapability — that should keep him in the NFL for a long time.
Do I know for sure that those traits can make him a franchise quarterback at the NFL level? I have no idea. Truth is, it’s probably a stretch to think so. Lauletta is still a fourth-round pick out of an FCS school. As much as I like the kid, fourth-round picks out of FCS schools don’t usually turn into top-tier quarterbacks who can win Super Bowls.
The Giants will hope Lauletta becomes the exception. Shoot, so will I.
If that happens, the rebuild of the Giants will take less time. The “were the Giants right to bypass Sam Darnold” questions will also be answered.
Maybe Lauletta isn’t the guy. Maybe that guy is in the 2019 draft class. Or the 2020 draft class. Or in eighth grade somewhere right now. The process of finding out who the guy is going to be, though, starts with Lauletta.
As much, though, as fans are ready for the future to begin the Giants want — no, need — to be fair to Lauletta. They need to make sure he is ready — that he has a chance to succeed — before they put him out there. Maybe that will be against the 49ers, maybe a bit farther down the line. We will see.
Shurmur said Monday that Lauletta “is getting reps” in practice. What kind of reps? We don’t know. Scout team? First team? Second team?
What we do know is that the Giants have no choice but to look to the future. And it’s a future that the best quarterback who has ever played for the franchise won’t be a part of.