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Eli Manning’s future? How much sand is left in the hour glass for the Giants’ QB?

Let’s play the “what if?” game

NFL: Washington Redskins at New York Giants
Eli Manning
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

As the 1-7 New York Giants get set to begin the second half of yet another lost season there is an expectation in many quarters that we are watching the hour glass run out on the time of Eli Manning as the team’s quarterback.

After coach Pat Shurmur refused early in the week to make a public commitment to Manning beyond Monday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers it was easy to begin picturing the end of the Manning era.

Here is what Shurmur said:

“I spoke to Eli a couple times this weekend and I explained to Eli that he’s going to start Monday,” Shurmur said. “I also explained to Eli that everybody needs to play better and as we go through this, it’s important that we’re not ‘almost’ in these games, we do what we have to do to get it over the top and win football games. We’ll just take it from there.”

So, the door is cracked open for either Alex Tanney or Kyle Lauletta to play. The Giants haven’t, though, indicated they are ready to shove the 37-year-old Manning out that door and revoke his key card.

Shurmur also said this:

“He [Manning] is starting Monday. You roll with it how you want, with the idea that he’s going to get us on a run here and there will be no decisions to be made. In other words, part of the conversation was, we trust you, we want to work with you, and we trust the fact that you’re going to get in there and help us win football games.”

Many in the fan base and media are done with Manning. Have, in fact, been done with Manning since long before the beginning of the 2018 season. Even yours truly has written that the Manning era as the unquestioned franchise quarterback is over, and that moving on from him would help change the negative narrative that is suffocating the organization.

Maybe Manning gets pushed aside before the season ends. Maybe the 37-year-old retires at the end of the season. Maybe the Giants do what they haven’t wanted to do, simply cut him, save the cap space and move on. All of those are within the realm of possibility. Odds are someone else is quarterbacking the Giants in 2019.

But ... there is always a “but,” isn’t there?

But what if Manning’s demise as Giants’ quarterback isn’t as close as many think, or would at least recommend?

What if there is a way Manning can show the Giants that he can still be a viable quarterback in 2019? At least a placeholder/mentor for a young quarterback the Giants draft to potentially be their long-term Manning replacement?

Shurmur told the team’s official website on Saturday that the idea Manning faces a “win or else” ultimatum isn’t accurate.

“I don’t look at it that way. Again, part of the bye week is to talk about areas we need to get better. He’s done a lot of good things, but I think you always talk to the quarterback individually, and certainly the head coach and the coordinator do that. So I don’t see it quite that way,” Shurmur said. “But again, I’m not going to try to tell other people what to believe. Eli’s going to be our quarterback and I expect him to play winning football.”

Despite whatever else is swirling around, Manning is doing what he has done for 15 years. He is focusing on the task at hand.

“You worry about this week. We got the 49ers. I got a job to do, and I’m going to do it to the best of my ability,” he said during the week.

“I think there’s urgency to get things going, for sure. We got to get some wins. We got to get going, and everybody wants it. The team needs it, for the morale and for just the hard work and everything we put in. Just need to reap the benefits of the work, and feel good about what we’re doing.”

I still believe it’s not Manning’s arm that is the problem. I still believe he can make the necessary throws, and I believe we have seen evidence of that this season. I believe the problem is in his decision-making, his hesitancy to throw at times and his haste to throw at others, both due to a lack of comfort in the pocket. Most of the time the pressure is there, sometimes it’s imagined, but Manning’s lack of comfort hasn’t been hard to see.

Maybe he was just saying the complementary things an opposing coach has to say, but here is 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan on Manning:

“I understand the stuff he’s going through this year, but Eli can still play at a very high level. He can still make every throw, he’s had a Hall of Fame career, and I know he can still get it done and he’s put it on tape this year. I know they haven’t totally found their rhythm offensively, but there’s times where they can heat up and if you don’t make Eli uncomfortable and get their rhythm off, he still has the capability of being Eli, making every single throw and putting up a lot of points and a lot of yards.”

Let’s play the “what if?” game

I am not saying any of these things will happen. Manning, though, is still playing. That means they could happen.

  • What if new offensive lineman Jamon Brown helps that beleaguered group, giving the Giants a somewhat more efficient running game and leaving Manning with more un-pressured chances to throw the ball?
  • Before a Week 8 stinker against the Washington Redskins, the Giants had their only three 400+ yard games in Weeks 5 thru 7. What if that upward trend in productivity continues?
  • What if the Giants, 31st in the league in the red zone (25 attempts, 10 TDs, 40 percent success rate) start turning some of those opportunities into touchdowns rather than field goals or turnovers?
  • What if the Giants, who week after week continue to insist that they are close to winning some of these games, actually start doing that? What if they go 4-4 or 5-3 over the final half of the season?

What then?

What if many of those things listed above happen? If Manning still wants to play — and still wants to do it as a Giant — would that be enough to make the organization believe he could be viable for another year?

Yes, the Giants can save $17 million against the salary cap by cutting Manning at the end of the season. If he doesn’t retire no one would really fault the Giants for cutting him and moving on.

But ... yes, we’re back to the “but” of our discussion.

Maybe the Giants draft Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert. The view here is that’s not as likely as many would like to believe. Maybe the Giants wait and target someone from what now looks like a Day 2 group that includes Daniel Jones of Duke, Will Grier of West Virginia, Trace McSorley of Penn State and maybe a couple of others.

Either way, the Giants are likely to need a “placeholder” quarterback in 2019.

The Arizona Cardinals paid Sam Bradford $20 million to be that guy, and he earned $15 million of that for three games before being cut. They also paid Mike Glennon $8 million. Tyrod Taylor is making $16 million for watching Baker Mayfield play. Teddy Bridgewater, who hasn’t played a meaningful snap in three years, is making $6 million for wearing a baseball cap and enjoying watching the New Orleans Saints play every week.

Point is, look at those numbers and look at that $17 million the Giants could “save” by cutting Manning. Unless they believe Lauletta can be their placeholder they are going to have to pay roughly that much to somebody to be their quarterback at the beginning of next season, and to be a mentor for whatever young quarterbacks they have on the roster.

If they see enough progress on offense over the last half of the season, why couldn’t the highly-paid veteran they already have be that placeholder?

Just a thought. One that I know will send some screaming from the rooftops, but Manning does have a contract for 2019. So, it’s possible. Until it’s not.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at New York Giants
Kyle Lauletta
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

A possible Lauletta Plan

Legal woes, faulty alarm clock, questionable driving habits and all there is still a drumbeat from the fan base to get Lauletta, the rookie fourth-round pick from Richmond, on the field this season.

The Giants won’t come right out and say that Lauletta has delayed or downright jeopardized the chance of that happening by getting himself arrested for driving and behaving irresponsibly while trying to get to practice during the bye week. You can, though, read between the lines.

“He messed up and he’s got to prove that he’s going to do the right things each and every day, going to work that way, and obviously as we all know at that position, you’re held to a higher standard and that’s what you sign on for,” said offensive coordinator Mike Shula.

Head coach Pat Shurmur admitted he was “disappointed because I think especially with a quarterback, you’re looking at decision-making in all facets of a player’s life.”

So, if we see Lauletta on the field, when might that happen? Here is a completely speculative plan on my part.

Lauletta, obviously, is not playing Monday against the 49ers. It seems highly unlikely he would be on the active roster for that game.

The Giants then have a short week before hosting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Coaches are generally loathe to change quarterbacks on short weeks, especially when you might be talking about going to a rookie who has never played. I don’t see Lauletta playing against the Bucs.

In Week 12, the Giants travel to face the Philadelphia Eagles. Having a rookie quarterback make his debut on the road against the defending Super Bowl champs, especially in the jungle known as Philly, doesn’t seem like a good idea.

Week 13 sees the Giants host the Chicago Bears, who boast Khalil Mack and one of the league’s best defenses. Debuting a rookie who has no experience? Again, doesn’t seem like a situation that would set Lauletta up for success.

That brings us to the final quarter of the season, games at Washington, vs. Tennessee, at Indianapolis and closing out the season vs. Dallas.

Maybe facing the Redskins in Washington isn’t the best idea, either, especially if they are still fighting for the NFC East title.

That brings us to the season’s final three games. Best guess here is that if we’re going to see Lauletta it would be within that final three-game stretch.