Eli Manning had a rough game on Sunday — an interception, a fumble, a few missed throws — as the New York Giants were overpowered by the Tennessee Titans, 17-0. That, of course, re-ignited the “Eli Must Go” crowd — which, in truth, never really quieted down, anyway. It hasn’t quieted down for years.
So, when, and how, will the Giants go about the task of moving into a Manning-less future at quarterback?
In this week’s SB Nation 2019 NFL Mock Draft, Dan Kadar has the Giants selecting Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert with the No. 8 overall pick. Herbert, though, has another year of college eligibility and many reports have indicated he is more likely than not to stay at Oregon for a final season.
Here, from draft analyst Matt Miller, are some of the pros and cons regarding Herbert:
Who is Herbert? He’s a 6’6”, 235-pound junior with the accuracy, arm talent, athleticism and potential to have scouts very excited.
The 20-year-old has the types of tools sending scouts to Eugene, Oregon in herds this season. “He’s a bigger Marcus Mariota” is what one longtime evaluator said of Herbert this summer. Another, speaking this week, said, “You watch guys like Carson Wentz, Andrew Luck ... that’s the type of player he is in terms of traits and potential.”
“Traits” is a buzzword that can get scouts in trouble. Said one critic of Herbert, “Tell me why he’s not another [Blake] Bortles? Big guy, good athlete, but turns the ball over and isn’t particularly accurate.”
There are also those scouts, who did not want to be named, who say Herbert is “soft” or “immature” or “quirky, not really a leader of men.” Those opinions, if shared by the general managers who will evaluate Herbert not only on the field but also off of it, are the type that can torpedo a draft stock. But folks at Oregon remain steadfast that Herbert is rock-solid.
So, what about Manning’s future?
Before Sunday’s stinker, there was a groundswell of opinion that Manning opening 2019 as the Giants’ starting quarterback was becoming increasingly likely.
From @GMFB Weekend: #Giants QB Eli Manning may be playing his way onto the roster in 2019, which seemed crazy just a few months ago. Interesting decision looming this offseason. pic.twitter.com/9hVQx2PzIO— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 16, 2018
On the ‘NFL Today’ show Sunday on CBS, Phil Simms guaranteed that Manning will be the starter for the Giants next season. Perhaps longer:
“I think it’s an absolute guarantee that Eli Manning will be the starter for the Giants next year ... In the Draft, they’re not going to get anybody. And I think he’ll be there not only next year. But I think he has a chance to start in 2020.”
Undeniably, the quarterback question has to be at the forefront of the Giants’ thinking as they enter the offseason. There is no way around acknowledging that Manning’s time is running out and that the Giants need a clear vision for how they want to go forward.
That, however, doesn’t mean Manning can’t or won’t be the team’s starting quarterback at least at the beginning of the 2019 season.
Sunday’s stinker didn’t make the decision in favor of jettisoning Manning. Just like the generally solid play while the Giants won four of five didn’t guarantee a decision in favor of him staying, despite Simms’ remark. At the end of the season the Giants’ decision-makers have to put everything they have seen — the good and the bad — into the pot and figure out the best path forward. That includes both the short- and the long-term.
There has been good. Four games of 30 or more points after none the past two seasons. A career-high completion percentage and career-low interception rate for Manning to this point in the season. A passer rating tying his career best. A number of throws during the season that show Manning still has enough arm strength.
There has been bad. Missed throws at times. Obvious lack of comfort in the pocket at times. A few of the head-scratching decisions we have witnessed for 15 years now. Lack of mobility at times being a hindrance.
Even if the Giants draft Herbert, Dwayne Haskins of Ohio State, Daniel Jones of Duke or someone else, the belief here is there is virtually no chance they go into 2019 with a rookie quarterback as the Week 1 starter.
So, someone has to play. Kyle Lauletta? No. Teddy Bridgewater? Giants fans keep banging the Bridgewater drum, and I keep saying that if the New Orleans Saints let him go he won’t end up in New York. Tyrod Taylor? No, thanks. A young, untested player the Giants would have to acquire via trade like Kyle Sloter or Nate Sudfeld? Maybe. But, maybe there is also a reason those guys are untried third-stringers.
It really isn’t hard to look at that board, look at some of the promising signs the Giants have shown when Beckham has been on the field and the offensive line has played well, and believe that the Giants will conclude that — for now — keeping Manning is their best play. Not a perfect play, but maybe the best short-term one they have.
That doesn’t mean ignoring a replacement plan, it just means having him as the quarterback to begin the 2019 season.
For those who are concerned about the $23 million cap hit Manning carries into 2019, in a piece for Forbes Patricia Traina broke down how the Giants could lower that number.
Add it all up and the truth is nobody knows for sure what is going to happen. Everybody with an opinion thinks they know what should happen. The only opinions that matter, though, belong to coach Pat Shurmur, GM Dave Gettleman, co-owner John Mara and to Manning himself — should he choose to retire.
Whatever the decision, it is the one that will shape everything about how the Giants approach the 2019 season. Also, whatever the decision it will be loved by some and hated by others.
Just like everything about Eli Manning for the past 15 years.