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Pat’s Perspectives: The Eli Manning conundrum

Did Eli Manning walk off the MetLife Stadium field for the final time last week? Let’s examine the clues.

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It’s never easy to endure a losing season, no matter what the sport, no matter what the level. Emotions tend to run high over what could have been.

In the end, however, it’s all about picking up the pieces and moving on. So as the New York Giants, who officially wrapped up the year that was 2018 with general manager Dave Gettleman’s press conference on Wednesday, it’s time for some perspectives on the Eli Manning situation.

The Manning-Gettleman meeting

Gettleman revealed that Manning sought out a meeting with him on Monday (which may or may not explain why Manning wasn’t in the locker room during the media availability). While neither Gettleman nor Manning, during his paid weekly radio spot on WFAN disclosed what was said in that meeting, a best guess is that Manning was looking to take the temperature of the situation moving forward.

Given Gettleman’s refusal to fully endorse Manning in a way similar to what he did last year during his media press conference, it’s probably not a stretch to say that there are a few more wrinkles in the fabric that need to be ironed out between the two sides.

First, unlike last year when Manning and the rest of the Giants were struggling to hold their locker room together under Ben McAdoo, they’ve had a full season to grow as a team in 2018, which they did so in baby steps.

With that said, Manning, just like the rest of his teammates, needed to play better and do more — and Manning will probably be the first to admit that he could have done more, played better, made better throws and reads, etc.

So if you’re Dave Gettleman and you’re trying to straighten out your team’s personnel and its salary cap, and if you believe, as the general manager said, in being brutally honest, you’re probably going to tell the franchise quarterback that every option is on the table, including a potential salary restructure or reduction (whatever you want to call it) and the addition of a young prospect that you need to get ready for life beyond Manning.

Manning doesn’t usually tip his hand regarding his emotions, but it probably wouldn’t be a stretch to say that if Gettleman presented either or both scenarios to the now 38-year-old quarterback, neither sat well with him.

And why should it? No one wants to be told that they’re being considered for a pay cut just like no one wants to be told that they might have to train their eventual replacement.

Further, if this was the beginning of the end of Manning’s tenure with the Giants, wouldn’t co-owner John Mara have been involved in any initial discussions given Manning’s high-profiled stature in the organization? (Neither Gettleman or Manning indicated this was the case.)

The offense did function under Manning

As Gettleman continued to avoid a definitive endorsement, he also pointed out how once the offensive line settled down, the team began to enjoy success.

“The distance that the offense came from Week 1 to Week 16, you think of the points – the backup quarterback that we played against, for example, (vs. Chicago), he didn’t play defense, and the other backup, Washington – those guys weren’t on the defense, they were on the offense, so you’re asking me an offensive question,” Gettleman said.

“At the end of the day, between the fact that they were able to get comfortable with each other and we settled the offensive line down, we scored points. I saw a graphic, I think we averaged 27-28 points a game the last half of the year, something like that.”

On the whole, the Giants averaged 23.1 points per game in 2018 which, per NFL official stats, is only off by a slight hair of the 23.3 average points per game the league scored.

So yes, Manning had his share of “what the heck was he thinking?” moments that frustrated people.Then again, this is how Manning has always operated going back to his prime years under Kevin Gilbride when he would take risks that would occasionally backfire.

In the end, his touchdowns (21) far outnumbered his interceptions (11), unlike say in 2013 when he threw only 18 touchdowns to 27 interceptions.

Manning, who finished with an actual completion percentage of 66.0 (a career-high), actually had an adjusted completion percentage of 74.9 according to Pro Football Focus, a figure that takes into account dropped passes, throw-aways, spiked balls, batted passes, and passes where the quarterback was hit while they threw the ball.

One might point to the addition of Saquon Barkley as the reason why the Giant offense played better — Barkley finished with 92 points scored, which was second behind kicker Aldrick Rosas’ 127.

In terms of engineering scores, remember that Manning threw 21 touchdown passes — not a great number mind you but a number that helped give others a chance to contribute scores.

NFL: New York Giants-Rookie Minicamp Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

Gettleman is doing due diligence

Last year, Gettleman set people buzzing over having basically declared Manning the starter in not so many words. this year, he’s done the same by saying he’s “committed to making the best decision in the interest of the New York Football Giants.”

The point here is that Gettleman, like the coaching staff, has to go through due diligence, which is a process. And not just for Manning but for every player on the roster.

Football is a team sport, so part of that due diligence is going to see how other players might have affected each other.

For example, does anyone out there think that safety Landon Collins might have had an even better year had he had a competent safety playing next to him? Would the cornerbacks maybe had more interceptions if the pass rush had been more effective?

The same holds true with the offense and Manning, a guy who was sacked 31 times in the first eight games of the season, matching his 2017 season total. Yes, you can argue, “Well a more mobile quarterback would have survived,” but then you’d be ignoring a bigger issue, which was the incompetence of the offensive line at the start of the season.

While there is some truth to that, what also need to be noted is that Manning’s 2.43 average time to attempt a pass is better than the times Ben Roethlisberger (2.42) and Tom Brady (2.41 seconds) had to work with.

Gettleman and the coaching staff might very well conclude that Manning isn’t the answer moving forward. But at least he’s being truer to the franchise by not making any snap decisions until he gets his eyeballs on a full year’s worth of tape before coming to a definitive conclusion.

One final note regarding Gettleman’s clear declaration last year of sticking with Manning vs. his hesitance this year.

Last year, the Giants didn’t hire Pat Shurmur until late January, the coaching staff was not completed until somewhere around mid-February. Thus, the only opinion Gettleman had of Manning was his own.

With that said, this year, Gettleman has a coaching staff in place that worked with Manning and the rest of the team, and it sounds as though he’s going to be conducting a democratic process in reaching conclusions.

“This is not a dictatorship. I really am a big believer in collaboration,” Gettleman said.

“These are conversations that you’re going to have with Pat, that’s why I say we’re going to hear the coaches and what they have to say, we’re going to talk to the pro guys and what do they have to say, and then I’ll get my work done and we’ll get together and formulate a plan. Pat’s had a lot of success with quarterbacks, so I’m certainly going to listen. “

What will Gettleman be looking for when he evaluates Manning?

This was a question I raised in the press conference because as a rule, most talent evaluators look at a player’s entire body of work.

Given that Manning has been around so long, I was curious to know if this would be the case or if Gettleman would be limiting his look at last year only.

Here’s what Gettleman said:

When you’re looking at older players, you’re looking early, middle and late -- did they fade? When you’re looking at younger guys, you’re looking for early, middle and late -- did they improve? That’s what you’re looking for.

Back in 2000 when we brought in those three offensive lineman, Lomas Brown, Glenn Parker and Dusty (Ziegler). The big question for me on Lomas was what was he playing like in December? He wasn’t a power player, he was an athletic tackle, so I wanted to see is Lomas the same player in December that he was in September. When you’ve got older guys, you’ve got to do that.

You’ve got to see if they fade or not. That’s why I will look and look and look and look until I have the puffs of white smoke coming out of my ears.

Stats will only tell part of the picture, but here are a few things Gettleman is likely to uncover in his film study, starting with Manning’s stats in the first eight games of the season versus the last eight games.

Eli Manning 1-8 and 10-17

Games Comp Att Pct Yds Avg TD Int Sck SckY Rate
Games Comp Att Pct Yds Avg TD Int Sck SckY Rate
1st 8 215 315 68.30% 2377 7.5 8 6 31 231 90.93
2nd 8 165 261 63.20% 1922 7.4 13 5 16 127 94.06

In the second half of the season, the running game really got going, which took some of the onus off Manning and the need to have him attempt what had been an average of 39.3 passes per game.

With Manning not having to carry the load all by himself, his touchdown total increased in the second half while his interception total dipped just a bit, even if his numbers elsewhere dipped.

Again, stats only tell part of the story — that’s what dissecting the film is for. But based on numbers alone, Manning’s performance didn’t appear to tail off as the year went on.

“If you think about it, the guy was running for his life last year. This year, we calmed it down,” Gettleman said.

“Once we got rolling, once everybody got comfortable with the offense, if you’re going to look at stats, it wasn’t too shabby what (Eli) did. Obviously, we want to win more games, and we’ve got to continue to improve the roster.”

And as Gettleman noted, in the month of December, the Giants scored 30, 40, 28 and 36 points (with a goose egg in there as well).

“How does that look?” Gettleman repeated when asked the question. “He still can make the NFL throws—you know what I’m saying? He’s still got it.”

That sure doesn’t sound like a general manager who’s quite ready to move on from the team’s long-time quarterback.

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Will the Giants finally address the quarterback position for the long-term?

Gettleman couldn’t give an answer because, as he correctly pointed out — the field hasn’t been set. The underclassmen have until January 14 to declare for the draft, so as of this writing, prospects like Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins haven’t declared.

Then there is also a matter of the NFL landscape and which quarterbacks will become free. For example, a section of the fan base is longing for either Teddy Bridgewater of the Saints or Nick Foles of the Eagles, but who’s to say that their respective teams won’t lock them up long-term between now and the start of free agency in March?

Similarly, who’s to say that, for example, Jon Gruden in Oakland won’t put Derek Carr on the trading block?

With that said, certainly Gettleman will need to gauge the temperature the quarterback market both at the pro and college level.

But don’t expect him to force anything.

“If you make something a priority, you will make a mistake. It’s got to be within the flow of what you’re doing,” he said. “You can’t force it, especially at quarterback.

“You get in the draft, you’re taking the best player — you’re not taking, ‘ I need this, so I’m taking a this.’ No, you do that — you’re going to make a mistake, you’re going to screw it up.”

If the Giants do keep Eli, what about the money?

Gettleman predictably wouldn’t touch the topic of money or contracts, but this is a point I touched upon for a recent Forbes article.

In a nutshell, I do believe the Giants will adjust Manning’s $23.2 million cap figure for 2019. However, rather than give him a straight out pay cut, I think they will restructure his deal.

To restructure, they would have to add another year onto the contract, a year in which if they do add it only and then decide to move on from him in 2020, they’d only be on the hook for the prorated signing bonus (which would likely be well under $10 million).

By taking this approach, the Giants can either get their next franchise quarterback this year or next year and have him learn under Manning while also having a veteran presence who has literally seen it all and who to this day is said to still sit with younger teammates showing them how to watch film and do the little things that most young players tend to overlook in their weekly preparation.

The other point that needs to be made here is that the Giants are going to need to clear some cap space if they are to re-sign Landon Collins and Jamon Brown, as well as add additional players to the mix.

Other moves will be made to create cap space — figure Jonathan Stewart’s deal will be among them and there is also a remote possibility that Janoris Jenkins might have played his last down with the Giants.

There is also a growing belief that Olivier Vernon’s contract will be lopped off, but I suspect that if that happens, he’ll be designated as a post-June 1 cap hit which means the Giants won’t be able to touch the $15.5 million they’d save if the go this route until after June 1.

With that said, the $15.5 million would be plenty of money to not only get all the draft picks signed, but to add veteran free agents on the back end of free agency plus have sufficient funds to get them through the 2019 season, probably with money left over.