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Why has Giants’ QB Eli Manning always been such a divisive player?

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I try to give you my view on why that is

New York Giants v Cincinnati Bengals
Eli Manning
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Eli Manning.

As he enters his 16th — and probably final — season as the starting quarterback for the New York Giants we are in the same place we have always been with Manning.

We’re arguing about him.

These days there are three questions that are central to the Manning debate:

  1. Why is he still the Giants’ quarterback?
  2. How much longer can he hold off Daniel Jones as the starting quarterback?
  3. Is he or is he not still an effective starting-caliber NFL quarterback?

There is really one more question that has always been, and remains, central to the Manning debate. Why is it that Manning, a bland personality who has represented the franchise with class since 2004, has always been such a divisive figure?

A couple of questions sent recently to the Big Blue View Mailbag revolved around that topic. Here they are:

From Douglas Mollin:

Eli has always been a divisive player -- which is strange for a player with such a calm, easy-going personality and nearly zero off the field issues.

It seems a good chunk of fans blame him as the main reason for the failures of the past six seasons ... and even for the intermittent success during his entire tenure (not one playoff win outside the two SB seasons).

It also seems that a good chunk of fans believe Eli can still win another SB and that most of the Giants’ problems reside elsewhere (OL, running game, GM, coaching, defense, etc).

To me Eli is very enigmatic -- capable of beating the Patriots twice in the SB yet capable of making head-scratching decisions at any time.

There was a thread recently looking to try and isolate the various factors over Eli’s career to try and quantify what Eli brought to the table and what the team did. In lieu of that massive undertaking, I was hoping you can share your opinion on Eli’s career and what makes him great and what makes him so frustrating to BBV readers?

I know you’re an Eli guy but I know we can count on you to provide an objective summary opinion on the divisive topic that is Eli’s career.

From Jay B:

I have been constantly defending Eli and now Jones for awhile now and it’s not just on this site but with friends etc. When people talk about Eli’s career they reluctantly mention to two Super Bowls and two MVPs and then go on long tangents about how he stinks. Former teammates, specifically Canty on ESPN, routinely bury him in the Media. What is it about Eli that people don’t like because I believe this hate began well before his physical decline and the Super Bowls only worked to quite an already skeptical media and fan base. He does not get the same benefit of the doubt as his other contemporaries at the position who have had more talented rosters throughout their careers. Phillip Rivers has played with multiple hall of fame players, but has zero rings. Aaron Rodgers might have the most talent, but has 1 ring, same as Brees. So why aren’t these guys being run out of town for not producing? Maybe the value of a Super Bowl has been degraded by the value of putting up fantasy stats, which are not kind to Eli. Is it his personality? Jones has a similar personality and is starting to get barbs out of nowhere.

Valentine’s View

Manning has never been a perfect quarterback. Even at his best he was never a clear top five quarterback in the NFL. He has made four Pro Bowls in 15 years. He has never been an All-Pro. On a week-in, week-out basis he has never been “The Guy,” the NFL quarterback every opposing defense feared. Manning’s Giants have never been an offensive juggernaut.

Manning started his career by being in the spotlight, and having many angry with him, for forcing his way out of San Diego. He will end his career in New York with many angry at him for both the recent years of losing and for being in the way of sixth overall pick Daniel Jones.

We have seen the incredible post-season highs. You can’t play quarterback a whole lot better than Manning did in his two Super Bowl MVP runs. There are times, though, when you watch Manning and you wonder how a guy with his pedigree and experience could make such awful throws or mortifying decisions.

Manning might be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His longevity, durability, the top-tier passing numbers he has compiled thanks largely to the longevity and durability and those two historic Super Bowl victories over Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots make a compelling case.

Besides, if Joe Namath and Kurt Warner are Hall of Famers, shouldn’t Manning be one?

Then again, Manning might not be a Hall of Famer. Aside from those two Super Bowl seasons, there has really been a whole lot of nothing for the Giants in the other 13 years. There hasn’t, in fact, been a playoff victory in any other season. There is that 116-114 record in regular season games — if you’re into judging quarterbacks by won-loss record. In an increasingly pass-happy era, Manning’s yearly quarterback rating, yardage, touchdowns thrown, QBR, completion percentage and other quarterback measuring sticks look average.

Those who don’t want him in the Hall of Fame say strip away the Super Bowl titles and you’re looking at Andy Dalton.

The Ringer had a great line about Manning back in 2017:

Manning is not just terrible at being great — he regularly tests the lower boundaries of even being good.

Whether all of that is fair or not isn’t the point. All of that is just there to illustrate how everyone, from fans to Hall of Fame voters, has a different — and to be honest, completely justifiable — lens through which to view Manning’s career.

To make matters worse, the Giants have also been a conundrum during Manning’s career. As noted above, the Giants have zero playoff victories in Manning’s career during any season in which they not won a Super Bowl. They have one playoff appearance since winning the 2011 Super Bowl, and only two since winning the 2007 Super Bowl.

Even in the two Super Bowl seasons the Giants — until they hoisted the Lombardi Trophy — weren’t thought of as the best team.

I have argued, and will still argue, that with Tom Coughlin on the sideline and Manning at the pinnacle of his career the Giants should have had more chances at championships. I have argued, and will still argue, that those two men are not to blame for that not happening.

Again, that’s beside the point in this discussion. What is the point is the Giants have been a largely frustrating team that hasn’t delivered a quality product often enough, or as often as it should have during Manning’s career.

Now, how much of that is Manning’s fault? As with so much else about Manning and the Giants, you will see that the way you want to see it. I’m not going to try and persuade you one way or the other because your view on that is likely already deeply ingrained.

My view is that, yes, there have been games the Giants could have won over the years with better quarterback play. The old saying, however, is that quarterbacks get too much of the credit when teams win and too much of the blame when they lose.

Manning has been the one constant — and completely imperfect — presence over the years as the Giants have piled one losing season on top of another and while fans have grown increasingly angry over the poor quality of the product they are being asked to support.

My view is that Manning has not been a bad quarterback during the years of bad football. He just hasn’t been a good enough one to overcome the weaknesses around him. He hasn’t been good enough to lift bad teams and bad teammates. To overcome bad offensive lines, poor coaching and porous defenses.

Why is Manning so divisive?

Because he has been the guy who has been there through all of it. Tom Coughlin is gone. Ben McAdoo is gone. Jerry Reese is gone. Odell Beckham Jr. is gone. Hundreds of other players have come and gone. Yet, Manning is still there.

He is an easy, obvious target. Sometimes a deserving one. Many times not.

One of my sons is a soccer referee. He told me recently that he knows that makes him an easy target for coaches, and fans, to vent their anger. Even if that anger has nothing to do with anything he has or has not done. It’s the nature of a referee’s job. And a quarterback’s. Too much credit. Too much blame.

Do the Giants have too much loyalty to Manning?

Maybe.

I made the argument years ago that the time for the Giants to make a break was after the 2015 season when they pushed Coughlin out the door. That was the perfect opportunity for a clean break. To start over. To get a new coach. To replace Reese. To replace Manning.

They didn’t. Ownership chose the half-measure of just replacing the coach.

That has set them on a course of struggle, a struggle from which maybe — just maybe — they are beginning to emerge. Sadly for Manning, they won’t fully emerge until somewhere down the line when Daniel Jones, not Manning, carries the franchise quarterback label.

None of that is Manning’s fault.

It also isn’t the fault of the fans that many are so angry. They haven’t been given a product to feel good about for far too long.

Sometimes, Manning’s play has made him the right target for the fans’ anger. Many times, though, he’s just been the easy guy to hurl criticism at because he’s the one who has always been there.

It’s just the nature of the job. Especially when you do it for so long and your team hasn’t been good often enough.