Eli Manning is transitioning to a new offense for the first time since his rookie season in 2004, but take it from another Giants quarterback who went through a similar change late in his career: This could go much better than expected.
"I don't think it's going to be tough for him," Phil Simms said of Manning, who switches to the West Coast system under new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, who replaces longtime coordinator Kevin Gilbride. "It's going to be new information, a new way to do things, but there will be a lot of the same plays that every offense runs, and there will be a new voice telling him and different ways of running those plays."
Simms points to his own career as proof that Manning is capable of great things in the new offense. In 1993, Simms had a renaissance season under new head coach Dan Reeves and was selected to the Pro Bowl.
"I learned a new system in my 15th year, and it was awesome," said Simms, the longtime CBS broadcaster. "It will be like Eli like it was for me. You have to win the new coach over. He's going to have to do things faster than everybody else [on the team], and he's going to have to prove himself all over again."
Simms remembers being reinvigorated when Reeves took over as head coach after Ray Handley's firing following the 1992 season. At age 38, he threw for 3,038 yards, 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions in leading the Giants to a wild-card playoff berth. Simms was released the following year in a salary cap move, as the Giants began their ill-fated transition to first-round quarterback Dave Brown.
"I'd have my play sheets in my car, always going over things," he said. "I'd get in the meeting rooms and the other quarterbacks were talking. It was great. You're trying to impress your new coaches. I was like, 'I have to show these coaches I really deserve to be here. New coaches come to the Giants, and you have to show them who you are. Instead of looking at the negative part, there are so many positives that come out of it. For the team, and even for [head coach] Tom Coughlin, you can run the exact same play, but it can be explained in a different way from a different coach, and there can be a lot of good stuff from that."
Simms believes the introduction of the West Coast offense will benefit Manning, in large part because the system revolves around a series of high-percentage passes off timing patterns that often employ three and five-step drops. In Manning's old system under Gilbride, he would often take seven-step drops, which allows receivers more time to run deeper patterns, but often leaves Manning exposed to heavy pass-rush pressure. Last season, he was sacked 39 times and threw 27 interceptions, both career highs.
"I would think this will make it easier on Eli because it will be a more quarterback-friendly system," Simms said. "I have great respect for Kevin Gilbride winning two Super Bowls. He was worried about hitting four of those big passes every game, and I love that about the Giants' offense. It wasn't 17 screens every game.
"But I would think the West Coast offense and some of the thinking will help the quarterback," he said. "It's not always putting the pressure on the quarterback, which I am a big believer of in today's game. Give the quarterback 50 percent of his completions as 'gimmies.' There are other times you want to make those four or five special throws."
The Giants might have avoided last year's collapse had they transitioned to a new system before the 2013 season, but Simms believes they had to give the team one more chance to win a Super Bowl with many of the core players from their 2011 championship season.
"The Giants did the right thing last year," he said. "They gave that team one more chance and that team, no matter what, when you give a team one more chance, it never works. But they earned that chance, they deserved it, and they tried to stay with that core to see if there was one more magical run. It didn't work, so now it's time. Players and coaches, when it doesn't work, you need new blood. Sometimes, change is a good thing. I think that will be the case with the Giants."
Especially the quarterback.