Eli Manning consistently has said he wants to finish his career with the Giants, which hasn’t changed, even after he didn’t play for the first time since the 2004 season.
“That’s always the goal, and this past week doesn’t change my love for the New York Giants and everything we’ve been able to accomplish and what we want to continue to accomplish here,” Manning said Wednesday. “That’s always the goal, and we’ll see what happens after the season.”
But make no mistake. Manning has been rocked by the events of the past week, and having his 210-game consecutive starts streak ended because of the Giants’ ill-fated plan to get a look at Geno Smith and eventually rookie Davis Webb may have a lingering effect.
In fact, it could mean the difference in whether Manning is back next season, or whether he will finish out his career somewhere else.
With the Giants in line to have a high draft pick — perhaps No. 2 overall — there is the very real possibility that they will select a quarterback. Manning doesn’t sound as if he’d stick around with the Giants beyond this season unless he believes he will continue to be the starter.
When asked if he’d be open to the idea of serving as a mentor for a highly drafted rookie, Manning sounded reluctant.
“I want to play,” he said. “I want to play quarterback. I want to be a starting quarterback. I want to be the starting quarterback next year.”
Would he agree to a plan in which he’d be the starter next year while helping develop a younger quarterback? “I don’t know,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Manning chose his words very carefully, because he understands he is at a major crossroads in his career. Even though coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese were fired on Monday, a day after Manning’s streak was broken and following a huge public outcry against the move, Manning clearly understands that the Giants are looking to a future without the two-time Super Bowl MVP.
So for all the good feelings over Manning being reinstated as the starter by interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo, there are no assurances of any longer-term commitment. Manning almost certainly will want some sort of commitment, because he still believes he is good enough to start.
If not here, then somewhere else.
“I understand that may be the case,” he said of the possibility of playing for another team. “After the season, I’m sure I’ll sit down with [team president] John Mara or whoever the new general manager is or whoever the new head coach is and see if I’m in their plan. If I’m not, then I think I got a lot of good football in me. I don’t want to leave the Giants. I appreciate and love the New York Giants. I love my job. I love playing quarterback for the Giants. I don’t wish to go anywhere else, but we’ll see. I want to play.”
How many years does he have left?
“I don’t know. Three more years, two more years,” he said. “I don’t know. I feel healthy. You go through the season, you get some bumps and bruises, but I feel as good right now as I have all year. I don’t think I’m in decline. I think I’ve got a lot of good football [left]. I can make the throws and be a good quarterback and win a lot of games.”
With all that uncertainty, Giants fans who have appreciated Manning’s career all these years ought to prepare for the possibility that he is making his final four appearances for the team that acquired him in a blockbuster draft-day trade in 2004.
Manning’s fervent hope is that the Giants will give him the opportunity to start and end his career here. But with a new general manager and a new coach coming in 2018, he understands this thing might go in another direction. And that he might have to do the same.
Wherever Manning plays next year and beyond, he never will forget the outpouring of support he has received during the most tumultuous time of his career.
“It helped me to kind of keep my head up during the last week, and just realize the impact you’ve made on so many people and the championships and the games and how I’ve conducted myself makes a difference,” he said.
I asked if there was any correspondence that particularly resonated with him, and tears welled as he thought back to a text message that older brother Cooper had shared with his wife and three children when he heard last week’s news about Eli’s benching.
“Cooper wrote a note to his kids just saying, ‘Look how your uncle has handled his situation,” Manning said. “That’s something in the family, and I got a lot of [other correspondence] from friends saying, great example for my kids, great lesson to show them. That was probably the most emotional part.”
Cooper Manning didn’t realize until he was told about Eli’s reaction Wednesday that his words had connected so strongly with his younger brother. In fact, he didn’t realize until speaking to Eli a few days ago that he’d even read the note.
“I saw Eli on Monday night in New York at a dinner honoring Peyton for going into the College Football Hall of Fame, and I mentioned [the text] to him,” Cooper said by phone Wednesday. “I said, ‘E, just so you know, I sent my kids something.’ He said, ‘I know.’ My wife, Ellen, went ahead and sent it to him. Big bro still has the power, I guess.”
Cooper wanted his children to understand the importance of dealing with life’s obstacles, and watching how Eli handled his situation was a teaching moment.
“Sports are great, and you have great days and you have bad days,” Cooper said in summing up the text message. “How you handle the bad days shows what kind of character you have. The way Uncle Eli was handling things was something to be proud of. You are going to have some curveballs come your way, and how you react in the storm is important. I was proud of the way he handled it. It’s hard to do.”
Cooper concluded his text with a line he recited over the phone.
“The last line I wrote was, ‘You should be really proud of him and learn a lesson how sports can go a lot of different ways,’ ” he said.
Cooper was inspired by how well his younger brother reacted.
“I’m in awe of him,” he said. “Still am.”
Cooper’s words helped sustain Eli through a difficult time.
“It was overwhelming,” Eli said. “It did help just keep my head up and be proud about the way I have handled myself over the years and tried to be a good person and deal with the ups and downs the right way.”