When he walks onto the field at AT&T Stadium on Sunday to face the Cowboys, Eli Manning will become the first player in Giants history to begin his 16th NFL season, an iron man streak that will break a tie with Michael Strahan, Phil Simms and Mel Hein.
Forget for a moment where you stand about whether Manning will last the entire season or give way to rookie Daniel Jones. You don’t know, I don’t know, nobody knows how this thing will pan out. But I think we can all agree that the 38-year-old quarterback’s remarkable staying power is something to behold.
Coach Pat Shurmur certainly appreciates that Manning is still standing.
“I think it’s to be admired, because there’s a mental and physical toll in this profession,” Shurmur told Newsday after practice Monday. “It gets to you. He’s been able to hold it off for a very long time and compete at a high level. That’s to be admired.”
Especially at the position Manning plays.
“He’s been one of those guys who hasn’t missed games because of injury, especially at the quarterback position,” Shurmur said. “He’s been hit a lot. That’s a credit to him.”
Were it not for the completely mishandled late-season benching late in the 2017 season, thanks to Ben McAdoo’s inexplicable desire to see if Geno Smith had anything to offer, Manning’s consecutive starts streak would have reached 231 with Sunday’s game. He never would have beaten Brett Favre’s streak of 297 straight starts, but he had the longest active starting streak when McAdoo ended it at 210 games.
“I have respect for that, and my respect for him is because I get a chance to work with him behind the scenes, and I can see why he’s played for so long,” Shurmur said. “It’s because of the way he trains, the way he thinks about the game, how smart he is. It reaffirms in my mind that if you do things for the right reasons, train the right way and you’re fortunate injury-wise and you have a lot of talent, you can be around for a while.”
Shurmur now will have a direct bearing on how much longer Manning is around. The second-year coach must assess whether his play is good enough to continue as the starter or whether it’s time to turn to Jones.
Manning was used sparingly in the preseason, as Shurmur wanted to make sure he didn’t have any unnecessary wear during games that don’t count. And with Saquon Barkley and No. 1 receiver Sterling Shepard not playing at all, it could be an uncertain beginning once they all get together on Sunday.
“Whether you have guys playing in the preseason [or not], it’s a little different in the regular season, so we’ll get adjusted quickly,” Shepard said. “It’s been looking good at practice, so I feel like what you do at practice translates well to the field if you’re doing things the right way.”
Manning has worked on his arm strength in the offseason. He also has the benefit of an improved offensive line that now includes right guard Kevin Zeitler, acquired in a trade with the Browns, and right tackle Mike Remmers, a former Panthers starter.
But it remains to be seen how long it will be before Shurmur makes the transition to Jones. Team owner and president John Mara hopes that move doesn’t come for the entire season, but Shurmur’s patience will be tried if Manning’s offense gets off to a slow start. It will be especially problematic for Shurmur to give Manning the benefit of time because Jones did so well during the preseason, going 29-for-34 for 416 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Shurmur thinks Manning will be a better player in the second year of the coach’s offense.
“I think everybody in our building will be improved from a year ago, and that would include [Manning],” Shurmur said.
Manning told me earlier in the preseason that he feels as good now as he’s felt in years, so it certainly wouldn’t come as a surprise to him if he continues to hold off Father Time.
Only demonstrable evidence that he deserves to keep playing, especially with Jones on the roster, will maintain his place in the starting lineup.
But his place in team history will be assured. No one who ever put on a Giants jersey has played longer.
And there’s something to be said for that, regardless of how one more season — perhaps his final season — plays out.