It’s starting to get weird for Eli Manning.
With his team at 1-6 and hopelessly out of playoff contention, with his offense unable to establish any sort of consistency and with more questions about whether the Giants will want to get a look at rookie Davis Webb, this is getting to be a highly uncomfortable position for the Giants’ likely future Hall of Fame quarterback.
The Giants are going nowhere after failing to live up to the massive expectations they brought into the season. And at 36, Manning doesn’t have many seasons left in a league that values youth and constantly searches for the next best thing.
As incredible as it may have seemed just last month, the Giants have devolved into a team that might be faced with a top-five draft pick next April, and despite having Manning under contract for two more years, there is a very real possibility they will consider taking another quarterback. At the very least, they’ll want to get a better sense of whether Webb can be the long-term answer, and that means the possibility of looking at him in live action before the season’s over.
For now, Ben McAdoo is sticking by Manning. Then again, the coach waded through some clumsy responses about whether he wants to get a look at Webb before finally saying that Manning is still his guy. When asked if he could foresee a situation in which Webb might play this season, McAdoo said, “Again, it takes all 11 to play good on offense and we had a good week of practice last week. It didn’t transfer over to the ballgame. Only scoring seven points, but it takes all 11.”
A follow-up response offered little clarification when a reporter asked if there is any interest in looking to the future by playing Webb. “Again, I’ll refer back to my last answer,” McAdoo said.
Later in Monday’s conference call, which came less than 24 hours after another desultory performance in a 24-7 loss to the Seahawks, McAdoo made a definitive statement about how Webb’s potential playing time might impact Manning.
“It’s not to that point, and I don’t see that point coming,” McAdoo said. “Eli’s our quarterback. I have 100 percent confidence in Eli.”
But things change in a hurry in the NFL, and if 1-6 turns into 2-10, McAdoo might want to see what he has in Webb during the final month of the season. So might general manager Jerry Reese and co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch.
It’s a tough spot for Manning, because his play hasn’t slipped to the point that it can be said without question that he is in decline. His numbers have stayed remarkably steady compared with the rest of his career, and in some categories, he’s been even better. His 64.2 completion percentage is higher than his career average of 59.8, and his 86.1 rating is better than his career rating of 83.6 coming into this season. He’s also on pace to throw his second-fewest number of interceptions (12) over a full season.
But he’s in a nearly impossible situation now that he is without his top three receivers, two of whom — Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall — are out for the season. Sterling Shepard still hasn’t made it back from a sprained ankle. Manning’s offense was snuffed out by a Seahawks team with one of the NFL’s best defenses, and it’s going to continue to be a struggle to score points without his top receiving threats and continued injuries on the offensive line.
That still won’t stop Manning from maintaining the relentlessly positive attitude that has been his calling card since he entered the NFL in 2004.
“It can be frustrating at times, but this is football,” Manning said Monday on his weekly radio spot with Mike Francesa on WFAN. “You’ve got to find a way to make it work. You can’t go into the tank about it. Just got to keep working, find ways to put these guys in their best position to have success.”
With 206 straight regular-season starts, Manning is only three away from surpassing older brother Peyton for second place behind Brett Favre (297). But it’s clear he doesn’t want to stop there.
And he shouldn’t. The Giants don’t need to start Webb to see what they have in him, although it’s not unreasonable to think he’ll get a look at some point. Still, there’s no reason to bench Manning, who still is the best answer at quarterback into at least next season — even if the Giants draft a quarterback high next April.
“I want to be out there each and every week for my teammates,” Manning said. “It’s important for me if I can play, and if I can help the team, I’m going to be out there. My mindset is to do whatever is best for the team. I’ve got a job to do, and I’m going to do that to the best of my ability.”
He’ll do it as long as he’s able, and as long as the coach tells him to. And if McAdoo stays true to his belief that you don’t give away starting jobs to players unless they earn it, then this still is Manning’s team.