If anyone can relate to what Eli Manning must be going through, it’s Kurt Warner. After all, Warner was in almost the identical spot Manning now finds himself in after the Giants took Daniel Jones with the sixth overall pick in last month’s draft.
“The biggest challenge is your leash is always short,” Warner said of Manning’s situation. “Are you performing at a certain level every single week?”
Warner speaks from experience. He was the Giants’ starter in 2004, the year Manning was acquired in a blockbuster draft-day trade with the Chargers. With Manning clearly not ready to start right away, Warner, who’d already won a Super Bowl with the Rams, won five of his first seven starts in Tom Coughlin’s first season with the Giants.
“Any time you slip up, no matter how good you’ve been, it’s an opportunity for everybody to sit back and go, ‘Is it time? Is he hitting the wall?’” said Warner, now an NFL Network analyst. “‘Two games in a row? Oh, my gosh.’”
That’s what it took for Warner to lose his job to Manning. After back-to-back losses to the Bears and Cardinals dropped the Giants to 5-4, Coughlin anointed Manning the starter. Manning has started ever since, with a one-game late-season benching during the 2017 season the only time he didn’t start.
Coach Pat Shurmur said Manning remains the starter, but with Jones now on the team, it’s easy to envision a transition like Warner experienced.
“The hardest part is not being able to deal with that [other quarterback],” said Warner, who was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017. “It’s not being able to teach him all your tricks or show him how to be a pro. It’s hard to perform extremely well in this business at the quarterback spot every single week. And when you’ve got a guy behind you and you know that with any slip-up, there’s going to be people clamoring and people looking around and you’re going to start wondering, ‘Is that the moment?’
“That’s the hardest part, being able to manage your emotions, preparing to play your game without ever having to think about the guy behind you,” he said. “[But] we’re all human. It’s hard to do.”
Manning, 38, said earlier this week that he isn’t worried about losing his job. “I think there is always an urgency to win,” he said. “Your job is to go out there and find ways to get that accomplished. Play good football and be a good leader and teammate. I don’t think anything changes.”
But it really has changed, even if Manning isn’t willing to publicly admit it. With Jones clearly representing the future of the franchise at the most important position, the only question is when the transition will occur. This year? Next year?
NFL Network and FOX analyst Brian Baldinger believes it will occur sooner rather than later.
“I think he’s going to play sometime this year,” Baldinger said of Jones.
Baldinger has done extensive film work on Jones and believes the Giants will be well-served with him as their long-term quarterback.
“The more I studied [Jones], the more I liked him,” Baldinger said.
Jones was criticized before the draft for his 59.9 completion percentage over his three seasons as Duke’s starter, but Baldinger thinks it’s an unfair knock on the quarterback.
“I’ve never seen a team – ever – drop so many passes in my life,” he said of the Duke receivers. “It’s every game, too. It’s like – doink – the ball is where you want to put it. I was impressed by it.”
“The last player that was drafted out of Duke was Jamison Crowder [now a Jets’ receiver],” Baldinger added. “[Jones] wasn’t playing with NFL players. They’re all going to law school and business school and moving on with their lives, but they’re not going to the NFL. Show me a Division I program where you haven’t had a player drafted in four years. Not many.”
Compare that to Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who was selected by the Redskins, and it’s not a fair fight.
“Every single receiver that Haskins threw to runs a 4.3, like [Johnnie] Dixon or [Parris] Campbell,” Baldinger said. “It’s a track team. They don’t have anybody like that at Duke. You could throw a 5-yard shallow cross to Parris Campbell, and he’s going to end up in the end zone.”
Baldinger was also impressed by Jones’ mobility: the quarterback rushed for 1,323 yards and scored 17 rushing touchdowns.
“I think you might have to go back to Y.A. Tittle and Fran Tarkenton to see a Giants’ quarterback that moves that well,” Baldinger said. “The knock on Eli is he isn’t mobile, which is fine, because he makes plays from the pocket.”
Aside from the mobility issue, Jones and Manning are remarkably similar.
“If you had to create a clone of Eli, it would be Jones,” Baldinger said. “The way he sounds, the way he looks. If you put a No. 10 on his jersey at Duke, you’d think it’s a younger Eli Manning who can run.”
The two seem to have similar temperaments as well, with both quarterbacks not easy to rattle. That will come in handy, especially for Manning, who faces the biggest challenge of his career with a first-round quarterback now behind him. Even so, Manning said he will do what he can to help Jones, just as he has any quarterback who has backed him up through his 15 seasons as the starter.
“I think Eli will be a great mentor and he will share his secrets,” Warner said. “No one wants the guy who’s going to take your job be right next to you. We don’t want to like those guys. But great people do the thing that they’re supposed to do and they carry themselves with class. I have no doubt in my mind that’s exactly what Eli is going to do.”