Eli Manning’s next start could be in Jacksonville
And so ends the Eli Manning era.
A shocking news release from the Giants at around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday announced that Manning won’t be their starting quarterback for the first time since 2004. At 2-9, second-year coach Ben McAdoo — who soon might be ex-coach Ben McAdoo — has decided Manning is no longer in the team’s plans and that Geno Smith will get a shot Sunday against the Raiders in Oakland.
The Giants also want to get a look at rookie quarterback Davis Webb, so he, too, will figure into the mix as the Giants lurch toward the finish line of a lost season.
Where does that leave Manning, other than feeling rightfully disappointed and demoralized after such a cold-hearted and clumsy way to end one of the most spectacular starting streaks in pro sports history? It leaves him no choice but to leave the only team for which he has played. That could mean retirement, but more likely it will mean he will agree to play elsewhere and find a team willing to trade for him.
And there is one team that will fit just perfectly.
Tom Coughlin’s team.
Coughlin, who was forced out two years ago after winning two Super Bowls with Manning, presides over the football operation in Jacksonville. He already has done fine work in reconstituting the Jaguars, with whom he began his NFL coaching career in 1995. The Jaguars are 7-4 and tied for first place in the AFC South, with a terrific defense and a formidable running game.
What they don’t have is a championship-caliber quarterback, which is why a Manning trade makes complete sense.
I asked Eli about this very scenario before the trade deadline last month, and he vigorously denied interest in playing anywhere else.
“I’ve not heard [the Jacksonville speculation], I’ve not felt it, not thinking about it,” he said. “I don’t want to play anywhere else. I love this team, love this organization, and I want to be here.”
Only now, it’s clear the Giants are thinking about Manning not being here. If they did, if they truly believed Manning was their answer moving forward, then they wouldn’t end his 210-game starting streak, second among quarterbacks only to Brett Favre.
But it’s clear now that McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese — who also might be swept away in an offseason housecleaning — want to see what they have in Smith and Webb, the Giants’ third-round pick. There is also a very real possibility that the Giants will draft a quarterback next year, especially if they continue on the path toward a top-5 pick.
Coughlin was stunned at the Manning news when asked about it during an appearance on a Jacksonville radio station.
“Surprised is not the word,” Coughlin said. “My sentiments are totally with Eli Manning. I love the kid. He’s a class act, a two-time Super Bowl champion, one of the finest, most humble men in that locker room. . . . I was very upset about when I heard that.”
Manning sees the writing on the wall, just as his older brother Peyton did after the Colts released him because of neck problems that sidelined him for the 2011 season. Peyton signed a free-agent deal with the Broncos and enjoyed the perfect ending for an NFL career. He won Super Bowl 50 and then walked off into his NFL sunset. Eli now will have that opportunity, and if it doesn’t come in Jacksonville, it will come with some other contender if he so chooses.
There’s a chance, of course, that Manning will opt to retire; he turns 37 in January. But knowing how competitive he still is, the fire surely will keep burning, and if the right opportunity presents itself, he surely will consider it.
He knows now, however, that his days are almost surely at an end with the Giants. Unless they somehow decide between now and next season that they still want him — and that’s hard to fathom at this point — then it’s over.
No point in prolonging the inevitable. That’s why Manning turned down McAdoo’s offer to keep the starting streak intact, while also getting a look at Smith and Webb.
“Coach McAdoo told me I could continue to start while Geno and Davis are given an opportunity to play,” Manning said. “My feeling is that if you are going to play the other guys, play them. Starting just to keep the streak going and knowing you won’t finish the game and have a chance to win it is pointless to me, and it tarnishes the streak. Like I always have, I will be ready to play if and when I am needed. I will help Geno and Davis prepare to play as well as they possibly can.”
What a sad and awkward way to go out for a player who likely will end up in the Hall of Fame. Then again, maybe Manning had a feeling something like this might happen. After all, his demeanor after the Giants’ Thanksgiving night loss to the Redskins was one we’d never seen from him in all his years with the Giants.
He looked and sounded defeated.
Less than a week later, after seeing the only team he’s ever played for ready to move on without him, he accepted the inevitable.
It’s over with the Giants.
It doesn’t have to be over in the NFL, though. Not with his old coach needing a quarterback in Jacksonville.