The elephant in the room is named Eli Manning.
There is no getting around the biggest issue facing the Giants, and the fate of Manning will go a long way toward determining the fate of this team in 2019 and beyond.
Bring him back for another season – or perhaps even more – and the Giants risk remaining stuck in the cycle of failure that has enveloped them since they won the Super Bowl following the 2011 season. Move on from him and there are still no guarantees that things will get much better in the short term.
General manager Dave Gettleman offered no indication Wednesday on what will happen. He and Manning had an extensive discussion Monday – at Eli’s request – and Gettleman called it a brutally honest meeting. “Everything is on the table,” Gettleman said at his postseason news briefing.
That’s a distinctly different tone than Gettleman used around this time last year, when he said there were years of quality football left for Manning. But after a 1-7 start during which Manning was under siege largely because of woeful offensive line play, he may have done just enough to convince Gettleman he can win with a quarterback who turns 38 Thursday.
The Giants’ offense improved significantly in the second half of the season, and Manning got better, too. Cause and effect? Most likely. Over his first eight games, he had only eight touchdown passes and six interceptions and was sacked 31 times. Over the last eight, he had 13 TD passes and five interceptions, with just 16 sacks.
But let’s face it: Going into next season with a quarterback entering his 16th year is only prolonging the inevitable switch to a younger quarterback who may represent a more permanent solution. Unless Gettleman can demonstrably upgrade a defense that consistently couldn’t hold leads, and unless he can continue the offensive line’s improvement, the team will be only marginally closer to contending for a championship than the one that just went 5-11.
Neither Gettleman nor Pat Shurmur was willing to provide any details Wednesday on what the plan will be, other than offering platitudes about the future.
“We will do what is in the best interest of the New York football Giants,” Gettleman said. “What we’re trying to do is build sustained success. That takes brutal honesty and some tough decisions.”
What will those decisions be, especially about Manning? Gettleman won’t say. Nor will Shurmur, who has been forceful recently about his belief that Manning still has good football left.
“He can still play. He can make the throws,” Shurmur told Mike Francesa on WFAN Wednesday. “I think we’re much closer to winning than we were last year at this time.”
Manning later told Francesa that “Everybody’s soul- searching to figure out what’s best moving forward.” He said he “will be open and honest with them with what I can handle and not handle, and I expect that from them. Let’s just be honest.”
It’s a tricky balancing act for Gettleman and Shurmur, who are trying to be in win-now mode while trying to lay the groundwork for sustained success. Manning fits into the win-now equation – assuming the GM and coach believe he still can play at a high level – but it will be someone else fitting into the sustained success part. That could be a quarterback taken high in April – Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, fresh off a terrific performance in a 28-23 Rose Bowl win, is already getting a lot of buzz as a high pick. And maybe the first overall pick, in which case the Giants would have to surrender plenty to move up from No. 6 to No. 1.
But with Oregon’s Justin Herbert returning to school in 2019, that’s one less option. Missouri’s Drew Lock may not be worth a top 10 pick, and Ryan Finley of North Carolina State might also be a reach that high.
Gettleman went best available player in last year’s draft and came away with tailback Saquon Barkley – a decision he said he would make 100 times out of 100 – but the Giants are still in quarterback no-man’s land. At least for now.
Perhaps Manning would be willing to shepherd a high pick next season the way Alex Smith did last season with Patrick Mahomes, a handoff that suddenly helped to make the Chiefs a Super Bowl contender. But that may be asking a lot, because Mahomes might be a once-in-a-generation talent.
Either way, Gettleman and Shurmur know there isn’t much time left for Manning. Now it’s a matter of figuring out whether there’s still enough time for them to stick with him in 2019.