There was a zero percent chance Eli Manning would say anything other than what he actually did say on Monday, his first day back in the Giants’ offseason training program.
When asked on a conference call with reporters if there is anything different about the start to this year’s regimen, especially given the fact that he’s now 38 years old and the Giants are thinking seriously about drafting his heir apparent, Manning said there is not.
“I think you treat it the same as any year you come in,” he said. “Had a good offseason, worked hard, and I’m excited about getting back with the team and the coaches.”
If there is one thing that defines Manning, an athlete who has survived the rigors of 15 seasons of playing in the New York market, it is his remarkable consistency, combined with a breathtaking unflappability.
“I think every year I’m just worried about that next year,” he said. “I am thinking about right now with this team. Getting rolling, getting wins and doing whatever it takes to be a good teammate to get this team winning football games.”
It is Eli at his core.
“This is what I do and what I like to do, and I have worked extremely hard the last few months to get ready,” he said.
But make no mistake. This is different. This is very different, regardless of Manning’s be-here-now mentality.
The team has spoken openly about drafting a quarterback to replace him — whether that quarterback is Kyler Murray of Oklahoma, Dwayne Haskins of Ohio State, Daniel Jones of Duke, Ryan Finley of North Carolina State or Will Grier of West Virginia. Even Manning can’t avoid acknowledging the obvious.
“Yes, I can see the Giants getting a young quarterback,” he said. “I understand that. I still have to do my job. I will do my part. Same as last year.''
In Manning’s mind, he is still the starter.
“Go out there, play quarterback, win football games,” he said. “That is what I am trying to do.”
At some point, the decision won’t be his. And that decision could come soon, even if it takes a young quarterback some time to get up to speed and be in position to play. There still is the chance the Giants will trade for a quarterback. They have been mentioned in connection with Josh Rosen of the Cardinals and there is speculation that they could be interested in Russell Wilson if the Seahawks can’t come to an agreement on a contract extension.
The Giants need to keep all of their options open. Wilson certainly is an enticing one, although it’s hard to see the Seahawks cutting ties with a potential Hall of Fame quarterback who is only 30 years old. Then again, it was hard to envision the Giants trading Odell Beckham Jr. a year after signing him to a $90 million contract extension, and look what happened there.
Either way, Manning may be playing on borrowed time, even if his mindset won’t allow him to think that far ahead.
“I think it is just a mindset to work on things that you need to improve on to help the team,” he said. “Keep doing the things that you were successful with.”
Manning did show improvement in the second half of last season after a 1-7 start, and the Giants hope the offense can pick up where it left off — even without Beckham. There is no longer an adjustment period to coach Pat Shurmur’s offense, so it is reasonable to expect a better performance.
For Manning, it has to be better, especially early on. If there is a highly drafted quarterback sitting behind him and the Giants get off to another poor start, there’s no way Shurmur will stick with Manning indefinitely. But Manning often has been at his best when the heat is on, especially with his two signature Super Bowl wins against the Patriots.
Then again, that was a long, long time ago, and Manning doesn’t have the strong cast around him that played such a huge role in those two championship runs.
He has been given another chance.
Maybe his last.