Piece by piece, player by player, the Giants roster is being deconstructed with alarming speed.
High draft picks or high-priced free agents – no matter. If you don’t fit into the vision of general manager Dave Gettleman and coach Pat Shurmur – with the stamp of approval from team president and co-owner John Mara – then you are gone. This is one of the most painful rebuilding jobs for the Giants in recent memory. I can’t name a more significant one since the biggest roster blowup of all after the “The Fumble” of 1978 led to seismic organizational changes.
Unless there is a stunning quick fix Gettleman can apply to a roster that is now without its best receiver, its best defensive back, its best linebacker and its best run-stuffing tackle, then we are looking at a 3-13 season.
The biggest remaining question: Who’s going to be the quarterback in 2019?
Eli Manning remains on the roster, and at 38 years old with a $17 million salary and a $23.2 million salary-cap charge, he sticks out like the sorest of thumbs. Gettleman clearly has decided to go younger and cheaper after a 5-11 season, which leaves Manning in the unenviable position of caretaker of an offense he won’t be running for very long.
If he even makes it to next season.
Shurmur said at the Combine two weeks ago that he expects Manning back. But Gettleman offered assurances that Beckham would return, too, with his now-infamous “We didn’t sign Odell to trade him” line. A big hint about Manning’s immediate future will come on Sunday, when he is due a $5 million roster bonus. If the Giants are ready to move on from their two-time Super Bowl MVP, they might not be inclined to pay him that bonus. And even if they do, there’s no guarantee they won’t decide to part ways before the season.
There is still a lot to be determined, starting with the draft. By trading Beckham, the Giants put themselves in a better position to potentially move up and select a quarterback such as Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins. The Giants might need to move up from No. 6 overall to keep other teams in a quarterback-needy league from getting to him first.
Then again, Gettleman might not have put himself in this position had he done the sensible thing last year and taken Sam Darnold with the second overall pick instead of Saquon Barkley. Taking absolutely nothing away from Barkley, who was fabulous last season, it was foolhardy to put off the quarterback decision when a capable player was right there. Instead, it’s the Jets who can look with optimism toward the future with Darnold, who showed plenty of improvement as a rookie and is now surrounded by a more talented supporting cast that includes running back Le’Veon Bell, wide receiver Jamison Crowder and guard Kelechi Osemele.
He’s left with a shell of a passing attack without Beckham, one of the NFL’s most prolific receivers since coming to the Giants in 2014. Yes, he has been injured, and yes, he can be a handful. But when you invest $95 million in a contract extension one year and end the relationship the next, that is some serious dysfunction. If you didn’t like Beckham’s act and thought it might be a problem, then make this trade last year, before spending all that money and cap space.
Manning will be a sitting duck against defenses who will be poised to stop Barkley and take away the quarterback’s greatest weapon: the play-action pass. A balanced offense is a must for a pocket passer, and removing the play fake from his arsenal is an offense-killer.
Gettleman said he likes what the Chiefs did with young quarterback Patrick Mahomes – allowing him to play behind Alex Smith for a year and then take over – and that it could be a plan for the Giants. One difference: The Chiefs were a playoff team with Smith and had some of the NFL’s best skill players – and a quality offensive line. Manning doesn’t have that, which means he’d likely give way to a rookie who might not be ready to play.
Manning hasn’t said a peep since last season, although his agent, Tom Condon, told Newsday’s Tom Rock at the Senior Bowl that Eli wants to play in 2019.
The question now is whether the Giants want him back. And at what cost to the future.
The trade of Odell Beckham Jr. leaves Eli Manning with an extremely inexperienced and untested wide receiver group. Only Sterling Shepard has proved himself in the NFL. Manning’s options on the current Giants roster:
Player Career Catches Yards TDs
Sterling Shepard 190 2,286 14
Corey Coleman 61 789 5
Jawill Davis 4 40 0
Brittan Golden 0 0 0
Quadree Henderson 0 0 0
Alonzo Russell 0 0 0