Tom Coughlin has been complimentary of Eli Manning throughout their remarkable 11-plus seasons together, but the coach was downright effusive about his two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback on Monday.
"I think he's prepared to be better than he's ever been, to be honest with you," Coughlin said when asked about what it has meant to the coach to work with one quarterback throughout his run with the Giants. "I thought last year, his improvement was outstanding. He's young, he's obviously very driven and he's in a great frame of mind."
Just as Coughlin was finishing off expressing his unbridled enthusiasm about the 34-year-old Manning, a TV producer accidentally dropped a tape on the stone patio where Coughlin was speaking. After the loud noise, Coughlin quipped, "That having been said [about Manning], that's an exclamation point."
There's plenty for the coach to be optimistic about as Manning enters Year 2 of working in offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's West Coast system. After struggling early in the 2014 season, Manning adapted to his first new offense since his rookie year a decade earlier and put up some of his best numbers. His 30 touchdown passes were the second most of his career. His 14 interceptions were tied for the second fewest as a full-time starter. He threw for 4,410 yards, the second most of his career. And his 63.1 completion percentage was his best ever.
With bookend receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz looking sharp in training camp, and with a well-stocked cadre of running backs, it's no wonder Coughlin feels this good about his quarterback.
"I thought last year his improvement was outstanding," he said. "His conditioning, his offseason work. Even right now, his recovery cycle work and flexibility is better than I've ever seen it."
There's just this one piece of unfinished business with the quarterback, and that's how much the Giants are willing to pay for the right to keep Manning beyond this season. He's under contract through 2015 at a cost of $17 million, although the Giants continue to hold out hope of extending the deal.
And that's where it gets tricky. Giants management and Manning's agents haven't been able to come up with the right numbers yet, but the market has come into focus in recent months with other franchise quarterbacks such as Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and fellow Class of 2004 passers Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers agreeing on new contracts.
Rivers agreed to a deal late Saturday that pays him a reported $65 million in guaranteed money. The deals signed by Roethlisbeger, Wilson and Newton all contain $60 million in guaranteed salary, so the market clearly has been set. And that should lead to a breakthrough at some point in the not-too-distant future.
Still, nothing appears imminent, although these things tend to work out quickly once negotiations heat up and both sides are willing to soften their positions.
Giants president and co-owner John Mara told Newsday on Monday afternoon that it was too soon for the Rivers contract to directly impact Manning's situation.
"That [contract] just happened," Mara said. "We've had discussions. [General manager] Jerry Reese and [assistant general manager] Kevin Abrams have had discussions with Eli's people, and those will continue and hopefully it will get done at some point. There's nothing really unusual about that."
But aren't all the ducks in a row now that the Rivers deal has been completed and there are no other quarterbacks at Manning's level who might impact a new contract?
"I think it's going to happen at some point," Mara said. "I just don't know when."
Is the team's top executive convinced it will happen before the season? "I don't know," he said. "I just don't know."
The feeling here is that it will -- and should happen -- before the Giants' Week 1 opener in Dallas on Sept. 13. Manning is the most indispensable piece of the operation, and there still are several quality seasons left in his arm. He's just as good as, if not better than, all the quarterbacks who have been justly rewarded with handsome contract extensions. And if it means giving him a few more millions than Rivers, who earned the highest guarantee despite being two Super Bowl championships behind Manning, then so be it. Manning deserves that kind of money.
Time for the Giants to put up the cash and make it happen for their franchise quarterback.