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After one preseason game, Eli Manning-Daniel Jones decision already looms on horizon for Giants

Eli Manning, right, had a three-and-out in his

Eli Manning, right, had a three-and-out in his only series Thursday night, Aug. 8, 2019, and backup Daniel Jones passed everyone's eyeball test.   Photo Credit: Brad Penner

“Nothing has changed.”

That’s the three-word answer Pat Shurmur offers for anyone who suggests that it might be time for the Giants’ coach to at least consider the idea that rookie quarterback Daniel Jones ought to be considered for the starting job.

Shurmur said it after Thursday night’s preseason game against the Jets, during which Jones executed a nearly perfect 75-yard touchdown drive on his only series of the night. And the coach said it again Friday during a conference call with reporters.

Nothing to see here, folks. Manning is still the starter, and that’s that.

But Shurmur surely must know the questions will persist, and those questions could start to rankle him because of their frequency. And if Jones continues to show in practice and in games — even though it’s still only the preseason — that he has a solid working knowledge of the offense, the scrutiny will only grow in intensity in the coming days, weeks and months.

Or however long it takes for Shurmur to decide whether Manning remains his quarterback, or whether he passes the torch to Jones, the sixth overall pick out of Duke.

“Listen, we’re not going to play the what-ifs,” Shurmur said. “I would say this: Nothing has changed. This is the first game and I expect Daniel to play well. That’s what we expect from him. We expect that from Eli, we expect that from everybody. So our expectations for him have not changed and, in my mind, our situation hasn’t changed.”

The Giants’ regular-season opener against the Cowboys is nearly a month away, so Shurmur has the luxury of time in getting his team — and his quarterback — ready for the Sept. 9 matchup against their NFC East foe. But it is entirely fair for fans to play the “what-if” game, even if Shurmur chooses not to.

That’s the way it works in these situations. When you have a 38-year-old quarterback who has struggled for prolonged periods during each of the last three seasons, and when you take a quarterback this high in the draft, the speculation is natural, and it is appropriate. Manning knows he must play well to keep his job, and it certainly didn’t help that his very first play from scrimmage Thursday night was a 3-yard check-down to tight end Scott Simonson when tight end Rhett Ellison was wide open for a much bigger gain down the right side.

Two runs for a combined 1 yard by Wayne Gallman meant a three-and-out for Manning’s only series of the night. There was a smattering of boos from fans who have seen far too many similar drives during recent seasons. When Jones, playing with mostly the same offense, then moved down the field so effortlessly, it created the awkward dynamic that led to questions for Shurmur about the starting job.

Make no mistake: It is very early in the process, and preseason play shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as a barometer of what will happen when the final score counts. After all, Manning played only one series and was without the team’s best player, Saquon Barkley, who was wisely held out by Shurmur. And Jones was going against a Jets defense that didn’t include many of its starters, including Leonard Williams and Jamal Adams.

So there still is a long way to go from here to there when it comes to making the transition to Jones. But the fact that this is even a conversation is a testament to the impressive start for the rookie quarterback. That’s what you want as a coach, isn’t it? You want the future of your franchise to grasp the offense as quickly as possible, especially in a league in which good quarterbacks playing on their first contracts create a major advantage in the salary-cap era.

Manning knows he isn’t entitled to the job simply because he has two Super Bowl MVPs on his resume and because Shurmur named him the starter . The last one of those came more than seven years ago, so nothing is guaranteed.

Shurmur has been more than fair with Manning, fending off calls for his benching last year and remaining committed to keeping the quarterback this season. But loyalty only goes so far when performance drops off, and Manning will not — and should not — be given the benefit of the doubt in perpetuity, especially if Shurmur sees that Jones is ready to play.

The time has not yet come, and Manning shouldn’t be demoted simply because he had one bad series and Jones had one terrific one in an exhibition game. Shurmur is correct to say that nothing has changed, because nothing should change. At least not yet.

But you know and I know that there will come a day when it’s time. There will come a day when Jones goes from the quarterback of the future to supplant Manning as the quarterback of the present.

That day is not here. But it may arrive sooner rather than later — the day when everything must change.

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