It’s been almost eight months since draft night decisions by the Giants set the stage for this season of two quarterbacks. This week they are right back where they started, teetering between hanging onto their past and embracing their future.
Only one can be on display — and more importantly under center — when they kick off the game against the Dolphins on Sunday, and Pat Shurmur will make that call.
“When the time is right,” he said of his timetable for the decision. “The sooner the better, but it could be all the way up to gametime.”
In one scenario, rookie Daniel Jones is healthy enough to play and start. He suffered a moderate high ankle sprain on Dec. 1, but on Wednesday he was running through the team’s practice looking unencumbered and participating in drills. He was listed as limited and seemed to be taking second-team reps, but the workout was at “teaching tempo” and not full speed so it was impossible for Shurmur to tell exactly where Jones’ mobility is at.
Jones said he felt “good” and is “healing quickly” and called himself “day-to-day.” He was agile enough to sidestep questions about whether he is physically ready to play.
“I think I’ve gotten a lot better than I was last week,” Jones said. “I’m trying to prepare to play. They’ll evaluate how I feel throughout the week and then a decision will be made, but my job is to prepare to play.”
Shurmur has said that if Jones is cleared medically, he will start (though he backed off that absolute a bit on Wednesday when he envisioned the possibility of Jones being the active backup on Sunday).
In a normal year, that would be that. Who really cares who plays quarterback when a 2-11 team hosts a 3-10 one? But this is not normal. Not when the alternative is a franchise icon who may be looking at his last chance to start and play in front of a fan base for which he has delivered two Super Bowls.
While Shurmur has insisted that sentimentality will not play into the decision and the Giants have directly denied having conversations to orchestrate some kind of Eli Manning Day at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, the reality is that for many fans and ticket-holders, getting a final opportunity to show their appreciation for Manning and see him play is one of the few draws to this game.
Manning, who played Monday’s game in Philadelphia with his family and friends on hand because he didn’t know if he would ever get the opportunity to start again, didn’t exactly deny that a curtain call at MetLife would be meaningful to him. He said there are “still too many what-ifs” to think about the undoubtedly thunderous reception he would receive.
Manning’s family stopped coming to games when he stopped playing after Week 2. As for the logistics of bringing them in for the potential festivities of what would very likely be his last home start with the Giants, those plans are up in the air now as well.
“We’ll figure it out as the week goes,” Manning said. “Nothing has been decided today . . . There’s a lot of uncertainty still.”
So much so that Manning could conceivably spend the week getting first-team reps and preparing to face the Dolphins, then serve as the backup while Jones plays in his place.
This is the first time in his career that Manning has ever been in such a fluid quarterback situation. He’s fought through injuries and was able to start when it looked like he might not, and he’s been relegated to a backup role, but he’s never been this deep into a week of preparations for a game in which he might not play.
After 16 years, the Giants and the NFL can still throw something new at him.
“It keeps you young,” he said, smiling at the situation.
Not that anyone would wish it, but the situation would almost be easier if Jones were just slightly more injured. If he were still wearing the walking boot that he tossed away on Monday then this week would be like last week was, full speed ahead with Manning. Maybe the coming days will offer clarity in one way or another as Jones pushes in the practices.
“We have to see it, evaluate it, look at it,” Shurmur said of Jones’ ankle in the remaining workouts.
Until then, just as they did in the spring and the preseason and earlier in the regular season, the Giants move forward with two possible tenses at quarterback.
Past or future? By Sunday, they’ll have to choose one.