The thing about getting new stuff is it makes any old stuff that remains stand out, looking tired or worn. What good is wearing a new suit if your shoes are all scuffed up? Who would remodel a kitchen but leave in the sauce-splattered stovetop?
The idea behind an overhaul is to start fresh with everything out of the box at the same time.
The Giants had an opportunity to do that this season. They began the demolition in December when they canned their head coach and their general manager days after their starting quarterback was benched. It was a perfect chance to re-evaluate and restock every level of the organization. Scorch and start over. And for the most part, that’s exactly what they did.
They hired a new GM and a head coach. They brought in new offensive and defensive schemes. They revamped the offensive line, drafted a running back who might change not only the franchise but the very definition of his position’s job description, and welcomed back an injured wide receiver whose absence for most of 2017 was looked at as the abject personification of the entire miserable campaign.
If there was time to move the franchise’s headquarters or redesign the stadium during the offseason, they probably would have done that, too.
Yet when these Giants take the field Sunday against the Jaguars, ushering in not simply a new chapter in the history of the franchise but an entirely new book, there will be one familiar player in the middle of it all. The scuffed shoe. The old stove. The 37-year-old quarterback.
Why wasn’t he replaced, as well? Because when the ultimate decision-makers in the organization were deciding who the day-to-day decision-makers would be — in other words, when co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch were interviewing Dave Gettleman and Pat Shurmur for their GM and head coach vacancies — one of the most important topics they covered was their vision for Manning’s position.
Had the Giants wanted to, they could have easily parted ways with Manning, moved on to select a shiny young quarterback in the draft or signed a proven player they could insert and make do with over the next few years.
Instead, they decided early on to keep the stove and remodel the kitchen around it.
Welcome to the 2018 season: a referendum on Manning like none of his previous 14 NFL seasons have ever been.
To say Manning has never had this many weapons and toys at his disposal is a discredit to the talent that was with him early in his career. Tiki Barber and Jeremy Shockey and Plaxico Burress and that offensive line of yore all rate among the very best in the franchise’s history.
But it’s beyond fair to say it’s been many years since Manning has been surrounded by as much talent as he’ll have around him when this season begins. It’s up to him to make it work.
He knows that.
“They made the decision and they trusted that I can still play and I want to prove them correct,” Manning said. “I want to prove that they’re right, they made the right decision, and I can still play at a high level and lead this team.”
If he can, the Giants should be in a position to contend in a wide-open NFC. That’s someplace they haven’t been since they won their last Super Bowl after the 2011 season. In fact, the argument could be made that even then, they were not really serious contenders until they actually pulled off a few unexpected wins late in the season and in the playoffs.
Their offense, if it stays healthy, should be explosive. Forget opposing defenses having to decide whether to hedge toward Odell Beckham Jr. or Saquon Barkley; the Giants also will be able to win with Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram.
Defensively, the Giants have a lockdown cornerback in Janoris Jenkins and an All-Pro safety in Landon Collins. They also have the best run-stuffer in the league in Damon Harrison, flanked by young budding stars Dalvin Tomlinson and B.J. Hill.
When Manning was benched for the first time in his career last season, it was the low point of a 3-13 year. It led to an offseason in which there was some doubt about whether he would be back with the Giants. Even he was uncertain about his future with the franchise.
Now, though, he’s much more secure. The Giants have rebuilt, but they have done so around him. It’s a win-now approach, gambling on a quarterback who hasn’t won a playoff game in six years, or to put it another way, since some of his teammates have entered the league. Most of them grew up watching Manning win Super Bowls. Now they are part of a push to get him back there.
Ultimately it’ll be up to Manning to determine if the Giants can do that. They’ll perform as well or as poorly as he does. And even after several years of much more of the latter, he’s just as confident in himself as the Giants are.
“I know I can still play at a high level,” he said. “Last year we had a lot of things go wrong and I have to play better than I did.
“And I will.”