Eli Manning is on the clock.
The Giants’ quarterback for the past decade and a half is taking the field for his final drive with the franchise. Not that this will be his last season with the only team he’s ever played for, even though it is the last year on his current contract. But the moment the Giants selected Daniel Jones with the sixth overall pick on Thursday night, time began running out on Manning’s tenure.
He basically has until the next time the Giants are irrelevant to keep his job. And considering that scenario has come about early in the fall in three of the past four seasons, there could be a good chance it happens before the 2019 schedule is completed.
The Giants have said that Manning will be the starter at the beginning of the season in September, and their plan is to play the whole season that way, with Jones learning from the sideline. General manager Dave Gettleman went so far as to suggest that situation could last three years the way it did for the Packers, who had Aaron Rodgers in the wings for the final years of Brett Favre’s tenure in Green Bay.
But coach Pat Shurmur gave a more realistic timeline for the eventual transition to Jones.
“I told Eli when we visited, it’s your job to win games and keep this guy off the field,” Shurmur said.
The coach insisted that is not an ultimatum to Manning.
“I don’t think you need to challenge him that way,” he said. “I wouldn’t phrase it that way. But that’s the kind of things you talk about when you put quarterbacks together.”
Just how many wins are enough to hold off Jones? If the Giants are in playoff contention, they’ll undoubtedly stick with Manning. But there is precedent for making a change even when the team still is competitive, and oddly enough, Manning was on the other end of that.
That’s what happened when Kurt Warner led the Giants to a 5-2 start in 2004 before losing two straight to fall to 5-4. They still were a team that could contend, but they decided it was time to insert Manning at quarterback. They lost their next six games before Manning posted the first win of his career in the season finale against the Cowboys.
A more likely scenario for Jones playing in 2019 is if the Giants stumble badly out of the gate. If they are a few games below .500 at the midway point, for instance, there will be plenty of calls to replace the veteran with the rookie. Not that Jones necessarily will be able to fix the direction of the season, but at least he would take his rookie lumps in a forlorn campaign and be NFL-ready for the start of 2020 — the way Manning was in 2005, when the Giants won the division.
Jones is not walking into the warm embrace of Giants fans. At a team draft party Thursday, the pick was booed. Across social media, critics lambasted the team.
About the only Giants fan who seemed happy Thursday night was the guy who won 100 years’ worth of season tickets from the NFL. And even his temperament may have changed shortly after the sixth overall pick was made. After all, now he’s got to sit through it.
Most of the ire aimed at Jones has to do with where he was picked and where he comes from. Many believe that the Giants could have selected a pass rusher such as Josh Allen (available at six) and waited until the 17th overall pick to grab a quarterback. That likely would have been more palatable, but it was not something Gettleman wanted to risk.
Fans also have been quick to draw connections between Jones and the last first-round quarterback the Giants selected from Duke to replace a Super Bowl winner: Dave Brown, taken with a supplemental draft pick in 1993. In six years with the Giants, Brown had a 23-30 record and threw 40 touchdown passes with 49 interceptions.
“I’m certainly thrilled to be in New York and I can’t wait to get started,” Jones said Thursday night.
Those are sentiments he’ll have to convince Giants fans to share with him.
Gettleman promised that the initial reaction to the quarterback and the pick will change.
“In time,” he said to disgruntled fans, “you’ll be very pleased.”
How much time? That’s up to Manning.