Welcome to the Year of Two Quarterbacks.
That’s what this 2019 Giants season will be remembered for, no matter how the next six months play out.
As the players gather for the start of training camp on Wednesday — the rookies and a few veterans reported on Monday — they arrive to the usual array of position battles, question marks and even optimism that every team faces at this time of the year. For the Giants, there are doubts about the defense, high hopes for what Saquon Barkley can do in his second season and curiosity to see how new acquisitions fit into roles that were previously filled by popular stars purged in a tumultuous offseason. That normally would be enough narrative to sustain the annual second-half-of-summer story lines.
But all of that will be relegated to the auxiliary field in terms of significance, be it real or projected. Because in the NFL these days, there is one position that stands above all the others in terms of a franchise’s search for success and stability, its temperament and its tone. One position.
And now, for the first time in 15 years, the Giants have two of them.
It’s by design, mind you, not by default. The Giants willingly and eagerly put themselves in this position when they decided to stick with Eli Manning for at least one more season, then drafted Daniel Jones with the sixth overall pick in April’s draft. Their hope is that it will lead to a smooth transition from one franchise quarterback to another, that Manning can show Jones how things are done around here (and maybe win a few games while he’s at it) before handing the job over to him. The Giants’ ideal likely goes something like this: Manning drives the Giants back to the playoffs in the final year of his contract, turns 39 in January, bows out gracefully — maybe even with a third Super Bowl ring as a retirement gift — and Jones is the undisputed starter on this day next year. It’s a 2020 vision.
Maybe it all comes together and happens just like that. Chances are it won’t.
The scale with Manning on one side and Jones on the other begins teetering on Thursday when the team takes the field for its first practice. Manning has a head start. He’s the seen-it-all veteran with two Super Bowl MVPs in his second season in the offense. Coach Pat Shurmur hinted at a quarterback competition in camp earlier this spring, but that seems to have been more about motivating Jones to push himself to be ready than any actual audition for the job on Day One. Manning, barring an injury, will be the Giants’ starter against the Cowboys on Sept. 8.
That won’t stop fans and observers from clamoring for a change as soon as possible, however. The two quarterbacks will be chronicled and compared on a daily basis throughout this training camp. Their production in the preseason games will be measured against each others’. Heck, the Giants could be down 10-3 at halftime in Dallas and there will be plenty of folks wanting to pull the plug on the Manning Era to see what the kid can do. Imagine the pressure to make the switch if the Giants are 0-2?
That’s why, soon after the Giants drafted Jones, Shurmur gave a perfect description of Manning’s task.
“I told Eli . . . ‘It’s your job to win games and keep this guy off the field,’ ” Shurmur said in April.
For the first time in Manning’s career, the Giants have another option at quarterback.
This training camp — this season — will be all about weighing that option.
Notes & quotes: The Giants placed rookie wide receiver Alex Wesley on the physically-unable-to-perform list for the start of training camp with an undisclosed injury. Wesley missed the Senior Bowl with a groin injury earlier this year but participated in the Giants' offseason workouts.