On Monday, the day after the season ended, Eli Manning walked into Dave Gettleman’s office for a conversation about the future of the Giants and, more to the point, each of their roles in that future. It was, the general manager said Wednesday, a “very extensive” and “no holds barred” talk that lasted about a half-hour.
What it did not produce, apparently, is any firm decision on whether Manning will be the quarterback of the Giants in 2019 or beyond.
“Everything,” Gettleman said, “is on the table for us.”
That includes bringing back Manning for the final year of his contract, extending him to make his salary-cap number more palatable, insisting he take a pay cut to remain with the team, drafting a quarterback and having Manning serve as a mentor, and even cutting the 15-year veteran who has won two Super Bowls for the organization and signing a free agent.
“What we’re trying to do here is build sustained success,” Gettleman said. “That takes some brutal honesty and it takes some tough decisions.”
That tableful of options extends both ways, with Manning having one other possibility.
He could just walk away. From the Giants, from football, from all of it.
In his final weekly appearance on WFAN on Wednesday, the question of whether we have seen the last of Eli Manning at quarterback was posed to him. He sighed and gave a far from definitive answer.
“We’ll see,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s leaning one way or the other right now. I think this is kind of the time to reflect and figure out what’s the best thing going forward.”
Gettleman’s end of the season news conference touched on a number of topics, but the majority of the questions – and his most important answers and non-answers – revolved around Manning. He turns 38 Thursday, and while Gettleman insisted the Giants are heading in the right direction and close to competing for a championship, he could not say that it will happen during the ever-closing window of opportunity that Manning’s career provides.
“Here’s what I’m committed to do: I’m committed to making the best decision in the interest of the New York football Giants,” Gettleman said. “My commitment is to make this team the best team it can be. If that happens to have Eli playing quarterback, it does.”
Unlike a year ago this time, when Gettleman walked in the door after having not watched much of the Giants’ 2017 season, he saw firsthand every snap Manning took in 2018. He also was on hand for most of the practices. Yet he insisted that he must go back and re-watch it before making any decisions on Manning (or any other players).
“My personal feeling is the biggest mistakes are made when you’re emotional, and when the season ends you’re emotional and you’re mentally cooked,” Gettleman said. “I always want to be right. You always want to have your whole gut, and that’s me, that’s just my nature … Yes, I watched every snap, but I want to watch the film, and I want to have time to breathe.”
Gettleman gave some indications that he was pleased by Manning. He said his stats were “not too shabby.” (Manning threw for 4,299 yards, 21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a career-best 66-percent completion rate.) He spoke about the learning curve of six weeks for the entire new offense and how much better Manning played in the second half once his line was stabilized. He also called Manning a “mensch.”
He said he also will take coach Pat Shurmur’s endorsements of Manning into consideration. “Obviously, it’s part of it,” Gettleman said. “Pat’s had success with quarterbacks, so I’m certainly going to listen.”
When it comes to the Giants’ decision, though, it will be Gettleman’s.
Manning’s decision? That will come from his team, Team Manning. The one whose name he has worn since birth, not whose uniform he has worn since 2004.
His father, Archie, told ESPN this week that he isn’t sure that Eli will return to the Giants, but “if he comes back, the Giants have got to win. They can’t go through another season like this.”
Gettleman said Wednesday he could not guarantee that.
Earlier in the interview, Manning said he feels like he can still play in the NFL, that he feels good physically, and he likes the direction of the team.
“I love playing football,” he said.
But he also said that everyone involved will have to do some “soul-searching” in the coming weeks and months, that the losing in recent years has “taken a toll” on him and his family, and that he finds it hard to imagine himself playing in another uniform (though he did not rule it out).
Based on Archie Manning’s quote, though, it’s interesting to note that it was Eli who initiated the pow-wow with Gettleman, not the other way around. It was Manning who wanted questions answered, not Gettleman. Assuming Archie’s quote comes from an intimate knowledge of his son’s true feelings, Eli may be spending the next few weeks and months evaluating the Giants more than the Giants will be evaluating him.
“Eli came in and he wanted to talk,” Gettleman said. “I just have this, like I said, crazy idea that if a guy asks me questions, I’m going to be honest with him. It wasn’t like he was called to the principal’s office. He came to see me.”
Manning said the meeting was basically setting the ground rules for the coming weeks and months and about maintaining open and honest dialogue throughout the process. Gettleman called it a “great conversation.”
But one without any resolution. Or even a timeline for one.
“I assume I’ll have conversations with Mr. Gettleman moving forward,” Manning said, “see what’s best, and what we need to do.”