For the better part of 16 seasons, Eli Manning has known what to expect.
He knows the rhythms of the game and of the offseason. He knows the lead-up to training camp and everything he has to get done before that. He knows all about preparing mentally and physically for his job, and all the minute details that make up the tapestry of the season — a little like a concert pianist who’s mastered a particular sonata.
And now, for the first time in nearly two decades, Manning just doesn’t know.
He almost certainly will not be a Giant next year. Daniel Jones is the man now, and Manning said Monday that he has little interest in being a backup.
He doesn’t know if he’ll retire, and though that seems like the likely outcome, he’s not sure what comes after that. He knows he doesn’t want to coach. And if he keeps playing, he doesn’t know what uniform he’ll wear.
“I [don’t] have any plans,” Manning said a day after the Giants’ 4-12 season ended. “I’ve got to sit on it and hopefully have that answer on what I want to do and what my next steps are. I think I [don’t] want to linger around. I want to make it as soon as possible. I’ll think [about it] these next days and weeks and figure out what I want to do.
“Everything is an option,” he continued, adding that he thinks he still can play but still has to decide if he should. “That’s the first decision — whether I want to continue to play or not and then go from there.”
Despite his slow decline, there’s no overstating what Manning has meant to this franchise. He has two Super Bowl rings and was named the game’s MVP both times. He has four Pro Bowls to his name and holds too many Giants records to mention.
While Manning — who will turn 39 on Friday — never fully embraced being a backup, he gamely mentored Jones. Would he come back to play behind Jones? “I doubt it,” he said. “Backing up is not real fun.”
“I don’t think so. I felt like I was kind of a coach this year. I didn’t enjoy it that much,” he said before clarifying that he loves being the assistant coach of his daughter’s basketball team. That type of coaching definitely could be in his future, he said dryly.
Throughout his final media appearance in the Giants’ locker room, Manning was the picture of a man in flux. He wasn’t sure how any of this was going to feel, and it’s quite certain that he hasn’t begun to figure it out yet. After all, he’s never been in this position.
“I think it takes a little time for it to really sink in,” he said. “ . . . The great thing about football is that you can reflect on the good things and you can choose what to remember and what to forget. I’m going to choose to remember the wins and the fellowship here with my teammates and coaches here for this past season and from the  seasons prior. I have too many great memories and laughs and wins and celebrations to worry about the tough times.”
There were plenty of those tough times, too. But of one thing, Manning is certain: He’ll reflect on his career, but he’ll be doing so selectively.
“I’m proud of the friendships and being a good teammate . . . and trying to help anyone who needed help,” he said. “The commitment was there. Sometimes you got the results and sometimes you didn’t, but I think I always gave myself and this organization everything I had.”