It was John Mara’s idea, but not John Mara’s ideal.
The co-owner of the Giants spoke Wednesday and said that a few weeks ago he initiated a conversation with general manager Jerry Reese, asking if the team should start taking a look at the other quarterbacks on the roster. It was Mara who approved of the plan to keep Eli Manning as the starter while keeping a keen eye out for opportunities to get Geno Smith and Davis Webb into game action. It was he who thought it was the best way for the franchise to start looking toward the future without causing too much of a disruption in an already turbulent losing season.
And then something unexpected happened. Manning didn’t go along with the scheme. For what might have been the first time in his 14-year Giants career, he balked at something the franchise asked him to do. The quarterback didn’t want to just be the starter, he still wanted to be the closer, too.
Which led to Tuesday’s shocking revelation that Smith, not Manning, will start against the Raiders on Sunday.
“It was not the way we had hoped it would turn out,” Mara said. “I was hoping he would continue to play and then we’d work out at what point the other quarterbacks got into the game. It just didn’t work out that way.”
When he learned that Manning passed on the now botched blueprint, Mara said he did pause and consider whether the Giants should go ahead with the change. Ultimately, he decided they should.
“What I did not expect — and this is my fault, and I was probably naïve — I did not expect Eli to react by saying, ‘Go ahead and start the other guys,’ ” Mara said. “But that took me by surprise a little bit . . .
“I was hoping it would turn out a little differently. But he didn’t want to do it that way and I understand that. I respect him so much, I’m not going to argue with him.”
Mara’s outline of the transfer plan differed in one key area from the one Ben McAdoo explained to the media Tuesday (and the one Manning said was presented to him Monday). Mara said he did not want there to be a definitive point in the game when a change would be made from Manning to a backup. McAdoo said the plan was to make the change at halftime.
“It was presented the way Ben thought it ought to be presented,” Mara said. “Could we have done it differently? I guess you could argue that we could have.”
It could be an internal argument for Mara. He seemed unimpressed by the way McAdoo handled the messaging of the announcement Tuesday — “I don’t think that’s necessarily his strength” — and backtracked a bit on his statement from a few weeks ago that he would assess the coach’s future at the end of the season. Asked Wednesday if McAdoo’s job is safe for the rest of the season, Mara said: “There are no guarantees in life.”
“We’re 2-9,” Mara said. “I’m embarrassed about that. Nobody is doing a good job.”
Mara was not in the building Tuesday when all of the drama went down, and he said he regretted being at league meetings instead of at the practice facility. He admitted he was shocked by the level of vitriol and disgust aimed at the franchise by fans and former players who were upset over the decision.
“I expected there to be an emotional reaction from fans,” Mara said. “I would say it’s been a little in excess of what I expected, but given what he has meant to our franchise, and to so many people for so long, it’s understandable.”
Mara finally did have what he called an emotional meeting with Manning in his office Wednesday morning.
“When you see him get that emotional, it’s tough,” Mara said. “To a lot of players this is just another team, another franchise, but to him, it means something to be a New York Giant, and that’s what makes this so much tougher.”
There are still plenty of questions remaining as to how all this will play out. Mara insisted, as McAdoo did Tuesday and Wednesday, that Manning’s tenure with the Giants is not over.
“I don’t think you should be writing his obituary yet,” Mara said. “A lot of things can change. We obviously have some tough decisions to make before the start of next year.”
He said he did not tell Manning at Wednesday’s meeting that he wants him to be a Giant for life, a sentiment both men have expressed in the past, “but I think he knows that.” And if Manning insists on moving on this offseason by waiving his no-trade clause, Mara said the Giants would consider it out of respect to him.
For now, Manning is the backup quarterback and Smith is the starter.
“There is,” Mara said, “no completely clean way to handle this.”
The Giants are proving that.