Maybe it’s because he’s done it before. Maybe that Eli Manning trotted off the field at MetLife Stadium in Week 17 a year ago unsure whether he’d ever again play for the Giants or in front of the fans of the New York area, only to return for 2018, is why he’s not worrying about such finality or sentimentality this week.
Sunday’s game against the Cowboys could very well be Manning’s curtain call as the starting quarterback of the Giants.
Or it might not be.
“I don’t know,” Manning said on Wednesday. “We’ll see. Last year I didn’t know. I think, hey, when you get to Year 15, these things come up.”
How they land – and where Manning does – will be determined in the coming months as the Giants’ front office and the camp surrounding the quarterback embark on what is sure to be an offseason of deep soul-searching. Not all of it will be done in conjunction with each other. There will be some harsh realities that need to be faced, related both to football and finance.
But it’s worth noting that no one in franchise history has ever played a 16th season for the Giants.
Pat Shurmur said he isn’t thinking about next year in terms of Manning. He won’t orchestrate any special sendoff for Manning, plot any rigged move that will give the fans at MetLife Stadium on Sunday a chance to show their appreciation to the two-time Super Bowl MVP… just in case it’s the last chance they get to do so.
“Eli is our starter,” Shurmur said. “Eli gives us the best chance to win, and he’s gonna play on Sunday. That’s where we’re at. When the game is over and we start talking in depth about what’s going to happen moving forward, that’s when you worry about that. I’m not worried about that. Again, you’re talking to the coach, so I’m worried about the game.”
A week from now, though, he’ll be changing his hat and his focus.
A season that felt from the beginning like a referendum on Manning will end on Sunday with at least 10 losses. Five days later Manning will turn 38 years old.
He’s had a statistically stable season. He’s two yards shy of reaching 4,000 passing for the seventh time in his career, his completion percentage is 66.5 and will most likely finish at a career-high level, and he’s thrown 19 touchdowns with just 10 interceptions that would tie his career low if he doesn’t get picked off on Sunday. His passer rating is 92.7.
It’s far more likely that Manning will be back with the Giants in 2019 than that his current contract will be. Manning’s cap hit for next season will be $23.2 million with $11.5 million of that in base salary. That would account for about 12 percent of the entire salary cap. The Giants may ask him to take a pay cut, or they could extend him to spread that cap hit out over time. Manning said on Wednesday there have not been any discussions with the Giants about either, and when asked if he’d consider a pay cut to stay with the Giants he said: “We’ll handle all that after the season.”
A season that ends on Sunday.
While there will be plenty of Giants fans who attend Sunday’s game wondering if this might be their last chance to see Manning in a Giants uniform, Manning won’t be joining them in that thinking.
“I view it as the last game of this season,” he said. “And that’s it.”
That’s the way the Giants see it, too.
“What I expect him to do is to lead us to victory,” Shurmur said of Manning. “Nothing would be better than for him to assume the victory formation and take a knee after beating the Cowboys. That’s what we’re looking to do.”
It would make for a nice way to end the season. And, possibly, an era.