INDIANAPOLIS — The Giants are looking for the next Eli Manning at the combine, while sticking with the current one for the time being.
General manager Dave Gettleman would not commit completely to Manning in 2019 — “It’s a never-ending process,” he said of the evaluation, “and we are where we are ... and we keep moving forward.” Coach Pat Shurmur, however, said Wednesday that he wants Manning back and “fully expects” the 38-year-old quarterback to be on the team and most likely under center when the season begins in September. He noted that Manning played better in the second half of the 2018 season when those around him — i.e., in front of him — began to play better.
“Eli can help us win games,” Shurmur said.
But at the same time Shurmur conceded that Manning is “closer to 40 than 20.” In fact, he’s closer to 40 than 35. So with the sixth pick in the upcoming draft and 10 selections overall, the Giants are also in a position to select Manning’s successor.
With Manning on the final year of his contract, whether that actual transition happens early this season, late this season, or next season, it seems imperative for the team to have a player in place to replace. And it sounds as if the Giants would want that player to be a rookie they pick now to develop for a season under Manning.
“The Kansas City model really worked well,” Gettleman said of the Chiefs, who drafted Patrick Mahomes in 2017, sat him as a rookie, then unleashed him on the league as the MVP in 2018.
The top of this draft offers two very different possibilities in Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins. The one thing they do have in common is that neither had more than one year as a college starter, which is fine with the Giants, because they are not necessarily looking for a plug-and-play quarterback.
The questions about Murray regard mostly his size, but Shurmur said there are no measurables that will come out of this combine that will eliminate him from consideration. “Times have changed,” Shurmur said. “Quarterbacks come in all shapes and sizes.”
For Haskins, the question is about mobility. Shurmur said that is a highly coveted quality in his offensive system. “We value a guy who can move around,” Shurmur said. Again, though, there is unlikely to be anything at the combine that cements or precludes those concerns.
Ultimately, this combine will be more about a first get-to-know-you with the players. Shurmur joked that his first question when he meets Murray probably will be as simple as: “Hey, how’re you doing?” This week will be more about assessing the intangibles that go into being the face of a franchise.
There are other options in this draft, though those would likely come later in the first round or early in the second. Anything after that would be just a roll of the dice, Gettleman said. “All the great Qs went early,” he said. (Sixth-rounder Tom Brady is the most notable exception.) The Giants may want to bring in a veteran in free agency, too. Asked if he can rule out adding a player that way – the Eagles will be letting Nick Foles test free agency, their general manager said Wednesday – Gettleman said: “I can’t say anything like that.”
Shurmur said he has had conversations with Manning about this upcoming season. “There is nothing secret to what we’re trying to do,” he said.
What they are trying to do may differ from Manning’s goals at this point. Manning, in the winter of his career, undoubtedly wants to go out a winner. A sixth overall draft pick could help that a lot, but not if that pick is used to select a player who may not take the field until Manning is gone.
Shurmur said the Giants can rationalize taking any player with their first pick, whether he starts on Day One or doesn’t play until 2020. As for Manning’s role as potential mentor, Shurmur insisted that is not Manning’s job. That’s why the Giants have coaches.
“I think a young player would greatly benefit from that,” he said of sitting behind Manning for a certain amount of time and learning before taking the field.
Gettleman, who has spoken with Manning about the “Kansas City model,” said Manning “will always be the consummate pro” and will not bristle at grooming his replacement.
Now it seems to be just a matter of who that will be.
Gettleman insisted he will not reach for a player based on position, and said if none of the quarterbacks in this year’s draft is the right fit for the Giants, he’ll be comfortable not having a clear heir apparent for another year. But he also knows that selecting a franchise quarterback can be a career-defining moment, and at 68 he may not have many more chances to boldly pounce on such opportunities.
The last time the Giants made that kind of decision, the quarterback won two Super Bowls and has been the starter for 15 years. Gettleman’s mentor, Ernie Accorsi, made that choice, and Gettleman said he will lean on Accorsi in this draft, too.
“What Ernie did for the Giants,” Gettleman said, “it would be a dream for me to do the same thing.”
This spring, he could get his chance.