The year is 2037. Commuters complete short jaunts to workplaces via flying cars. Superfast express trains carry passengers between New York and Chicago in under an hour. The United States is a soccer power and the reigning World Cup champions. The New York Giants have extended Eli Manning’s contract to keep him starting quarterback for yet another NFL season.
Such unoriginal jokes and accompanying memes summarize the state of many within the Giants fan base following general manager Dave Gettleman and the front office trading superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to the Cleveland Browns while retaining Manning, who turned 38 years old this past January, to serve as New York’s starting signal-caller heading into the summer months and, most likely, Week 1 of the 2019 campaign.
Beckham’s departure, one apparently in the works for over a year, per Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, isn’t Manning’s fault. Neither is New York’s decision to pick up the $5 million roster bonus attached to the last season of his contract.
Manning doesn’t owe it to the club to retire before he wishes to stop playing, and he’s restructured his deal in the past to provide the Giants salary cap relief. He isn’t the blame for the many holes on New York’s roster this March.
This isn’t to say criticisms of his play aren’t warranted. You don’t have to be a scout with access to All-22 film to see Manning’s fastball isn’t what it was during New York’s last title campaign. Years playing behind a putrid offensive line, a unit that admittedly improved over the second half of the 2018 season, visibly made him skittish and prone to “happy feet” syndrome.
The two-time Super Bowl MVP once capable of dropping a ball on a dime for a legendary completion became Captain Checkdown before our very eyes.
Yes, Father Time is undefeated and untied, but Manning’s age and whatever he does or does not have left in the tank are merely parts of the equation for how the Giants arrived at where the club sits in power rankings and projected division standings. It will take years, and possibly several regime changes, for Manning’s detractors to fully appreciate how drastically and embarrassingly the Giants wasted this quarterback’s prime, and ultimately view such failures as unforgivable football sins.
Football Outsiders commonly waits six years to evaluate NFL Draft classes. Giants fans won’t want to relive the majority of the team’s selections over that time. From Justin Pugh, New York’s first-round pick in 2013, to Johnathan Hankins, Damontre Moore and, last but not least, Ryan Nassib, that entire spring essentially squandered New York’s long-term future.
New York’s 2014 draft class was saved by Beckham until earlier this March. With that no longer the case, not a single player taken by the Giants that year is still with the club. Casual fans couldn’t say what most of those athletes are up to these days.
Ereck Flowers, the ninth pick of the 2015 draft, is a bust somehow on his third roster. The Giants let Landon Collins sign with the Washington Redskins as the franchise finalized the Beckham trade. 2016 first-round pick Eli Apple played and acted his way into a trade to the New Orleans Saints in October 2018.
In 2017, the Giants drafted tight end Evan Engram over the likes of T.J. Watt, Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt and James Conner. The cherry on top of the sundae is the decision to take Saquon Barkley over an available signal-caller with the second pick of last year’s draft, a call that never needed to be so controversial then or now.
The time for the Giants to move in a different direction was roughly 14 months ago after Pat Shurmur was introduced head coach. Alex Smith and Teddy Bridgewater were available, albeit via different paths. As was Case Keenum, who flopped with the Denver Broncos in 2018, but who enjoyed a career renaissance playing under Shurmur with the Minnesota Vikings the prior season. Remember, also, that the Giants could have moved back up in the first round of last year’s draft to acquire Lamar Jackson while keeping Barkley’s rights.
With a head coach who’d never spent a second with Manning on the sideline and a general manager who never selected the greatest quarterback in franchise history anywhere in sight, co-owner John Mara could’ve given Manning a proper farewell during a press conference that preceded either a trade or the quarterback’s release. Instead, ownership and the front office whiffed, and too many will now view Manning as somebody who hung around past his welcome.
The Giants wronged Manning from 2012 through pulling the trigger on the Beckham trade, not the other way around. At least he can cash in on one last year of deserved pay. Unfortunately, the cost could be the Giants wasting a third promising prime over the span of a decade.