Pros and cons of Eli Manning returning for another season with Giants

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The door has been left ajar. Eli Manning‘s future with the New York Giants remains uncertain going into this offseason.

That is where everything stands on Jan. 3, which just so happens to be Manning’s 38th birthday. He has one year remaining on a contract that has a no-trade clause and will pay him $17 million if he’s on the roster for the 2019 season.

Except there are no guarantees. Manning initiated a sit-down with general manager Dave Gettleman on Monday that was extensive and “no-holds-barred,” according to Gettleman. There was no resolution on Manning’s future by the end of the meeting.

The Giants at this point aren’t sure who will be their starting quarterback for the 2019 season.

“I can’t answer that question,” Gettleman said, “because I don’t know what the field is right now.”

Gettleman and the Giants will go through their evaluation process before a final decision on Manning’s future is solidified. Manning wants to play. “I do. I do,” he said during an interview with Mike Francesa on Wednesday on WFAN.

The Giants can cut Manning and save $17 million against the salary cap. They could also try to trade him (they’re unlikely to find a taker, given his age and salary) or bring him back at a reduced price. That might work for Manning. Make no mistake: He wants to return.

These are all options. But the ball appears to be in the Giants’ court when it comes to bringing Manning back for a 16th season. They have a key decision to make, and there are positives and negatives to each side of that decision.

Pros for returning

Experience: Gettleman described Manning as a “mensch.” Because he is. It’s the way Manning carries himself and the person he is that warrants that Yiddish designation. As coach Pat Shurmur has noted on multiple occasions, Manning handles himself as the ultimate professional.

The Giants appreciate this, especially from their quarterback. Manning plays a difficult position and does so in New York, which is among the toughest markets. He handles all the extracurricular stuff with ease.

If the Giants bring in a new quarterback, who knows how that newcomer will handle the pressure and the demands? Manning is a known quantity in this regard. There would be no such concerns if he returns. There would be no slip-ups and/or growing pains. Manning also wouldn’t need time to acclimate to the offense or his receivers like a new quarterback. Continuity and experience are positives for Manning in this instance.

Still something left? The first half of the season was a disaster for Manning and the Giants. He threw eight touchdown passes in eight games, and they went 1-7 before the bye week. The offensive line was in shambles, and Manning was a mess. He was sacked 31 times in the first eight games, and the Giants failed to score more than 20 points in six of their seven losses.

It got better in the second half, when the offensive line solidified, and Manning was sacked only 16 times. He threw 13 of his 21 touchdown passes in the final eight weeks. Given more time and with the offense adjusted to take pressure off the quarterback, there was more success. The hope if he returns can be that they found a workable formula that Manning and the Giants can build off and try to duplicate next year. Maybe there is one more quality year or run left in that arm and body.

Clean break: The Giants have been careful about what they said about Manning this season, even when he struggled. This wasn’t an accident. This is an organization cognizant of public perception, especially when it comes to the greatest quarterback in franchise history. They know it was a bad look the previous season when he was effectively benched for Geno Smith.

If Manning returns for 2019, it would make the cord-cutting perhaps as clean as possible. He plays out the final year of his deal (and perhaps mentors the quarterback of the future), and next offseason they can move on with minimal repercussions. Manning’s contract will have expired, and after 16 seasons, most will accept that it’s time to move on after two Super Bowls and a storied career that could land Manning in the Hall of Fame.

Cons for returning

Really, again? Gettleman mentioned Wednesday the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. He was talking about cutting bait quickly on some of his own mistakes this season, but that logic can be applied to Manning as well this offseason. If the Giants trot Manning out again behind an average or subpar offensive line, why would anything change, even if he does have perhaps the best weapons in the league? Working with Odell Beckham Jr., Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard wasn’t enough for Manning to lead anything more than a middling offense over the course of a 16-game season. And that was after an awful 2017 season as well.

The Giants tried to make it work with Manning. They drafted a running back No. 2 overall and an offensive lineman in the second round. They signed Beckham to a long-term deal and made Nate Solder, at the time, the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history. They’ve used four of their past five first-round picks on offensive players. It hasn’t worked. Maybe it’s time to take a different approach with the most important position on a football team. Otherwise, they could be sitting out the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years.

Deteriorating play: Say what you want about Manning, but he isn’t playing at the level he was during the Super Bowl seasons. He’s just not. Some of it is a result of Father Time. It catches up to everybody in this game. Manning is 38 years old now and less mobile than ever. His arm, while still serviceable, is not as strong as it once was. He struggled in inclement weather this season and is quick to bail with a defender in his face.

Whenever anything is off schedule, it’s a dead play for the Giants with Manning. It’s hard to operate with these deficiencies in today’s game, in which there is more passing and a higher demand on rushing the passer. Quarterbacks are consistently under pressure, and a premium is put on being able to avoid the rush. Even Manning’s own coach prefers a more mobile quarterback.

That is — and never was — Manning’s strength. Now, he’s no longer a top-half-of-the-league quarterback. He isn’t making enough plays. Andy Dalton and Carson Wentz finished tied for 17th in the NFL with Manning after throwing 21 touchdown passes. The problem: Dalton and Wentz each played in 11 games. This might be the most compelling of all reasons to move on if the Giants want to win. Scoring points by throwing the ball around the yard is the name of the game these days. Manning hasn’t consistently made enough plays in recent years.

No hope: Those on the Giants’ roster the past few years have experienced little success. They never won Super Bowls with Manning (aside from Zak DeOssie), and their eight wins the past two seasons are fewer than that of any team besides the Cleveland Browns, who were winless in 2017.

It’s a hard sell to that locker room for the Giants to come back into next season with most of the same key pieces, including the quarterback. Earlier this season, there were doubts from more than a few players about whether they could still win with Manning as the quarterback. Was some late-season success enough to completely erase those doubts? What happens when the Giants inevitably struggle offensively at some point next season? The doubts will resurface. This needs to be factored into the equation as the Giants make their decision on Manning’s future.

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