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Monday, February 24, 2014
Eli Manning contract thoughts

By Dan Graziano
ESPN.com

When the offseason began, one of the things of which I felt certain was that the New York Giants would extend quarterback Eli Manning's contract before the start of the 2014 season. According to a Star-Ledger report last week, I was wrong. This happens from time to time, as my regular readers know, and when it does I sometimes feel it's worth examining why. So here are some thoughts on why the situation may have changed:

Manning
Cap room. The Giants could clear something like $11 million in salary-cap room if they extended Manning's contract beyond 2015, which is when it's currently set to expire. There's no team in the league that couldn't use that, and when the offseason began it appeared to be the clearest path for the Giants to attain the kind of cap relief they were going to need. However, the league may be providing that cap room instead. Initially projected to be around $126.3 million, the salary cap for 2014 now appears set to rise into the low $130 millions, which would offer perpetually strapped teams like the Giants room they didn't expect to have. They'll add about $9 million if and when they release (or slash the salaries of) Chris Snee and David Baas, and they should have plenty of room to maneuver now without extending Manning.

Desire. Negotiating an extension with Manning now, after he threw 27 interceptions in 2013, would put the Giants in a position of strength. If he goes out and has a big 2014 and wins another Super Bowl, he's going to be the one with the leverage (and only one year left on his deal), and the Giants would have to pay more to keep him than they would if they did the deal now. But (a) it takes two to tango, and for those same reasons Manning may not want to talk deal this offseason and (b) the quarterback market isn't rising too crazily beyond the place Manning already occupies in it. If Manning signs next year for a deal similar to the ones Joe Flacco and Jay Cutler got the last two offseasons, his cap number isn't going to be any higher than it already is. The Giants are used to trying to balance their budget around a $20 million quarterback cap number, and it's not as though he's going to take it to $25 million with one big year.

Legitimate questions. The Giants may be wondering about Manning as a long-term investment. I think they still believe he's capable of playing at a high level and taking them where they need to go, but in the wake of 2013, the Giants have legitimate questions about the direction of their franchise. Manning and Tom Coughlin are signed through 2015, as is the young, new offensive coordinator, Ben McAdoo, who's never called plays or run his own offense before. The next two years could go well or could go poorly, and if they go poorly, the Giants may find themselves in a position to completely reboot as they did in 2004 when they hired Coughlin and drafted Manning. Committing to Manning beyond that at this point may just be something they thought they wanted to do but now aren't so sure.