- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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Friday was Eli Manning's 33rd birthday. He has been the New York Giants' quarterback for 10 years now and won two Super Bowl titles and Super Bowl MVP awards. He is coming off the worst season of his career and the first losing season the Giants have had since he was a rookie in 2004. On the occasion of Manning's birthday, I hereby present 33 thoughts about the Giants' quarterback, in no particular order:
He's getting a contract extension this offseason. You may not like it, but you can bank on it. The Giants will correctly identify that there's not likely to be a better option on the market in the next half-decade and that extending Manning is the best way to clear enough 2014 cap room for the extensive roster rebuild that confronts them this offseason. Fans who would like to see the Giants tear it up and move on with a young quarterback ignore the fact that guys like Teddy Bridgewater would be lucky to ever be half as good as Manning is now. And when you don't have a quarterback in this league, you don't have anything.
Next year will be his first year without the influence of Kevin Gilbride, who announced his retirement Thursday. Gilbride was the quarterbacks coach for the Giants from 2004-06 and took over as offensive coordinator late in the 2006 season. Manning had a great deal of success prior to 2013 with Gilbride as one of his guides, and as the Giants hunt for Gilbride's replacement, the manner in which he'll work with their quarterback should be a guiding principle.
Manning won his second Super Bowl title in Indianapolis, which at the time was his brother's home stadium. His brother, Peyton Manning, is currently the quarterback of the Denver Broncos, who have the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs and a chance to win the Super Bowl in Eli Manning's home stadium next month.
At some point this offseason, Manning will work out at Duke University with his receivers and with Duke coach David Cutcliffe. If you watched any Duke games this year -- heck, even if you only saw the Chick Fil-A Bowl on Tuesday night -- it was easy to see what the Mannings like about that guy. He has a lot of good ideas about how to play offensive football.
The Giants used seven starting offensive line combinations in 2013 -- a far cry from the 2007-09 days when they went 38 straight games with the same starting five.
The Giants have ranked 29th, 14th and 32nd in the league in rushing offense the last three seasons. Manning's completion percentage has dropped in each of those three years.
Manning's 57.5 completion percentage in 2013 was his lowest for a season since 2007, when he completed only 56.1 percent of his passes.
His 3,818 passing yards this year were his fewest since 2008, when he passed for 3,238. The Giants ranked first in the league in rushing offense that year.
The retirement of Redskins linebacker London Fletcher leaves Manning's streak of 151 consecutive starts as the longest active streak by any NFL player. He has not missed a game since he got the starting job in 2004.
That streak is the third-longest in NFL history but only the second-longest in Manning family history, as Peyton played 208 consecutive games from 1998 to 2011.
He collects art, appreciates fine wine and has a lousy sense of direction, according to this from my friend Steve Politi. Manning seems like a closed book a lot of the time, so I always enjoy finding out things about him that I didn't know.
For instance, I enjoyed talking to him two years ago about the influence Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter had on him as a star athlete and a New York sports figure.
I enjoy talking to Manning in general. As a reporter, I feel like he's a guy who's happy to help. He'll play along with your story angle and not shut you down because he's in a bad mood. He's approachable at his locker even on his non-scheduled "talk" days. And if you have an interesting angle that's new to him, he engages enthusiastically. Pleasant guy to deal with.
Manning was sacked on 6.6 percent of his dropbacks in 2013, by far a career high. His 3.42 sack percentage in 2012 was the lowest in the league, and his career mark of 4.79 is the 18th-lowest of all time.
This was the third season in which Manning led the league in interceptions. He's never led the league in any other major statistical category (unless you count sack percentage, I guess). He's 43rd all-time with 171 career interceptions, and 20 more in 2014 would get him into the top 30.
On my own 33rd birthday, I was in the middle of my first season as national baseball writer for The Newark Star-Ledger after five years covering the Yankees for that paper. At that time, the 24-year-old Manning had a 1-6 career record with six touchdowns and nine interceptions and was about to enter his first training camp as the Giants' starting quarterback.
On his 33rd birthday, Peyton Manning had a record of 124-62 (counting playoffs) and one Super Bowl MVP award. At that same time, Eli Manning was 50-32 (counting playoffs) with one Super Bowl MVP award.
In Manning's nine years as the Giants' starting quarterback, the Giants have had five players lead the team in receptions. Victor Cruz has led the way the last three years, but prior to that it was Hakeem Nicks, Steve Smith, Domenik Hixon and Plaxico Burress.
Manning had the same leading receiver, Chris Collins, in each of his final three seasons at the University of Mississippi. If Manning trusts you to get open, he'll keep throwing it to you.
Manning is the Giants' all-time leader in passing yards, but did you know he's only second all-time in passing yards per game to Kerry Collins? (237.7 to 231.0)
Manning has been sacked 252 times in 153 career games. Phil Simms was sacked 477 times in 164 career games with the Giants.
He apparently likes to sing karaoke, according to Jeff Chadiha. I can actually picture this.
Manning ranked 21st among NFL quarterbacks in standard fantasy points this past season, tied with Aaron Rodgers, who only played 11 games. If you had Manning as your fantasy quarterback, you were likely strong elsewhere, but it's hard to believe he helped you win your league.
In this Sports Illustrated feature, Manning was listed as "worthy of consideration" as the best NFL player ever to wear the uniform No. 10. Fran Tarkenton was the winner in that category, with Steve Bartkowski as the runner-up and Jim Zorn and Byron "Whizzer" White joining Manning among the honorable mentions.
Every Friday, Manning hosts a film session with all of his receivers in which he's the only one who speaks. The meeting is intricate and open to anyone on the team who wants to attend, and players on the Giants' offense have said in recent years that it's among the most educational parts of their week.
New York Giants
My sense is that Manning won't be overly broken up about the departure of Gilbride and would be energized if a new coordinator brought in a new scheme. Not that he'd have minded working with Gilbride again or for the rest of his career, and not that he's looking to change the offense. I just have a feeling that, if the Giants did make changes, Manning would respond well and perform like someone with newfound energy. Just my $0.02. Could be totally wrong.
One of the striking things about Manning is the respect the Giants' defensive players have for him. There's a strict separation of church and state in NFL locker rooms between defenses and offenses. But even this year, when the Giants' offense was clearly the problem and repeatedly put the defense in poor field position and bad spots, you never heard anyone grumble about Manning. If anything, the defensive players may have felt bad for him given the surrounding circumstances.
Manning finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 2003, behind Oklahoma quarterback Jason White and Pitt wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
Manning has thrown 38 touchdown passes in 19 career games against the Dallas Cowboys, 36 touchdown passes in 20 career games against the Philadelphia Eagles but only 16 touchdown passes in 19 career games against the Washington Redskins.
His 13 touchdown passes against the Seattle Seahawks are his highest total against any non-NFC East team, in spite of the goose egg he put up against them a few weeks ago.
I don't think he's a Hall of Fame player yet, but I think he still has a chance to get there. As I'm sure he is, I'm fascinated to find out how the Giants will rebuild the offense around him this offseason.
1dDan Graziano and Adam Caplan