Monday, December 16, 2013
Eli Manning's not going anywhere
By Dan Graziano ESPN.com
Eli Manning's season has been rough, but he won't -- and shouldn't -- play anywhere else in 2014.
I get it. People get upset. You give your heart and soul to your favorite team, and when they embarrass you, it hurts. It stings. It's tough to handle. When no other team in the entire league has been shut out all year and yours has been shut out twice, that's tough. When the NFL sets a single-day record for points scored, as it did Sunday, and your team scored none of them ... not a lot anyone can say. You should be upset, and it's not my job or anyone else's to tell you otherwise.
But the part of the New York Giants' fan reaction with which I feel compelled to take issue this Monday is the part that wants quarterback Eli Manning out of town. This is a short-sighted overreaction, neither realistic nor justified. And if you truly believe the Giants should or will move on from Manning after this season, you're going to be sorely disappointed.
In fact, it's pretty close to a certainty that the Giants this offseason will work out a contract extension with Manning that serves the dual purpose of lowering his 2014 cap number and ensuring he'll finish his career with the team. There's a segment of the fan base that's going to hate this, but it's unquestionably the right move for the organization. Manning's 2013 season has been a miserable failure on every level, but that doesn't mean it's time to get rid of him. Manning turns 33 next month and still has several years left of his quarterback prime. The Giants need to rebuild their roster, but how many teams in similar situations would welcome the chance to rebuild around a two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback who never misses a game?
"Trade him!" some have suggested, but how could you do that? He's a $20 million-a-year player who's coming off his worst season. Not a lot of hope to recoup decent value in a deal like that.
"Draft his replacement!" is another one you hear a lot these days, but that doesn't make a lot of sense, either. The Giants believe Manning will play another half-decade for them, at least. It's entirely possible his replacement is still in high school. And regardless, that draft-the-replacement thing is easier said than done. Just because the Colts and the Packers managed to transition from one Hall of Fame talent to another at that position doesn't mean there's some formula for doing so. Once Manning is done, whenever that is, the Giants will have a puzzle to solve. Look around the league at the teams trying to solve puzzles at quarterback. Doesn't look like fun, does it?
Manning needs help, plain and simple. And you can crow all you want about how Tom Brady gets it done with inferior personnel every year, and you're right. Thing is, no one ever said Manning was Tom Brady. He's not. He's a great player who's been able to deliver championships (at Brady's expense, by the way) when he's had a strong team around him. He can elevate a good team to a championship level. He can't elevate a garbage team to a playoff level. And this year, he has nothing.
An already-suspect offensive line has lost its starting center, starting right guard and backup center. Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, whose presence as a top target on the outside has been a key to the passing game when it's been at its best, has shut it down in his contract year. There is no reliable run game, no back who can consistently pick up the blitz, no playmaking tight end and no depth at wide receiver to compensate for Nicks' issues. Fix two, maybe three of those six significant problems, and Manning likely has something with which he can work. Fix none of them, and he's a mess.
And he is a mess, don't get me wrong here. Manning has contributed to the problem. Whatever the issues are around him, he's made them worse with poor throws and poor decisions. He's matched his career high with 25 interceptions. He's sailed past his previous career high in sacks, having already taken 36. There are two games to go, and no sign things will get better. It's a lost year, and there's no excusing the part he's played in it.
But there's also no reason to assume one lousy year means it's all over for Manning. There's no sign that anything's wrong physically. Anyone who's watched Manning this year has seen a quarterback unable to rise above his circumstances. And even if you want to argue that he should have been able to do so, you have to acknowledge that improving even some of those circumstances would put Manning in a position, come 2014, to put all of this behind him and rebound from it. We have seen him do it before, from season to season, from week to week, from quarter to quarter. Manning has obviously allowed the widespread incompetence of the 2013 Giants offense to consume him. What he needs is an offseason to rest and forget it, and for his front office to spend that offseason rebuilding a completely broken offense around him. He'll help by reworking his deal to give them flexibility, but he himself is not going anywhere. And if the Giants are sensible (which they tend to be in these matters), they already know that.