The biggest key to the New York Giants' success over the next three years is a player who's only signed for two of them, and it's not a young player. Quarterback Eli Manning is as vital to his team's success as any player in the league, and the extent to which the Giants can handle the tremendous offseason roster turnover they underwent this season and return to contender status in the NFC rests on Manning's ability to reinvent himself in a new offense this year and in the years immediately following.
Manning's 2013 season was the worst of his career so far, as he threw a career-high and league-leading 27 interceptions. The offense crumbled around him. The offensive line collapsed due to injuries. Top wide receiver Hakeem Nicks mysteriously shut it down in a contract year. The running game never showed up. But Manning would admit that he was also part of the problem. He appeared to let the mess that was mushrooming around him affect his performance and his decision-making, and the result was an unacceptable level of performance.
Manning is 33 years old now and has two years remaining on his contract. Somewhat surprisingly, the Giants chose not to try to extend Manning's contract this offseason, though it would have saved them significant cap room. His cap numbers the next two years are $20.4 million and $19.75 million, which are monster numbers that make it difficult for the Giants to budget around him, but they don't mind that if he's performing like a two-time Super Bowl MVP.
That's why the biggest key to the Giants' success over the next three years is Manning's ability to master new coordinator Ben McAdoo's offense, help all of the new pieces jell together and convince the Giants that an extension that keeps him in blue for the remainder of his career is a no-brainer. If Manning flames out in 2014, then the Giants have a major decision to make about the most important position on their roster. And that would throw their next three years -- and likely a few after that -- into disarray.