Commentary

Eli dropped the ball with Plaxico

'Little Manning' should take lessons from big brother Peyton on how to be a great leader

Updated: August 6, 2011, 4:19 AM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNNewYork.com

Just days after Plaxico Burress was released from prison, when he sat down inside the offices of the National Urban League, he talked about his respect for Eli Manning. His affection for Eli Manning. His desire to play with his former quarterback.

Yet, following what we witnessed this weekend, after all the words spewed out of Eli's mouth -- the very man who threw Burress that touchdown pass to win the Super Bowl back in February 2008 -- perhaps it's time to ask Burress what the hell was he thinking.

And Manning, too.

Clearly, Burress has no clue what Manning truly feels about him, because if you believe the rhetoric that Manning was simply looking out for receivers already on New York's roster, consider yourself a stooge for the franchise's public relations machine.

You don't fail to call a former teammate while he rots in prison for 20 months if you like him. You don't fail to reach out to him once he's released. You certainly don't miss seeing that same teammate when he shows up for a visit at the team's training camp facility after a two-year absence. And you absolutely, positively don't sound off to reporters once it's brought to your attention:

"We are working around here," Manning told reporters over the weekend, when asked why he didn't make time to seek out Burress, like numerous other former teammates did. "I didn't know when he was in. I didn't know when he was meeting. If he was walking around the locker room, I probably would have seen him.

"I didn't know when he was here, or when he wasn't. I didn't know the circumstances. I got 10 receivers here that I'm trying to get prepared for practice today ... so that's what my focus is on."

Does anyone sense a problem here?

Evidently, Little Manning needs to take lessons from his big brother on how to be a big-time quarterback in this league. On how to lead!

Eli Manning and Plaxico Burress
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesEli Manning stood back and watched as the Jets snapped up former teammate Plaxico Burress over the weekend.

Manning can sit and rest on his laurels all he wants, leaving others to pontificate on how he's passed for more than 4,000 yards each of the past two seasons, and how he's done so without the services of Burress.

Yet the Giants didn't make the playoffs either season. Mario Manningham, Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks, regardless of how good they are, didn't necessarily measure up to the presence the 6-foot-5 Burress provided.

More importantly, the Giants haven't been the same without him. Primarily because even more of the focus has been placed on Manning. And at the very moment Manning was given another opportunity to step up and lead, look at what he does.

"I've never really lobbied for anybody," Manning explained. "So if this is the right spot for Plaxico, if the Giants and Coach Coughlin are pleased with his attitude after talking to him, then I'm happy to have him. But I'm preparing with the guys we have right here right now."

Where is the chorus singing about Manning's cluelessness?

Doesn't anyone understand it's not about lobbying for Burress? It's about standing up and taking a position, one way or another, instead of dismissing it as a Giants issue. But acting as if it's not your own?

If you don't want Burress, say so! If there's a problem lingering from the past, speak on it! If you're so confident with the receivers you have, tell us who (so we can laugh about it!).

Manning is the star quarterback for this team. He's the one who could use Burress the most. What's more important is that even if he doesn't think so, several of his teammates (Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Brandon Jacobs, etc.) do feel Burress could've helped the Giants. At the very least, they believe he garnered enough respect, at least as a human being and former teammate, to be granted the common courtesy of a greeting.

It all speaks to the issue of recruitment. Of getting other players to want to come and play for a franchise because you are the face of that franchise. They want to play with you.

To be oblivious to the significance of that is to exhibit a level of detachment we've all suspected and lamented for far too long.

It's made only worse by the fact that his brother, Peyton, just refrained from taking more money, specifically, so the Indianapolis Colts could use the extra cash to keep players they already had and sign others they want -- which is the epitome of leadership. Receivers want to play for Peyton, for Tom Brady, for Drew Brees.

Yet, knowing all of that, listen to what Little Manning reportedly said:

"[Plaxico] has been here before. It's going to come down to what Coach Coughlin thinks ... and if ownership here has put everything behind and [is] ready to turn into a new page."

So, in other words, the responsibility of assembling a team, making sure everyone's on the same page and enthused about playing with one another falls solely on the shoulders of coach Tom Coughlin and general manager Jerry Reese.

Huh?

With that kind of attitude, no wonder the Giants have been absent from the postseason the last two years, sitting around while the New York Jets steal all the headlines. No wonder there are such minimal expectations for them this season.

We'll see how this season plays for Eli Manning, and whether or not another 4,000-yard season will be accompanied by 25 interceptions and a third consecutive season of watching the playoffs with the rest of us.

"I like our receivers here," Manning said. "I think we have a great crew, very talented, they work hard."

Fair enough.

Now we'll get to see how it all shakes out. If it's more of the same, we certainly know who to blame.

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, a co-host on First Take" and a regular on "SportsCenter."

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