Embattled Giants head coach Ben McAdoo has allowed QB Eli Manning’s loudest detractors to paw at Pandora’s box all season long.
He criticized Manning’s “sloppy quarterback play.” He intimated that the club would get a look at their younger players—quarterbacks included. He made it possible for the most important player in modern franchise history to take arrows while an offense partially of his design sunk to unbelievable lows.
Manning has always been a favorite punch line of Giants fans, while simultaneously serving as a lovable safety net in a league devoid of quarterback talent. He was sometimes a problem, but he was their problem.
On Tuesday, though, McAdoo, almost certainly acting with the knowledge and permission of everyone higher than him on the ladder, did the unthinkable: He announced that Manning will not start on Sunday against the Raiders, snapping Manning’s 13-year run of consecutive starts—the second-longest streak in NFL history behind Brett Favre. Manning, who has not missed a Giants game since November 2004, will give way to former Jets second-round pick Geno Smith. Davis Webb, a third-round pick in 2017, will also get playing time. Manning was offered to take ceremonial starting snaps to keep the record alive, but passed.
The decision makes a few things crystal clear. First, if McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese are going down, they are going to the greatest lengths imaginable to signal that their processes are not the problem. Second, the palace intrigue surrounding the Giants at season’s end just went from marginal curiosity to must-see television. They will be a soap opera of grand proportions as speculation swirls around the futures of McAdoo, Manning, general manager Jerry Reese and other high-end power players. Third, the team’s loyal—and vocal—base of recent Super Bowl winning alumni that seem to forever exist in the club’s orbit, will be outraged. Fourth, the Giants will undoubtedly draft a quarterback in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
And fifth: This will almost certainly be the end of Eli Manning in New York.
Sounds laughable, right? Watch me rattle off three teams with Manning connections. All of these options make at least a little bit of sense without breaking a sweat.
• The Tom Coughlin-led Jacksonville Jaguars: Manning to Jacksonville made for fun trade deadline chatter. But now? They are a team praying for replacement level quarterback play with a defense so good that they could end up with the third seed in the AFC playoffs. Manning spent nearly his entire career with Coughlin, and could breeze into an idyllic situation where his arrival would be celebrated.
• The John Elway-led Denver Broncos: After juggling quarterbacks all season, Elway missed his chance to evaluate Paxton Lynch thanks to an untimely injury. His world-beating defense is nearing the end of its window, as are his franchise wideouts. Elway made a great home for Eli’s brother, Peyton, at the end of Peyton’s career and can do the same again. This team as presently constructed does not need much help to contend.
• The Bruce Arians-led Arizona Cardinals: Arians was a football godfather of sorts to Peyton in Indianapolis and prefers to traffic in veteran quarterbacks. With Carson Palmer injured again, already unsure if he would retire before the 2017 season, Arians can lock and load for one last shot. Larry Fitzgerald is already committed to 2018. David Johnson returns.
By yanking the plug, the Giants have now entered a quarterbacking twilight zone familiar to teams like Buffalo, Cleveland, Chicago and San Francisco. New York’s organizational philosophy has always been to make a top-five pick count, which aligns with the growing chance that they will have a very high selection in this year’s draft. However, it has also been an organizational philosophy to care for and honor their most significant contributors. On Tuesday, they seemed to miss the mark there.