When former Giants head coach Ben McAdoo approached co-owner John Mara about a quarterback evaluation plan a few weeks back, Mara’s main criticism of the idea was McAdoo’s insistence on starting Eli Manning but benching him at the half.
If Mara had intervened, he said Monday, he would have asked McAdoo to make the cutoff less rigid. In Mara’s optimistic mind, Manning would have played well enough to make it impossible to sit him. After all, the goal was to win games.
A more free-flowing approach may have saved the Giants from the outpouring of fan vitriol, but now leaves them where they ended up this week—reportedly reversing the decision to bench Manning. While Mara insisted that interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo would have control over who starts under center for the team’s remaining four games, the cannon fire backlash on talk radio and social media over the past few days has all but ensured that fan security blanket Eli Manning will play out the string this season while rookie Davis Webb holds over into 2018 as a mystery for the team’s incoming general manager.
I was against benching Manning initially, in part because it demonstrated a lack of situational awareness by McAdoo and invited unnecessary heat onto an organization that didn’t realize how much equity it had lost to the fan base. But after the Band-Aid was pulled and the wound was displayed for all to see, smashing it back on with no adhesive seems like one of the worst, kowtowing decisions the franchise could make right now. Here’s why:
1. It puts the loudest, most hypocritical portion of your fan base in the driver’s seat
For those who live in the Tri-State area and choose to ride home from work with WFAN sports talk radio host Mike Francesa, you’ll be familiar with the growing sentiment of fans who wanted to start Davis Webb about a month ago. The calls to see Webb were relentless, about one in every five Giants fans hoping to see what they have, insisting that Manning wasn’t performing up to par. While their anger over Manning’s benching came in large part because the Giants instead went to Geno Smith first, their ability to reposition Manning as some kind of untouchable savior has been almost politician-esque in the past few weeks. The backlash felt like people being upset about being upset, with Manning as their avenue to vent. This is not to imply that fans shouldn’t have their say—it reminds me a lot of the resting players argument currently taking place in the NBA—but at what point do we draw the line? If we follow this logic, Derek Jeter would still be starting at shortstop because that’s what makes us all feel comfortable.
There were rumors of fan protests and, as Fox Sports noted, a group of former players who were going to wear Eli Manning jerseys in protest. Really? The Giants are one of the few franchises that regularly spend money in free agency. They’ve won two Super Bowls in the last decade and, unlike some clubs they don’t hang on to their head coach simply because they don’t feel like paying two at once or paying more for a good one. In terms of former player support, I’ve personally seen them train former players for future careers and champion their charitable causes off the field. In the often-callous NFL, you can do worse. Far worse.
2. Manning’s streak has already ended
Really, now, what is the point? Manning has already been through the ringer. The thorough awkwardness of watching him signal in plays and practice with the scout team is behind us. There is no chase for Brett Favre. I suppose keeping Manning on the bench would involve calling a few bluffs from fans with enough disposable income to fly a plane with a “Fire [insert name here]” banner over the stadium, but owning a team is hard. Make the hard decision and stick with it. For those haughty enough to suggest they wouldn’t attend a game out of disdain for Mara, Geno Smith or some combination of the two, send your ticket information to the Giants or some charitable organization. There are plenty of kids close enough to MetLife Stadium who would love to see their first NFL game for Christmas.
3. It puts any future roster evaluations at risk
Imagine if the Giants hire a general manager who would love nothing more than to start Manning next year and have him groom a top three selection at quarterback—probably the scenario that makes this fan base happiest. Manning would have to be healthy to do so, and while his streak of consecutive starts has been remarkable, his good health was a ticking time bomb behind this injury-ravaged offensive line. Putting Manning on ice for the remainder of the season preserves him for whatever is next and allows him to get a jump on his offseason rehab schedule.
The Giants face the NFL’s sack leader, DeMarcus Lawrence, this weekend followed by a matchup against Jim Schwartz’s Eagle defense (sixth in sacks) and a matchup against Chandler Jones, the NFL’s No. 2 in sacks behind Lawrence. We all get that Manning is a tremendous competitor and that part of the reason he’s so beloved is because of his toughness. But what more does he need to prove to Giants fans—or anyone? This isn’t about 2017 anymore. More than likely, the Giants’ scouting staff will remain intact through the draft in order to ease the burden on the incoming general manager. This is another step to ensure that he or she has an accurate portrayal of the current roster. How much easier would the backup quarterback decision be with two Smith games on tape and three Webb games?
4. Are games going to really be that much less competitive?
Last Sunday against the Raiders, Geno Smith was 21-of-34 for 212 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions (89.3 QBR). Manning’s season average? Twenty-two-of-36 for 219 yards, one touchdown and one interception (84.1 QBR). At least in a one-game window, Smith made you just as competitive and did not force Manning onto the field behind a substandard offensive line.
The Giants never scored more than 30 points in the McAdoo era. Not once. They've scored 15 or fewer points five times already this season.
The risk, of course, is that Smith breaks down and chucks five interceptions in a game a la Nate Peterman. If that’s the case, activate Davis Webb. Force Webb to prepare this week as the backup and start pressuring him like he’ll inevitably be pressured as an NFL quarterback in the future. See how he responds. The team is 2–10, after all.