On Tuesday, the New York Giants unceremoniously benched longtime quarterback Eli Manning, in a move that many fans viewed as harsh, unproductive or misguided. When ESPN reported hours later that the Giants had pitched Eli on keeping his consecutive-starts streak alive by playing the first half Sunday before ceding midway through (a plan Eli swiftly rejected), the reaction was even harsher.
On Wednesday, owner John Mara tried to do damage control, saying he wished the timing had been different and that he had been around to break the news to Eli, while suggesting the plan to play Manning half a game was ill-advised. Via ESPN:
“Maybe the timing of it could have been a little different. I wish I could’ve been here when that was all going down,” said co-owner John Mara, who was attending owners’ meetings in New York when the decision was made on Tuesday. “What I did not expect — and this was my fault; maybe I was naïve. I did not expect Eli to react by saying to go ahead and start the other guys.
“I understand, especially after speaking with him [Wednesday]. I completely understand, but that took me by surprise a bit and maybe I would’ve handled that a little differently.”
You can certainly argue that the 2-9 Giants are right to give other quarterbacks a look amid a lost season. But it’s tough to argue that they handled this situation properly. Did they really think it would be a good idea to have Eli play a half, then sub him out for Geno Smith or Davis Webb in a transparent attempt to pad his streak? They figured everyone involved would be cool with that and it would make the organization look focused and capable? Really?
As Bill Barnwell wrote on ESPN, the Giants could have prepped Webb gradually over many weeks, explained the situation to Eli and announced at a press conference that they would use the final few games to evaluate their rookie. Instead they sent a teary franchise icon in front of the media alone to discuss his demotion. They got the reaction they deserved.
At this point, what’s done is done. Smith and Webb will play out the rest of the season, and Eli will wear another uniform in 2018. Fans will hate coach Ben McAdoo until he’s fired, while Mara and general manager Jerry Reese cross their fingers the Tri-State era will forgive them for callously benching a two-time Super Bowl champ.