With NFL training camps opening next month, it’s easy to feel enthusiastic about your favorite NFL team. The league legislates parity. Team and players regularly surprise. But some optimism can seem delusional. NFL Network analyst and former New York Giants center Shaun O’Hara said something unexpected: Eli Manning could be in store for a career season.
“I wouldn’t be shocked if he has one of his best years ever,” said O’Hara, who played with Manning from 2004-10.
Hot take! Wait a minute. Manning was benched in favor of (insert facepalm emoji here) Geno Smith. He was No. 25 in the league in passer rating (80.4) and tied for second-worst in yards per pass (6.1) with (*shudder*) DeShone Kizer.
What exactly is O’Hara seeing? Perhaps he’s merely sticking up for an ex-teammate. But it’s hard to take O’Hara seriously here. Yes, Manning should benefit from a revamped offensive line, the drafting of No.2 overall pick Saquon Barkley, and the healthy return of game-breaking wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. But O’Hara didn’t say “improved” year. He said “career” year.
O’Hara pointed out that Peyton Manning enjoyed an MVP season at the age of 37 when in 2013 he set NFL single-season records for passing yards (5,477) and touchdown passes (55). The Mannings share many commonalities (two-time Super Bowl winners, No.1 overall picks), but they are distinctly different quarterbacks. Peyton owns a career 65.3 completion percentage. Eli’s is 59.8.
The hope that Eli Manning will have the same kind of late-career surge as his older brother seems unreasonable. The best the Giants can hope for is a reversal of the downward trend Eli Manning has been on over the past few years.
Modern NFL rules protect quarterbacks. They can play longer than ever before. Passers can age gracefully, such as reigning league MVP Tom Brady (turns 41 in August), Drew Brees (39) and Ben Roethlisberger (36). Their respective teams also have done an excellent job of surrounding them with young talent to help extend their careers.
Manning (83.5 career passer rating) has never been as good as Brady (97.6), Brees (96.7) or Roethlisberger (94.0). Manning has never thrown for 30 touchdowns in a season. Brady and Brees have at least 30 touchdown passes in three of the four past seasons.
Manning is one of the most confounding quarterbacks in NFL history. So, it makes perfect sense that his final years will be equally perplexing. Has any other quarterback played his way into the Hall of Fame discussion by winning two Super Bowls and then subsequently played his way out with underwhelming results?
The Giants were chesty after championships in 2007 and 2011. The 2004 draft day trade that landed them Manning looked like a genius move. But now that trade is viewed slightly differently. Philip Rivers (94.8 career passer rating) has been the better quarterback (minus the Super Bowls). It’s also a great example of having the right combination of coaching, front office moves and stability are necessary for quarterbacks to win at the highest level.
For most of the past four decades, the Giants have been a model of consistency, winning Super Bowls in each decade. No other team can make that claim. However, New York is not immune to making mistakes and they are gambling that erratic Eli has enough left at his advanced age. It’s a risk. The current Giants brain trust hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt. They have a new general manager in Dave Gettleman and new coach in Pat Shurmur.
Yes, Gettleman was the executive of the year for the Carolina Panthers when they reached the Super Bowl after the 2015 season. He’s also the guy who was fired last July. There was criticism about how he remade the roster following the Super Bowl, not surrounding Cam Newton with enough skill players. With the Giants, Gettleman decided not to draft Manning’s successor. Instead of picking any of the four quarterbacks that were available to the Giants, he chose a running back.
Peyton Manning was Giants GM Dave Gettleman’s highest graded player ever coming into the draft. The GM told me Saquon Barkley is in the same range. #Giants
— Dianna Russini (@diannaESPN) April 27, 2018
Gettleman believed that neither Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen nor Lamar Jackson were worthy of being the No.2 overall pick. Barkley was too good to pass up. Maybe Barkley will have the same impact that Ezekiel Elliott had on the Dallas Cowboys as a rookie in 2016.
That’s asking a lot. Now, in fairness, Eli Manning hasn’t had a reliable running back since Ahmad Bradshaw in 2012. He’s basically had to pass the Giants to victory without a ground attack and – in recent years – with a porous offensive line.
Another sign of Gettleman’s commitment to Manning: the revamped offensive line. The Giants made former New England left tackle Nate Solder the highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL at four years, $62 million. You don’t give out a contract like that unless you’re looking to contend immediately, rather than rebuild. But the funny thing is: even if all goes right, New York might be at best the third team in the division behind the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys.
A quarterback needs a supporting cast to succeed. Manning’s performance was affected last year when his top three receivers got hurt. If the Giants truly want to maximize Manning’s final years, then need to quit messing around with OBJ.
Yes, at times, he can be high maintenance. And a little odd. But Odell Beckham is the Giants’ most important player. In 47 career games, he has scored 38 TDs. In his first three seasons, he has averaged 96 catches for 1,374yards. The OBJ slant is one of the most unstoppable plays in football.
The Giants are playing hardball with Beckham and he’s still waiting or a new contract. Agitating Manning’s most important weapon seems like an unwise strategy.
In the offseason, there was speculation that the Giants would trade Manning to a quarterback-needy team (Jacksonville? Denver?) But instead, the Giants decided to keep him. New York is several pieces away from being a contender and the best teams in their division – Philadelphia and Dallas – have promising young quarterbacks who will be 25 years old or younger.
It seems highly unlikely that Manning has enough left to make another Super Bowl run. Historically, the Giants usually make the right decisions – as opposed to the other team that plays in that stadium (ahem, the Jets). But in the NFL, it’s better to let an aging star go early. Poor decisions in a salary-cap league have consequences.
The Giants might be hanging on to Manning too long.