Just like that — with no gold watch, no farewell tour, no going out on his own terms — the New York Giants turned the page on quarterback Eli Manning.
The team announced Tuesday that Manning would be benched and that Geno Smith would start, beginning Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.
Manning’s 210 consecutive games-started streak, the longest current run in the NFL at the position, will come to an end. It’s possible he’s played his final snap for the Giants, who made him the No. 1 pick in the 2004 NFL draft.
Manning was a rock for a Giants franchise that saw the highest of highs, winning two Super Bowls (with Manning earning MVP in both), and also had hit some difficult lows, such as when Tom Coughlin was let go. But this low, unceremoniously benching Manning, comes as a pretty big shock.
We’ve known for some time that the Giants were planning sweeping changes this offseason. This was always likely to include changes to the coaching staff, front office and scouting departments as well as key personnel. We now have seen the first big layoff in what will be a series of moves coming down the turnpike.
Head coach Ben McAdoo might have announced the change at QB, but we believe it was made almost certainly with a measure of ownership approval — or should that say, mandate? That’s the tricky part. We reached out to two team sources, and neither would reveal exactly how this Manning benching originated. But based on what we’ve gathered in the hours following the announcement, it is an idea that had been kicked around for some time, at least as a possibility to consider.
Consider it fully considered now.
Manning’s likely final start for the Giants was the Thanksgiving Day loss at Washington in which he had not reached the 100-yard passing mark until the final few throws of the 20-10 game. What an abrupt, awkward end to his career considering that game was days ago. We wonder how long the Giants have known they’d make this change.
Manning clearly wasn’t getting it done at the level to which we’d seen in the past. He hadn’t thrown a TD pass in his final eight quarters. He had struggled with his accuracy in recent games. But clearly Manning wasn’t given any kind of pass for the Giants losing a slew of receivers, including their top three — Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard and Brandon Marshall — for big chunks of the season.
To one current member of the organization, it’s insane to hold that against Manning. But that source also indicated that the team figured to move on in the offseason anyway, given that Manning had an imminent salary-cap hit approaching $20 million. It’s not an entirely unwieldy number at quarterback, but it’s one that the Giants were unwilling to pay with Manning apparently in the franchise’s rearview window — and with Beckham unsigned long term and making overtures for quarterback-type dollars down the road.
We have no idea if Smith or 2017 third-rounder Davis Webb represent the future for the Giants. But we do know that the team has spent resources already doing major background work on the top quarterbacks for next year’s draft and were in attendance for the USC-UCLA game that featured Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold, both possible top-10 picks next year.
The Giants won’t hesitate now to draft one of them, or another top prospect, if they see something they like. It would take Smith or Webb to blow the Giants away — or the Giants being less than thrilled with the high-draft offerings — for the team not to consider one of them now.
That also factors into the Giants’ thinking of benching Manning now. This was their last road game prior to Week 16, with back-to-back home contests against division rivals in Week 14 and 15, against the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles.
So if the Giants are to assure themselves a position high enough in the draft to land a top QB prospect, they probably felt the need to be picking in the top five, which is where they sit with their 2-9 record. With the flagging Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts also possibilities to draft a QB (obviously, with Andrew Luck’s status possibly affecting the Colts’ plans), those teams’ 3-8 marks had to affect the Giants’ thinking.
Additionally, the crosstown New York Jets sit at 4-7 but have dropped five of six games and could end up in a higher draft spot than the Giants. That’s something the franchise would like to avoid, even if either team might have to complete a Mitchell Trubisky-like trade up a spot or two (at the cost of multiple picks) to secure their guy.
The 0-11 Cleveland Browns are the massive favorites to earn the top selection, with the 1-10 San Francisco 49ers the next-most likely. Those are likely the teams picking 1-2, and the 49ers, who made the Trubisky Draft Day swap with the Chicago Bears, would be open for business to slide down a few slots again most likely after they traded for Jimmy Garoppolo, whom they can franchise.
Where Manning lands is subject matter for another day. But what is clear with the Giants is that the franchise is making a hard left turn away from one of their most dutiful soldiers. This move has not sit well with many, and it likely will leave a poor aftertaste for some time. That’s why more moves are coming, with McAdoo, GM Jerry Reese and some high-priced (and underperforming) talent likely to be whacked as well.
Would Jason Pierre-Paul be back at a cap hit of $17.5 million? That feels awfully rich. So do the figures for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie ($8.5 million) and a few others. Marshall surely is gone. Eli Apple, who has been disciplined for not handling his business well enough for the coaches’ liking, could be on the trade block. Others are sure to be candidates for cutting.
It’s the start of a whole new world for the Giants, and it kicked off in a shocking way. The bloodletting is nowhere near through.