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Eli Manning’s greatest Giants challenge is at hand

The answer is: never.

Eli Manning has taken every ride imaginable as he enters his 16th season with the Giants, but what comes next is a brand-new attraction that might as well be called “Eli’s last stand.’’

He cannot look frightfully at the possible perils ahead, do a heel-turn and get off the line. He must climb aboard, however unnerving it may be.

The competitor in Manning is always an underrated trait, and tucked beneath that stoic, sometimes blank demeanor resides a state of being heralded as consummate professional when he is winning, and bland and uninspiring when the Giants are losing.

Manning does not post videos (or anything else, for that matter) of himself “embracing the grind,” and the next time he puts himself above anyone else in revealing his detestation for losing will be the first time. He is called “Easy’’ for a reason, but what comes next is the most difficult challenge of his NFL existence.

His replacement arrives Thursday night for the start of a rookie minicamp.

Quarterbacks other than Eli Manning have come and gone from the building for a decade and a half, often barely noticed. Daniel Jones takes up habitation this weekend, and the Giants expect he resides therein well into the 2030s, when Manning’s name is up in the Ring of Honor and he returns from time to time for special team events, with perhaps a few flecks of gray peeking out around his temples.

Jones, drafted with the No. 6-overall pick, is unlike any of the hundreds of former Manning teammates in that his presence starts the clock on Manning’s expiration date. For the first time in his career, Manning is entering a season on the final year of his contract. So much has to go right for him and the Giants for there to be an extension into 2020. The team has to win, and Manning, at 38 years old, has to be a big reason why. The Over/Under betting line for the Giants in 2019 is 5.5 wins, so if they are a playoff contender, it will buck the odds in a big way.

Jones will not play right away, and the brain trust — general manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Pat Shurmur — is thrilled Jones gets to observe Manning at work. By all accounts, Jones will absorb like a sponge all the knowledge oozing from Manning.

With Manning entrenched as the starter, the Giants five times previously selected a quarterback in the draft — Andre Woodson in the sixth round in 2008, Rhett Bomar in the fifth round in 2009, Ryan Nassib in the fourth round in 2013, Davis Webb in the third round in 2017 and Kyle Lauletta in the fourth round in 2018. As threats to wrest the job away go, these were the equivalent of specks of dust quietly settling on Manning’s shoulder, able to be brushed aside easily if they were noticed at all.

When Nassib arrived as the 110th player taken in 2013, then-GM Jerry Reese famously (or infamously) said, “If he doesn’t ever play, that would be great.’’ As it turned out, Nassib achieved the greatness thrust upon him.

Manning knows what to expect, and there has never, ever, been this much pressure to perform in order to keep hold of his offense. He was there in 2004 when the Giants signed Kurt Warner as a one-year placeholder. Warner, a Super Bowl winner five years earlier with the Rams, needed a team and playing time to resurrect his career. The Giants needed a stable veteran to play at a reasonable level and, just as important, to accept an impending demotion. The end for Warner came after nine games.

Ready or not — and he was not — Eli Manning got the call, ushering in a new era of Giants football.

All these years later, some close to Manning see a renewed vigor in his arm and his feet, saying his fitness and flexibility have a turn-back-the-clock quality. He will need to summon every fiber of muscle memory in order to lift his team and allow the franchise to stiff-arm the inevitable and considerable fan-fueled pressure for change after a bad interception, a bad series, a bad game or a bad stretch. Jones is 21 and has time but there is only so much more losing Manning’s reign can withstand.

There are some around Manning who firmly believe he will defy the odds and get a new deal to return in 2020. That is looking ahead too far. Once the season starts, his starting job security is not game to game. More like month to month. Daniel Jones is on the scene now, and that changes everything.

Original article: https://nypost.com/2019/05/01/the-greatest-challenge-of-eli-mannings-giants-career-is-at-hand/

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