The Giants do not want to look ahead just yet, but that does not mean the outside world will stay in the moment. Another losing season is nearing an end, and the fate of Eli Manning is on the minds of anyone and everyone who cares about this team.
So, does coach Pat Shurmur want Manning back in 2019?
“Yeah,” Shurmur said Monday, before adding, “I want all our players to be back. I really do.”
So, this is not a mid-December guarantee Manning will return for a 16th year with the Giants. Shurmur, at the helm of a team that is 5-9 with two games remaining, added this about Manning’s future: “I believe experience matters.”
Again: Nothing has been decided about Manning’s fate, and the decision-makers certainly do not give thumbs-up or thumbs-down decrees after every game. Manning and the entire offense were lacking in the first half of the season. The ball was put in rookie Saquon Barkley’s hands, and the Giants went 4-1 after their bye week. The 17-0 loss to the Titans brought back the familiar memories of the earlier woes and, with Manning laboring in the rain, once again what happens next is front and center.
Not long after he got the job, Shurmur stated he believes Manning — who turns 38 next month — has years left as a starting quarterback. That contention resurfaced again, and Shurmur did not back down. Does Shurmur still see Manning as having years — plural — left?
“I do, I do,” he said. “Because I’ve seen him play good football. I’ve seen how, when we have a coordinated effort of protecting him and running the football effectively and being able to run the ball throughout the game, it helps us.”
That is the necessary criteria for expecting a high level of Manning success: protection and a solid running game. It means the Giants realize Manning, at this stage of his career, is a vital, albeit complementary player. He is scheduled to count $23.2 million on the 2019 salary cap, and an adjustment might be in order if the Giants buy into the mounting evidence that they need to create an ideal environment in order for Manning to prosper.
Manning, as always after a loss, was at his locker to face the music the day after he compiled a lowly passer rating of 54.1. Words of reassurance from Shurmur were comforting.
“Coach has had my back all year,” Manning said. “He’s been great. He believes in me. That makes your job easier when your coach believes in you.”
Manning says his belief in himself has not wavered.
“I know I can play,” he said, “I can make the throws, if I have the … I still feel we can run around and make plays and do a lot of good things. There was a stretch when we were playing good football, and we just have to get back to it.”
He cannot play forever. Some athletes are the last to know they are done. Manning said he believes he will know when it is time for him to go.
“Yeah, I’m sure that will happen at some point,” he said.
Is that point growing close?
“I don’t know,” Manning said, growing uneasy with the subject. “I guess we’ll know when we know.”
The court of public opinion swayed in Manning’s direction after a five-game span in which he threw 10 touchdown passes, two interceptions and compiled a passer rating of 106.5. Manning again showed he is at his best when he has a running game to lean on and work off of with his play-action passing expertise. In the five games, Manning was not merely a game manager. He had 11 completions of 25 or more yards, showing, despite his advanced age, he can get the ball down the field.
The problem arises when the pocket is shrinking, or when Manning senses it is shrinking. He bails on the play far more quickly now than he did earlier in his career, perhaps as a result of the accumulation of hits he has taken the past few years, operating behind shaky offensive lines. Manning’s footwork on bootlegs is as good, or better, than ever — it is not the highest of standards, to be sure — but his mobility in the pocket, never a strength for him, is diminished, and there are times Manning looks for a soft landing spot when the heat is on.
These are all the factors the Giants will weigh when assessing whether Manning stays or goes.
“In the offseason we all know there’s decisions that get made that shake the roster,” Shurmur said.
The time for that is not yet, but coming soon.