Will Eli Manning Be the Giants’ Starter in 2019? Signs Point to Yes

Conor Orr
Sports Illustrated

Welcome to QB Stock Watch. This is the fourth in our series analyzing some of the league’s most difficult, and intriguing, quarterback decisions to be made for 2019 and beyond.

Team: New York Giants (4-8)

Current contract situation: Manning is in the third year of a four-year, $84 million deal signed in 2015. Perhaps one of the main reasons why discussion of a Manning divorce has been so verboten in East Rutherford is the fact that his dead cap numbers have been prohibitive: $80 million in 2015, $42.3 million in 2016, $32.1 million in 2017 and $28.4 million this season. All eyes are on next year—the final year of Manning’s deal—which the Giants can get out of for a mere $6.2 million. Despite Manning’s relative affordability, you have to think of him like a home you’ve lived in for years. There isn’t much left on the mortgage, and you could stay for one more year before exploring other options. Or, you take a little hit in a down market because you simply can’t stand the old carpets and curtains anymore. It all depends on the question we’ve been asking ourselves for the last calendar year: What else is out there? And, more specifically, what do the Giants think of what else is out there?

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2018: This has been another classically odd Manning late-career campaign. He’s been pummeled this season (through 12 games he’s already suffered a career-high 41 sacks, though his line is finally stabilizing) and has had his share of notable whiffs on open throws in big moments. However, he’s probably going to set a career mark in completion percentage (67.9%—thanks, Saquon Barkley!) and quarterback rating (93.7). His yards-per-attempt is also close to a career high. Watching a Giants game, though, is like seeing a version of the same quarterback the Giants have had for the last half decade. The problem is that those unconscious moments of perfectly deft passing are just more spaced out than they have been. There will be a throw that makes us all think, “Oh, he’s still got it,” followed by a miss so egregious that the rumblings of his passive-aggressive star wide receiver seem to make some sense. The problem is that so many inside the Giants building and in the stands wearing his jersey will themselves to believe that the good throws, the steely late-quarter moments, occur more often than they actually do. (Manning has led one fourth-quarter comeback in the last two seasons, and six, total, since 2014.) It has been an eternal struggle to untangle the data that will ultimately answer a difficult question: Whose fault has the team’s offensive struggles been from the end of the Tom Coughlin era to now? And if Manning is somewhat to blame, how much of the blame does he deserve?

What to expect for the rest of the season: I think we’re already seeing the Giants slowly laying the groundwork for the possibility that Manning begins the 2019 season as their quarterback. This late-season surge is not helping change their minds, nor is what looks to be an underwhelming QB draft class. Unless the Giants get a phenomenal deal for someone like Derek Carr (unlikely because of Carr’s own prohibitive contract situation), or find promise in an injured castaway like Ryan Tannehill or Teddy Bridgewater, there isn’t anyone out there who will convince them to remove the face of the franchise. While talk radio callers have been flooding my local airwaves with requests to see rookie Kyle Lauletta (you can read more about him here), coach Pat Shurmur seems to believe that journeyman backup Alex Tanney is next in line to get an opportunity. And if the Giants are going to follow that destructive logic, just as they did a year ago (giving Geno Smith a shot ahead of rookie Davis Webb) in a gaffe that ended up costing Ben McAdoo his job, is there really a point in bumming out your season ticket holders and benching Manning?

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Will he be on the Giants next season? Yes. New York is not going to let Manning go. This is the Giants’ Derek Jeter struggle. How do you replace a legend who has dipped to replacement level, but who serves as a warm blanket for the fan base? The only other destination that would make a lick of sense for Manning would be the Jaguars, who will almost certainly move on from Blake Bortles at the end of the season. But (hopefully) Tom Coughlin knows his roster well enough in Jacksonville to understand that a wobbly, non-mobile quarterback is not the thing that will fix his scheme. Those envisioning Drew Lock jogging onto the field for the Giants opener at MetLife Stadium next year might want to check themselves.

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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