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A Lost Year and Uncertain Future

Assessing the Giants’ Upcoming QB Crossroads

Written By Greg Lehr

Assessing the Giants’ Upcoming QB Crossroads

To say this season has been a disappointment for the New York Giants would be a vast understatement. Back in late July, when NFL training camps were in full swing, the expectations were sky high for a franchise coming off a somewhat surprising 11–5 campaign in 2016, good enough for a wild card spot in the NFC. They also appeared to have the recipe to beat the reigning division champions, defeating the Cowboys both times. Many were led to believe that the offensive additions of free agent WR Brandon Marshall and first-round pick TE Evan Engram would be enough to overcome Dallas and win the NFC East this season. In fact, numerous national analysts even picked the G-men as a dark horse for a Super Bowl run. If that still wasn’t enough for fans, DE Jason Pierre-Paul certainly got them aboard the bandwagon when he said the Giants were Super Bowl contenders and could even go undefeated.

When fans have this much optimism about their team heading into a season, it’s fun to read various NFL previews to affirm their excitement and high expectations. Most previews generally have a “Best/Worst Case” scenario for each team. For Giants fans, the “Best Case” scenario coming into this season typically included a division title and perhaps a run in the playoffs. Some even speculated about Eli doing the unthinkable and beating Tom Brady in the Super Bowl for a third time. Just below that, the “Worst Case” scenario discussed the same concerns Giants fans were already well aware of entering the season; OT Ereck Flowers doesn’t show improvement, QB Eli Manning looks older and his ability fades, and the defense comes back down to earth after its impressive 2016 campaign.

If only the list stopped there in real life.

Fast forward all the way to the first day of December, and Giants fans can’t muster up any early holiday cheer because Geno Smith was just named the starting QB in place of a healthy Eli Manning. Even worse, the team’s 2017 third-round pick, QB Davis Webb, wasn’t even considered ready enough to dress for the game.

A week (and another loss) later, head coach Ben McAdoo and GM Jerry Reese are relieved of their duties and Manning recaptures his position as starting QB for a (then) 2–10 team going nowhere. While significant injuries certainly played a major role in the Giants’ disappointing performance this season, they shined a brighter light on the team’s glaring weakness on the offensive line and lack of offensive playmakers aside from Odell Beckham Jr. I do believe that when healthy, this team is closer to its level of performance in 2016, when solid defense and timely offensive production from Eli and OBJ came to be a relatively successful recipe. However, the reality is that this franchise is quickly approaching a major crossroads that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. As is the case with almost everything else in football, it all starts at the quarterback position.

When looking at the big picture, there’s no logical reason for the Giants to go back to Manning as starting QB, although interim HC Steve Spagnuolo has reinserted him at the top of the depth chart since taking over two weeks ago. Manning’s historic streak of 210 consecutive starts had already been broken and the organization endured the (justified) backlash from fans and media alike. One must think that ownership signed off on the decision to bench Manning in the first place, right? Even though all the heat was directed at McAdoo and Reese, an organization as steady and traditional as the New York Giants does not bench their 2x Super Bowl MVP franchise QB without some measure of approval by ownership. Therefore, the Giants’ brass should play the hand they dealt themselves and let the rookie QB Davis Webb start for the remaining two games this season. At the very least, it gives the new coach and GM some legitimate NFL tape on their young QB to help determine the future direction of the franchise, especially with a top 2–3 draft pick likely coming their way.

Maybe Webb will show just enough promise that the front office feels comfortable using the incredible draft capital coming their way to infuse desperately-needed talent into their offensive line, add a playmaker on defense, or obtain a legitimate difference-maker at RB. Bolstering the roster with some premier young talent and getting several starters back from injury could give the Giants conceivable hope of making one more run with Manning at the helm, all while giving Webb a couple more years to groom his game.

While it’s fun to think about a dynamic player like Saquon Barkley lining up in the backfield, the Giants simply cannot afford to get short-sighted with their top draft pick. It is so rare in the NFL for a playoff-caliber roster (or at least a borderline one, when healthy) to be in position to draft an elite QB prospect. Why groom Davis Webb for two more years when you can apply the same exact strategy to a prospect with a seemingly much higher ceiling such as Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen?

A quick side for those fans wanting the Giants to draft Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield; don’t get your hopes up. As exciting as it would be to watch the Heisman Trophy winner pair up with OBJ, he is the total opposite of Eli Manning in just about every way except for the position they play. This is not to say Mayfield won’t enjoy success in the NFL, but I would be shocked to see him drafted by a franchise with one of the most conservative football cultures in the league. Think back to earlier this year when there were several reports regarding the Giants’ ownership growing tired of OBJ’s ongoing antics. If a flashy, superstar wide receiver shows too much flair at times for their liking, then why would they want Baker Mayfield as a franchise QB for potentially the next decade? Personality carries a much greater weight for quarterbacks than wide receivers. I just don’t see this organization taking that risk, no matter how rewarding it may be. Then again, with a new head coach and GM coming into the organization soon, never say never.

Back to the present, the reality is Eli Manning likely has just one more season in a New York Giants uniform. Due to Manning’s no-trade clause and high dead cap number, it would be more surprising to see him somewhere else next season. However, after 2018, his dead cap number drops in half, from $12.4 to $6.2 million, according to . If Manning has another underwhelming performance next year and it becomes clear that it’s time for both sides to move on, the Giants could release Manning after the season.

It also should be pointed out that playing Webb over Manning further decreases the chances that the Giants win any of their remaining games, (@ Cardinals, vs. Redskins), which at this point is really for the best in terms of draft position. Remember, the reasoning used in starting Geno Smith a couple weeks ago was to give the Giants a “better chance to win,” and Davis Webb was not even active for that game. In fact, he has been inactive the entire season, instead fulfilling the role of scout team QB. With New York currently being a game ahead of Indianapolis for the 2nd overall pick, less (wins) is more.

Giants fans — have a little faith over the next few months because your team is not in as bad of shape as it may seem. But for now, it’s time to take the first step and put Eli back on the bench. Play Davis Webb to close out the season and secure the 2nd overall draft pick. Then, maybe a year from now, they could be experiencing next season’s “Best Case” scenario; making one more “Giants-like” playoff run with Eli Manning at the helm, and having hope for the foreseeable future with Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen waiting for their own moment to come.

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