It’s the end of an era in New York. Eli Manning, the face of the Giants for 14 years, will not be starting next Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. On Tuesday afternoon, head coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese announced their decision to bench Eli Manning in favor of starting Geno Smith.
Manning, at 36 years old, is not the player he used to be, and especially not the player that led the Giants to two Super Bowl championships. For the last few season, he has not played at an elite level. In last Sunday’s loss to the Redskins, Manning struggled with 13-27 completions for 113 yards and an interception.
The Giants at 2-9 are set to finish with their worst record since 2003 when the team finished 4-12. However, the onus should not fall solely on Manning for the team’s disappointing season. Injuries have riddled the offense that is fifth from last in yards per game and averages a meager 15.9 points. At the bleakest part of the season, the Giants lost four of its five top receivers in a game against the Chargers. The two more noteworthy players from that core, Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall, are out for the season. In addition to these offensive woes, the defense has allowed the second-most yards per game.
Fans have met the decision to bench Manning with poor reception, and McAdoo and Reese’s rationale for making made this quarterback change are still unclear. McAdoo managed to say, according to the New York Times, “Geno will start this week. Over the last five games, we will take a look at Geno [Smith], and we will also give Davis [Webb] an opportunity.”
Giving Smith the start seems of little use. He will likely not turn the team’s fortunes around for five remaining games of the season. Nor is it likely the Giants are confident Smith will be able to inherit the starting job next season, or the team would have signed him to a contract extension. During his time with the Jets, he had issues on and off the field. Through four seasons with the team, he posted a 12-18 record and a career passer rating of 72.3, lower than Manning’s 84.1 passer rating for the current season. Also, Smith broke his jaw in a fight with teammate, IK Enemkpali. Allegedly, Smith owed money to Enemkpali’s charity.
The Giants may intend to evaluate third-round rookie Davis Webb. The only reason McAdoo might be starting Smith is to give Webb more practice time before he takes his first NFL snap. In draft evaluations, Webb demonstrated powerful arm strength, but had problems with accuracy and decision making. With more practice reps with the first-team offense, Webb will be able to adjust to the fast pace of the league.
However, many criticized McAdoo and Reese for benching the team’s franchise quarterback in such an unceremonious way. To ESPN senior writer Seth Wickersham, the move not only showed that the best players are always disposable, but also that teams forget how hard it is to find true franchise quarterbacks. Finding a quarterback that can thrive in the NFL has more to do with luck than actual scouting or analysis. Eli Manning belongs to a rare group. He is one of only 12 quarterbacks to win two or more Super Bowls. Seven of the other 11 are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The remaining four are noteworthy names: Jim Plunkett, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. In addition, Eli has played 210 consecutive regular season games dating back to Nov. 21, 2004, the same year he entered the league. His streak ranks second for quarterbacks behind the 297 consecutive games by Brett Farve.
As the Giants begin the search for another franchise quarterback, they will likely be reminded of how improbable it was that the team chanced upon a quarterback like Manning. The Giants, or any team, will be hard-pressed to duplicate his clutch performances in the Super Bowl (which included the throw down the sideline to Mario Manningham) or his durability throughout the years.
As a gesture towards Manning and his consecutive starts, coach McAdoo offered to continue playing Manning during the first half of games. Manning declined the proposal, saying, “Coach McAdoo told me I could continue to start while Geno and Davis are given an opportunity to play. My feeling is that if you are going to play with the other guys, play them. Starting just to keep the streak going and knowing you won’t finish the game and have a chance to win it is pointless to me, and it tarnishes the streak.”
To ESPN staff writer Bill Barnwell, McAdoo and Reese must have known Manning would not agree to the proposal. It would have made Manning appear more concerned with his legacy than with the team.
Still, Manning will likely land a starting position with a new team and with the opportunity to add to his storied career.