The hardest thing for any athlete or any team to admit is when the season is truly over. In reality, this football season ended for the Giants right around the time they began 0-3. But if there was any lingering doubt as to whether this season had any positives to be gleaned from it, they were drowned out during a 51-17 butchering at the hands of the Los Angeles Rams.
At this point, the rest of the season is academic. It’s time for the Giants to ask some hard questions. And, like it or not, some of those hard questions have to be directed towards the 36-year-old quarterback who will turn 37 a few days after this season mercifully comes to an end. As hard as it is for those of us who know how much he has done for the organization, it might be time for Eli Manning to step aside.
For a man selected with the first overall pick in the 2004 draft, Manning came to his job with plenty of critics and more than a few people who didn’t believe in him. And, in the beginning, he struggled just as often as he succeeded. Sure, he had plenty of 4th quarter comebacks in those first few years. But he made a lot of poor decisions with the football and seemed (even to some of his teammates) to lack the indefinable qualities of a man who could lead his team to the Promised Land.
He won a division title in 2005 but played an awful game at home against Carolina in the Wild Card round. The team collapsed in 2006, falling to 8-8 after a 6-2 start and once again falling in the playoffs’ opening round. Even the majority of the 2007 season was a mixed bag of impressive wins and head-scratching mistakes. And then, suddenly, it all came together right before Christmas.
Manning was poised and confident as he led his team to playoff wins in Dallas and Green Bay. Then he orchestrated a game-winning drive in the final two minutes of Super Bowl LVII. He’d still have his moments of struggle over the next four years but would lead the team on another miraculous Super Bowl run four years later. In his first 8 seasons, he had established himself as a premier quarterback, if not during the whole season than during the final minutes or crucial games when they needed him to be. Strange as it may seem, especially to his detractors, there was a time when there were few quarterbacks more feared in the last two minutes of a football game than Manning.
But that was a long time ago. Since 2013, the Giants have done a lot more losing than winning. Entering this season, the Giants have compiled a 30-34 record since that year. More often than not, Manning’s attempts at last minute heroics now end in turnovers or without incident at all.
He has still had a pair of fine seasons during that time and continues to add to a resume that I believe does call for consideration to Canton one day. But the team has missed the playoffs more times than not in recent years, and his wonderful flair for the dramatic seems to have dissipated with age. With the team spiraling towards one of the worst seasons in their history, it might be time once again to reach out to the younger man and give him a shot.
Davis Webb is a 2nd-year backup quarterback out of the University of California. He had only two full seasons as a starter in college due to injury but had a superb senior campaign. He tossed 37 TDs and threw for over 4,200 yards in his final year, and he impressed New York enough that they traded up in the 3rd round to grab him when the team had several more obvious needs. After all, Manning hasn’t missed a start since his inception as the starter.
The Giants backup quarterback has been about as useful as a tailbone for the last 13 years. But the kid is tall, has a strong arm, and they believe he has the stuff to lead this team in the future. I believe that future should begin this weekend. Grumblings have already begun that the team is looking towards the future. That includes more than a few suggestions that Manning should be moved on to a place where he can take a shot at winning it all one more time before hanging it up. A team like Jacksonville, for example, would seem to be a team with everything it needs except consistent quarterback play. Okay, I know Eli isn’t Joe Montana, but I do believe he can be a difference maker if you surround him with a solid running game and a capable defense. As for Webb, it’s time he gets a chance to see what he can do.
The Giants do not have Odell Beckham Jr or Brandon Marshall. Their list of walking wounded has grown impossibly large in the last four weeks. This season is destined to end with a low win total and a high draft pick. If the front office does not believe that Webb has what it takes to lead this team in the future, then perhaps they should be closely monitoring the college ranks and seeking a third alternative with that high pick. Moreover, they should not be wasting valuable time and opportunity to evaluate Webb.
Playing Manning in games that no longer matter in terms of wins and losses is a waste of resources and time. He’s a team legend. And one day his name will adorn the ring of honor next to former teammates and champions like Strahan, Tuck, and Snee. But it’s time for them to do what’s best for the organization, and that is to look forward rather than backward.