The Giants’ benching of quarterback Eli Manning signals the end and the beginning of eras for the football franchise. The two-time Super Bowl MVP has been a fixture under center for the Giants since taking over as the starter midway through his rookie season in 2004. His streak of 210 consecutive regular-season games started ranks second in NFL history to Brett Favre’s 297.
Although the decision by head coach Ben McAdoo to replace Manning with Geno Smith, who served as the Giants’ second-string quarterback, has been conjectured for weeks, it is still surprising considering the 36-year-old Manning’s stature and legacy as arguably the franchise’s greatest quarterback.
In what has been a disappointing and dysfunctional 2-9 season thus far for the Giants, McAdoo, who is likely to be fired by Giants owners John Mara and Steve Tisch not long after the team plays its final game Dec. 31, presented the puzzling and insulting scenario to Manning of allowing him to start games simply to continue his streak but inserting Smith or rookie quarterback Davis Webb into games shortly thereafter.
“My feeling is that if you are going to play the other guys, play them,” an emotional Manning said Tuesday at the Giants’ facilities in East Rutherford, N.J. “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.”
For McAdoo to even broach the subject with Manning demonstrates his questionable leadership skills and confirms he has few viable strategies to reverse the team’s struggles. Of the Giants’ myriad issues, Manning is not the primary one. He has been average at best this season, but he is still substantially the Giants’ best option at quarterback.
“Each and every week our No. 1 job is to win a football game,” McAdoo said at a news conference with the media Tuesday. “We’re 2-9 right now. We have five left to play. We’re out of contention and our No. 1 job is to still win football games. But it’s my responsibility to make sure we have a complete evaluation of the roster—top to bottom. Especially at the quarterback position moving on to next season and with that, we’re going to start Geno [Smith] this week and give him an opportunity to show what he can do.”
“This is not a statement about anything other than we are 2-9, and we have to do what is best for the organization moving forward,” said Jerry Reese, the Giants’ general manager in a statement. “I told Eli this morning that an organization could not ask for any more in a franchise quarterback. He has been that and more.”
There is no efficacy in starting Smith this Sunday when the Giants play the 5-6 Oakland Raiders on the road or in any other game if Manning is healthy. McAdoo is acutely aware that Smith, a second-round pick of the New York Jets in 2013 who had 30 career starts for the franchise, is not the Giants’ quarterback of the future. Webb, who the Giants selected in the second round in the draft last April, also might not be the eventual successor to Manning. Nevertheless, McAdoo needs to give him the bulk of the snaps for the remainder of this season so that whoever is making personnel decisions moving forward can exercise a more informed determination.
What is a near certainty is that Manning, McAdoo and Reese will all have new employers when next season begins. It is an ignominious and undeserved way for Manning to end his Giants career.