The Giants don’t have Eli Manning signed to a contract beyond the 2015 season. That qualifies as a problem in a league where teams can be doomed to years of mediocrity without a solid, consistent option at quarterback. So should the Giants cave in and extend Manning before next season starts?
Owner John Mara doesn’t sound too worried about the situation.
“We’d certainly prefer to do it before the season,” said Mara, “If it doesn’t happen, we’re still going to line up and play.”
That’s easy to say now -- and Mara’s statement might just be posturing to gain leverage for his team – but the Giants have had trouble winning games with Manning in recent years. Imagine if they had to watch their franchise leader and two-time Super Bowl champion leave for another town. In that case, the Giants would be just another team hoping to find a gem in the draft or a diamond in the rough via free agency.
All that makes re-signing Manning seem like an easy decision, but it’s really not. The quarterback just saw Ben Roethlisberger, another Super Bowl champion taken in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft, sign with the Steelers for five years and $99 million. It’s hard to argue that Manning doesn’t deserve a similar deal as Roethlisberger, but if the Giants were to make such a deal, they’d have Manning on the books through his age-39 season.
It’s not crazy these days to talk about quarterbacks remaining effective as they approaching 40 years old. Just look at Eli’s brother Peyton, who continues to play at a very high level and lead to the Broncos to division titles as a 38-year-old.
Let’s face it, though. Eli has never been as good as Peyton, and even the older brother is starting to slow down. His arm strength has been an issue since his 2011 neck surgery and he looked worn out in a surprising 24-13 loss to Indianapolis in the divisional round of the 2014 playoffs.
The Giants and their fans would certainly take a division title and playoff appearance right now after three years of wandering through the desert, but that doesn’t mean they should give Eli Manning everything that he wants. Not every quarterback ages the same. Drew Brees is “only” 36 years old, but he appeared to take a step back in 2014 with 17 interceptions and his lowest yards-per-attempt average since 2010.
New York’s Manning might be more effective than a replacement quarterback even when he gets to 38 years old, but the Giants see no reason to risk that when they are banking on being able to negotiate with Manning after the 2015 season. Even as he’s about to become a free agent, would Manning want to leave the Giants for a new franchise after 12 years? It wouldn’t be an unprecedented move, but it’s a difficult one to make, especially if the Giants would still be offering millions upon millions of dollars if Manning has another season like his 2014.
And if he doesn’t? The Giants have shown they can lose with an aging Manning. Maybe they could try losing without him for a change.