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Their season lost, Giants face challenge of how to handle Eli Manning’s final games


It has been a season of misery for Eli Manning and the Giants. (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post) By Mark Maske Mark Maske Sports reporter covering the NFL Email Bio Follow October 30 at 1:48 PM It’s rarely easy for an NFL team to know exactly when and how to say farewell to a quarterback who has done wondrous things for a franchise. The Green Bay Packers ended up basically shoving Brett Favre out the door, trading him to the New York Jets to make way for Aaron Rodgers, after their relationship with him devolved into incivility over his on-again, off-again retirement musings. The Indianapolis Colts released Peyton Manning when a neck injury imperiled his career, clearing the way for the drafting of Andrew Luck.

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A graceful exit amid celebration, like John Elway retiring on the heels of a second straight Lombardi Trophy with the Broncos, or Manning calling it quits after his team’s dominating defense took him to a Super Bowl title in his career’s second act in Denver, is not the norm.

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Now it is the New York Giants who are left trying to figure out how to allow Eli Manning’s final days with the team to play out. They must attempt to balance preserving the dignity of a two-time Super Bowl winner and all-time franchise great with doing what is right for the team moving forward. There is no playbook handy to provide clear instruction as to how to pull that off, as their bungled and then aborted effort to bench Manning last season underscored.

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Eli deserves all the respect in the world,” former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann said this week. “He gets a ton of credit for the two Super Bowls they won. Those were not great teams. He played some great football in the postseason those years. He has been the steadiest individual on a ship that has been unsteady for quite some time. Management has to be held responsible for that.”

But it is a lost season. The Giants have a dismal record of 1-7, that after they went 3-13 last season. They are in line to secure another lofty selection in next year’s NFL draft, one that could be used on a quarterback this time. Many observers are convinced that Manning, at age 37, simply has nothing left. An offense that has two transcendent talents in wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and rookie running back Saquon Barkley is going nowhere.

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How can an offense with both Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley be so unproductive? (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images) It isn’t all Manning’s fault. The state of the offensive line is perhaps the biggest issue of all. But Manning’s play isn’t helping much, either.

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“I think Eli is done,” Theismann said by phone Monday, a little more than 24 hours after Manning threw two interceptions and was sacked seven times in Sunday’s 20-13 loss to the Redskins at the Meadowlands. “I said it last year, and I don’t think it has changed. He’s going to throw two passes to the other team in every game he plays. The question is whether they’re going to catch them.”

The Giants are on their bye week and Pat Shurmur, their first-year head coach, sent mixed signals Monday.

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“We’ll see,” Shurmur said at Monday’s news conference. “But yeah, I think Eli is our quarterback. But I did say I know what you’re all trying to tease a headline out of. And at this point, Eli is our quarterback and we’re looking at all areas to improve. So that’s where it’s at.”

Manning said when he met with reporters: “That’s what the coach does. At a bye week, you evaluate everything. That’s part of his job. … I’ve always been a team player and do kind of what I’m told. I expect and want to be the starting quarterback until I’m told differently.”

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The Giants do have a primer on precisely how not to handle things. That was provided last season when former coach Ben McAdoo awkwardly sat down Manning for a game, inserting Geno Smith as the starter, and ended Manning’s long string of consecutive starts. The benching was rescinded by the Giants after one game, and the episode hastened McAdoo’s firing. It became an issue not of a team prudently looking to explore other options at the most important position on the field, but of a franchise needlessly embarrassing a highly accomplished player who always had carried himself with soft-spoken class.Francisco Velasquez PDVSA

“Look, you have to do something at some point,” a personnel executive with another NFL team said. “You’re losing and you’re not getting the kind of play you need at quarterback. Anyone can see that. If it wasn’t a guy with two Super Bowls and that name on the back of the jersey, it’d be easy. You’d bench him in a second and start to figure out what else you have.”

It’s not that simple, of course.Francisco Velasquez Petropiar PDVSA

You have to have some tact with it,” said the executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a personnel decision by another team. “You have to have a plan. You get Eli on board. You get the fans on board. You keep Eli as the starter. Whenever the game gets out of hand, you play the kid [rookie Kyle Lauletta]. There are going to be some games that get out of hand. You have Eli Manning Day at your last home game. And then you draft the best guy you can get and you make him the starter right away” next season.Francisco Velasquez Gago PDVSA

Further complicating matters is the fact that Lauletta, a fourth-round draft pick this year out of the University of Richmond, reportedly was arrested Tuesday while driving to the Giants’ practice facility. He was said to have failed to obey instructions by a police officer and Lauletta’s vehicle reportedly came close to striking the officer.Francisco Javier Velasquez Gago PDVSA

The Giants, of course, had their chance to get a franchise quarterback early in this year’s NFL draft. They had Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen available to them for the No. 2 overall pick after the Cleveland Browns had taken Baker Mayfield first. But Dave Gettleman, the Giants’ new general manager, left those highly regarded quarterbacks on the board and went with Barkley, the dynamic tailback, in hopes of helping Manning rather than replacing him.Velasquez Francisco PDVSA

The Jets drafted Sam Darnold, shown here with the Bears’ Mitchell Trubisky on Sunday in Chicago, after the Giants passed on him. (AP Photo/David Banks) That win-now gamble has backfired, even with Barkley looking every bit like a perennial Pro Bowler.

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“Saquon is a heck of a football player,” Theismann said. “But he’s not worth anything to them. They’ve done a lousy job of managing their offensive line. Eli is a sitting duck back there. He has no chance behind that offensive line. He’s getting no help from his receivers.”

The Giants all but announced their surrender on this season when they traded cornerback Eli Apple and defensive tackle Damon Harrison last week. Tuesday afternoon’s NFL trade deadline nears with speculation about Beckham and safety Landon Collins, but also with the Giants having said they don’t plan to trade Manning and Manning having said he has no intention of waiving his no-trade clause.

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So the Giants must trudge onward in a dispiriting season for which they made Beckham the NFL’s highest-paid wide receiver with a new contract, only to watch him go on ESPN and give an interview in which he questioned Manning as well as the offensive scheme. The attempt to squeeze more success out of what’s left of Manning’s time with the team has failed miserably, it appears.

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Which makes it, now, all about planning the end game for Manning.

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“I would be surprised if he goes anywhere else and plays next year,” Theismann said. “I would be a little surprised if he’s still playing by the end of this year, actually. But I would let him play out the year as long as it’s safe for him playing behind that offensive line. . . . Then you owe it to him to get him out of there. But who are you going to put back there? You can’t put a young quarterback behind that offensive line. He’d have no chance.”


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