The Giants benched the 38-year-old Manning, their two-time Super Bowl winner, two games into his 16th season. The team is turning to Jones, the Duke product they chose, in a bit of an unpopular decision, with the sixth pick of the draft in April.
“Ultimately, this is a move that I felt was best for this team at this time,” Coach Pat Shurmur said in a statement posted on the team’s website, in which he was complimentary of Manning. “ ... This move is more about Daniel moving forward than about Eli.”
The Giants could have made the switch in the offseason and allowed Manning the opportunity to finish his NFL career elsewhere. They could have made it during a preseason in which Jones showed he could deliver passes with zip and accuracy. Once the Giants opted to go into the season with Manning still as their starter, it’s a bit odd that they are making the move after only two games.
Yes, they have a record of 0-2 and the offense has struggled. But those struggles extend far beyond Manning’s early-season play. In making the move, the Giants are now in full retooling mode after trading away wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in the offseason.
Manning is a Giants great and a member of quarterbacking’s first family. He deserved the benefit of every doubt for as long as possible within the organization. His 2017 benching, handled clumsily by then-coach Ben McAdoo, was quickly overturned. But the NFL marches on, and in most cases it eventually marches right over even those who have experienced the highest of the sport’s on-field highs.
Even Eli’s older brother Peyton was cast aside by the Indianapolis Colts in 2012, when he was dealing with a career-threatening neck injury and Andrew Luck was about to arrive via the top choice in that year’s draft.
“Hey, we’re 0-2 and you’re looking for answers,” Eli Manning said when he met with reporters Monday. “I get it. You draft a guy early and you’re not winning games, things are going to come up. I’ve just got to keep working and do whatever my job is.”
Manning found out Tuesday morning what his job now is — backup — when Shurmur delivered the news to each of the quarterbacks.
“Eli was obviously disappointed, as you would expect, but he said he would be what he has always been, a good teammate, and continue to prepare to help this team win games,” Shurmur said.
Jones becomes the Giants’ starter for Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay. The organization — and everyone else — begins to find out if General Manager Dave Gettleman did the right thing by passing up quarterback Sam Darnold in the 2018 draft to take tailback Saquon Barkley second overall, then taking the comparatively unheralded Jones at No. 6 this year. The move was not received well by many draft observers and Giants fans who believed that Gettleman could have gotten Jones later in the opening round. If Jones becomes a franchise quarterback, all of that consternation will be forgotten.
This benching of Manning won’t be undone unless Jones gets hurt. The organization, after the McAdoo fiasco, undoubtedly had everyone on the same page this time. Manning gets benched with a career regular season record of 116-116 to go with his two Super Bowl wins over the New England Patriots with Tom Coughlin as his coach.
In some ways, his mediocre regular season results suggest he didn’t live up to the promise of being the top selection in the 2004 draft, obtained by the Giants in a draft-day trade for Philip Rivers when Manning refused to play in San Diego for the Chargers. Manning, after all, was supposed to be a once-in-a-generation talent, and he has a career passer rating of 84.1. But the Giants certainly aren’t complaining about two Super Bowl wins.
He is being benched the same week in which the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger, Manning’s fellow 2004 draftee, had his season ended by an elbow injury, and the New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees was sidelined for an estimated six weeks by a thumb injury. It has been a rough week, indeed, for Super Bowl-winning NFL quarterbacks.
What’s next for Manning? Could he move on like Peyton, who secured his second Super Bowl win as part of his career’s second act in Denver? Eli Manning has a no-trade clause in his contract, so he controls his future.
New Orleans is his hometown, and the Saints are without Brees. Coughlin is in Jacksonville, and the Jaguars are without the injured Nick Foles. The Steelers are missing Roethlisberger. The New York Jets are down to No. 3 quarterback Luke Falk with Darnold and Trevor Siemian sidelined. There are quarterback issues all around the league. But would any team actually think that Manning, at this point, would be the answer and trade for him? He wasn’t the answer for the Giants.
“You feel like we worked hard and we’re prepared and we do a lot of good things,” Manning said Monday, “but just not playing quite well enough as a group to score enough points offensively.”