It happens so many places with so many different athletes. There is an older veteran holding onto his job and a rookie hotshot coming in to take it. There will be an inevitable changing of the guard. The question is when.
Eli Manning knows this. He is the starting quarterback for the Giants, going into his 16th season, yet, for the first time, he is sharing a room with his successor. Daniel Jones, taken with the No. 6 pick in the NFL draft, is in the building. Not everything is different now for Manning, but he knows much is not the same.
The Giants did not select Jones to light a fire under Manning. They took Jones, 21, to eventually replace Manning, 38.
“I feel like I’ve always tried hard and worked hard and done everything possible to be in a position to be successful, so I don’t think this has changed that,” Manning said Monday after the first organized team activity practice this spring, his first public comments since the Giants took Jones.
“Hey, I understand the circumstances that I’m in, and know that sure, I need to play well and play well early and do my job. You want to do that and also be careful not to press and not try to do too much too soon when things aren’t there and force things into bad plays. I got to play to the best of my ability, make good decisions and lead this team to get wins.”
There was no “if not” scenario offered up by Manning. None was needed. If he does not play well and if the Giants do not win, at some point this season the move will get made — Jones will play and the Manning era will be nearly extinct.
Manning knows this without having to be told. He was a rookie in 2004 when he took over for a veteran, Kurt Warner, 10 games into the season.
Fending off Father Time is never easy. Manning looks to be in exquisite shape. When he lined up next to Jones, there was no indication his physical skills were lacking, even though he is 17 years older than the rookie from Duke.
“I feel great,” Manning said. “Worked hard this offseason to stay in shape and continue to work on trying to stay young and mobile and strong and stay healthy. I feel like I’m in good shape and have all my skills to go out there and play well.”
For the first time, Manning heads into the season on the final year of his contract. He understands the year-to-year nature of his existence nowadays.
“I think you’ll know when it’s time to stop,” he said, “based off the circumstances or how your body’s feeling.”
Manning smirked just a bit when the “mentor” question surfaced. He was expecting it and has some playful issues with what it all means.
“I think I’ve been doing that for the last, I don’t know, 11 years, 12 years,” he said. “When do you become a ‘mentor?’ I don’t know when that becomes official. I think if you’ve been in the league longer than any other guy in the quarterback room, you should be a mentor in that sense. It’s not necessarily your job to do it. You’re in the quarterback room and if all the quarterbacks are in there, you’re talking, you’re helping out and everybody’s kind of mentoring everybody. If certain guys aren’t in there, they can’t be mentors. So it’s a little bit on Daniel to just kind of being in there and listening and asking questions.”
There is a familiarity between the two. Jones attended the Manning Passing Academy and was coached at Duke by David Cutcliffe, who worked with Eli at Ole Miss and Peyton Manning at Tennessee. Eli said he has not had any specific conversations with Cutcliffe about Jones.
“[Jones] throws it well,” said Manning, who called Jones “a good kid.”
Manning did not look particularly comfortable talking about all this, but said it’s not an issue.
“No awkwardness in our room,” he said. “Just don’t create it. It’s not there. Don’t make something that’s not an issue. It doesn’t bother me, it’s not about being nervous or worried. It’s just about hey, treating it the same as it’s been the last 15 years. Just be a good person and whoever’s in the quarterback room, talk football and if someone’s confused about something, just having great communication and a relationship with all the guys in there.”
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