There is nothing unusual about Eli Manning holding a media session or speaking on a conference call the first day the Giants open their offseason program. That the 38-year old quarterback will do so, again, on Monday is par for the course, given the position he plays and the team spokesman role he fills.
This time around, though, is different. Manning is back for a 16th season, once again locked in as starter, after enduring an uneasy limbo-like period when his return was far from guaranteed. The Giants qualified for the playoffs only once in the past seven years and Manning was at the helm of the offense in every game but one in that span. The end of the line has never appeared closer for Manning than it does right now and his arrival at the team facility for the first day of workouts feels like the beginning of an end.
Normally, Manning on a day like this addresses many team-related issues. He never sweats the small stuff. This year, many of those issues relate back to him. Here are five questions Manning is sure to get and might find challenging to answer:
1. How does it feel knowing, for the first time in your career, you will enter a season on the final year of your contract?
This is simply not done very often — not with a player of Manning’s longevity, accomplishments and respect level within an organization. Yet this is the direction the Giants are headed with Manning, who will play on the final year of the four-year, $84 million extension he signed prior to the 2015 season. Co-owner John Mara explained, “At this stage of his career you take it one year at a time.’’ Manning the past few years could see the end of the line up ahead, but this tells him it is closer than ever.
2. Manning completed 390 passes to Odell Beckham Jr. in the past five seasons and now the star receiver has been traded away and will be catching passes from Baker Mayfield. How will the offense be different without him?
Throwers do not appreciate seeing their best catchers sent packing. Manning had a solid relationship with Beckham and took delight in seeing a short pass go for a long gain once Beckham found a seam and kept on running. There was, if not pressure, at least urgency to make Beckham happy early in games by targeting him to get him involved. This will not be the case with the 2019 crop of receivers.
3. What will be Eli’s reaction if Dwayne Haskins, Daniel Jones or Drew Lock is picked by the Giants in the NFL draft, knowing there is always great demand to get a quarterback taken in the first round on the field sometime during his rookie year?
Manning does not consider himself a mentor to the backup quarterbacks on the roster — he has to get ready to play each week and cannot be tutoring anyone during that grind. Manning is more of a “watch me’’ guide, willing to share his preparation formula and work habits with any youngster willing to invest the time to absorb the knowledge. The Giants have never, ever put a threat to Manning in the quarterback room with him. This will be new terrain for Eli, if it happens.
4. Did the Giants ever approach Manning about taking a pay cut or did he ever volunteer to reduce his 2019 salary-cap hit in order to help the team sign free agents?
This was and is a big point of contention with many fans who do not mind Manning returning to start but do mind him taking up so much cap space. The Giants never had much interest in taking money from Manning and never requested he take a cut. Manning will make $17 million in salary and bonuses in 2019, putting him tied for 12th (with Russell Wilson and Ben Roethlisberger) in earnings this season among quarterbacks. The Giants think this placement is appropriate.
5. Since Super Bowl XLVI, there has been one playoff game for the Giants, six losing seasons in the past seven years and a record of 8-24 the past two seasons. Is Manning confident he can lead this team back into the postseason, given all the recent losing?
There is no doubt Manning is weary of all the losing, evidenced by what were pained expressions down the stretch of the past two seasons. He truly despises conjecture and discussion of his demise. The politics inherent in and the innuendo swirling around his job security — mostly valid, by the way — make his skin crawl. That he is healthy and at times still looks vibrant at 38 offer hope he can get it together if things around him are improved.
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