By Ernie Palladino
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The more sentimental among Giants fans would like to see Eli Manning end his consecutive starts streak on his own terms.
He would play another year, two years, whatever. And when he deemed age had indeed caught up with him, he would happily walk away from the game and an ironman streak that will reach 207 straight regular-season starts next week against the Rams.
Unfortunately, a happy ending may not be in the cards for the still-boyish quarterback who gave the franchise and their fans two Super Bowl victories. Those are rare, anyway, in a league that dictates futures not by warm and fuzzy gratitude for past accomplishments, but by the frigid numbers of a salary cap, college talent pools and the won-lost column.
It’s the middle one that could cause Manning’s streak to cease by the time December rolls around.
Unless they somehow flip that 1-6 record. But the odds of ripping off nine straight wins to challenge for a playoff berth, or even going 8-1 to engineer a respectable, winning finish, are a heck of a lot worse at this point than the prospects of a top-10 slot and a shot at USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen or Louisville’s Lamar Jackson.
Assuming the latter becomes reality, the presence of four potential first-round quarterbacks will force general manager Jerry Reese and coach Ben McAdoo into the need to determine if they already have their quarterback of the future on their roster. That would be Davis Webb, upon whom Reese bestowed a third-round pick in April.
Despite the general manager’s bye-week claims that the Giants will continue with Manning as they fight, fight, fight to turn the season around, further failure will make it ever more important for them to see whether Webb can play or not. And if he can, perhaps the first-round pick this April goes to another position, like the offensive line Reese basically ignored last offseason.
The problem is that Webb is not ready to play. But five weeks from now, if the record continues to sag, he may be, if only because of how increasing hopelessness can pretty up even the most unattractive options. Besides, McAdoo has already shown himself no particular friend of Manning’s or a streak that has him two starts short of tying brother Peyton at No. 2 behind Brett Favre’s all-time record of 297.
Reese and McAdoo will surely allow Manning to pass his sibling. But with Favre at an untouchable number, ending the streak after Eli leaves Peyton behind him will become an infinitely easier decision. Manning will always represent the Giants’ best chance at winning. But looking into the future will take on greater importance given the college talent coming out.
It’s a far different situation than when Manning took over in the second half of 2004. Kurt Warner was 5-4 when coach Tom Coughlin sacrificed six of the last seven games to give his first-round quarterback the necessary seasoning to move forward. But then GM Ernie Accorsi had moved the heavens to get Peyton’s little brother, engineering a tense draft-day trade of their own pick, Philip Rivers, plus a boatload of future picks, to the Chargers after San Diego had chosen Manning at No. 1.
Besides that, Warner didn’t have a real history to protect. He had no appreciable starting streak and had only joined the Giants that year.
Coughlin needed only to consider the ramifications of turning a potential playoff team into an instant loser. But Manning was always the future.
The dilemma here lies in figuring out the future. And when to do it.
Chances are both Reese and McAdoo will change their tunes the last quarter of the season unless Manning can effect a miracle turnaround.
It will be a sad day to see Webb in there, but a necessary one.
Given the quarterback talent available in April, the Giants can’t afford to go into the draft blind. If Webb can’t play, they’ll have to pick a quarterback.
And they’ll have to get it right, if only because these types of drafts don’t come along every year.
If that means an effective end to the Eli Manning era, then so be it. That’s just part of life in the NFL, where few stories ever end happily ever after.
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