By Ernie Palladino
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Jerry Reese sat at the UCLA-USC game Saturday along with the rest of the NFL’s personnel guys to survey the cream of the collegiate quarterback crop.
He’s just as mindful as anybody out there that the Giants are likely headed for a top-five pick in the April draft. And with talent like Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen primed for the picking, Reese dutifully headed west for a closer look.
But that doesn’t mean the Giants are preparing in any way to say farewell to Eli Manning, regardless of what the record says, what the birth certificate says, or what the final stats of 2017 look like.
None of those look particularly encouraging now, of course. Even with their ugly 12-9 win over the Chiefs on Sunday, the record could easily go to 2-9 after the short-prep Thanksgiving night matchup in Washington. Manning turns 37 three days after this miserable season ends, which puts him about two years past the time most quarterbacks outside of Tom Brady have moved over for younger talent.
And Manning is certainly no Brady. Never has been, despite having beaten him twice in the only games that count. He’s not even a top-10 quarterback right now, ranking 12th overall. His 87.0 quarterback rating, though solid, ranks behind his 2004 first-round mates Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers.
Still, Manning proved his value last week both on and off the field.
He wasn’t flashy. He didn’t throw a touchdown pass, but he didn’t commit a turnover, either. And his 34-yard, overtime heave to a diving Roger Lewis, Jr. on fourth-and-5 set up the winning field goal.
Before all of that, he spit fire in a pregame oration that exhorted his teammates to play harder than the Chiefs. Totally out of character for the man nicknamed “Easy Eli” for his quiet, but effective leadership.
If nothing else, Manning knows when to pick his spots. When he gets mad, even math-challenged teammates who can’t figure out that 1-8 adds up to something bad respond.
The Giants can’t afford to lose a leader like that. Not right now, anyway. With third-round rookie Davis Webb unable to even gain a game day uniform, the Giants aren’t ready for that kind of change. And even if Darnold decides to forego a third year of college eligibility and the Giants grab either him or Rosen, having Manning at the helm for at least another season can only help their development.
There’s no rush as long as Manning remains able and healthy.
So far, so good. He’s looking at consecutive start No. 210 Thursday, having passed brother Peyton on Sunday for second on the all-time list behind Brett Favre’s 297.
Other quarterbacks may have him on numbers, and Brady certainly has him on longevity, but nobody comes close to Manning in the durability department.
Keeping him around despite the $22.2 million salary cap hit he’ll incur next season makes sense. Besides, they can always come to him for a restructuring. Manning has allowed the team to shuffle around his money several times over the years to reduce the overall cap number. Team player that he is, there’s no reason to think he’d resist another request.
Getting their quarterback of the future in a lost season followed by a quarterback-rich draft is a definite possibility. Reese didn’t spend the airfare to watch Darnold and Rosen go at it for mere due diligence. If Sunday’s win proved the exception of these last six games, he may well snag one of the two.
But that shouldn’t mean the end of the Eli era. He still has much to offer beyond the numbers, however negative some appear.
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