By Jason Keidel
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Big Blue’s eyesore of a season has just gotten historically ugly.
A 2-9 team can wave a white flag in myriad ways. Cut salary cap fat. Waive a few deadbeats. Start a rookie here. Bench a vet there.
You don’t bench the man who made you relevant for the last 13 seasons, is chiefly responsible for half your Lombardi Trophies and has started 210 straight games, the second-longest streak in NFL history.
You don’t spit in the face of your franchise.
But that’s what coach Ben McAdoo just did. With his boss’s blessing, it seems. Indeed, you can’t sit a star of Eli Manning’s timbre without running it up the totem pole first, presumably to general manager Jerry Reese and then to co-owner John Mara. Actually, McAdoo said as much during his surreal presser Tuesday, which was played, in full, during Mike Francesa’s show. If you haven’t listened, you should, not only for the Twilight Zone logic but also for Francesa’s stellar, verbal takedown of the Giants.
It’s bad enough that the Giants had saddled Manning with these woeful three months of football. But now they’re benching him to see what Geno Smith can do under center. Geno Smith, who, while across the hall with the Jets, had perhaps the worst first quarter in NFL history during a game against the Buffalo Bills. Who was so beloved in the Jets’ locker room he had his jaw shattered by a teammate’s fist. Who was so good that the biblically QB-starved Jets couldn’t wait to get rid of him.
There’s no regal way to say goodbye to an iconic player. The NFL is known for its hardscrabble life at the end of the line, for cutting players without warning, without notice and without payment. But some players deserve a red carpet to retirement, or at least out the door. And it had better be for a darn good reason.
When the Colts said goodbye to Manning’s older brother, they had Andrew Luck in their back pocket. When the Packers gave Brett Favre his walking papers, they had Aaron Rodgers. But the Giants are benching Manning for Smith, whom we’ve seen in vivid and gory technicolor too many times already. If you think this might be about giving Davis Webb a shot, then why did McAdoo say that Manning was the backup for Sunday’s game?
As Francesa astutely asserted, the only reason Reese has been GM all these years is because of the two Super Bowls that Eli delivered, as MVP of both games. The only reason McAdoo is head coach is because he’s supposedly a wizard with offenses. Such a wizard he can’t make it work with a future Hall of Fame quarterback.
Manning is certainly not having a great season. His 84.1 passer rating is barely ahead of Jay Cutler and Blake Bortles. His 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions are reasonable considering the dearth of decent talent around him. Manning can’t run the ball, he can’t block, and he can’t make Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall magically recover from injuries.
The Giants are losing with Manning at quarterback, not because Manning is at quarterback. That’s an essential distinction, yet one that is lost on the Giants’ brass. Benching the best QB in franchise history, who has taken every sack, pad and punch delivered since 2004 without missing a game, is poor logic, bad karma and horrible PR.
Big Blue’s bosses are saying that their incompetence is so profound, so virulent, that change for the sake of change is the only move they have left. There is nothing on paper, on the gridiron or in history to suggest this is the right move. But that’s all the Giants have left, to stuff their roster in a symbolic blender and pour the variables onto a football field.
In that case, then the Giants have problems that transcend the quarterback. Eli Manning doesn’t deserve this. And now it’s clear the New York Giants don’t deserve Eli Manning.
Please follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel