Quarterbacks Are Lasting Longer Than Ever, And The Super Bowl-Minded Giants Should Be Focused On The Present

By Ryan Chatelain
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Just how many people do you suppose were ready to roll the closing credits on ex-big league pitcher Jamie Moyer’s career more than a decade before it finally ended at age 49?

How about 45-year-old Jaromir Jagr, who has supposedly been in the twilight of his NHL career for about a third of it now?

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Lately, the chorus has been growing for the Giants to draft Eli Manning’s successor, possibly as soon as next week. But what’s the rush?

The narrative is that Manning’s hourglass is almost out of sand and the Giants don’t want to find themselves in the sort of painful, yearslong quest for a QB that has plagued teams such as the Jets, Browns and Texans.

Eli Manning

Giants quarterback Eli Manning looks toward the sideline during the first quarter against the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland on Nov. 27, 2016. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

But the truth is if Manning, 36, plays another four or five seasons, he wouldn’t be nearly the outlier that Moyer and Jagr are. Thanks to rules aimed at driving up scoring and protecting defenseless players, quarterbacks are still going strong later and later into their careers.

Tom Brady just won a Super Bowl at age 39 and isn’t even thinking about retirement. If he hadn’t been serving his “Deflategate” suspension to start last season, he might’ve won his third MVP award.

Yes, Peyton Manning’s arm strength was zapped when he led the Broncos to a Super Bowl win after the 2015 season, just weeks shy of his 40th birthday, but a year earlier he passed for 4,700 yards and 39 touchdowns. At age 37, he enjoyed the greatest statistical season by a quarterback in NFL history (5,477 yards and 55 TDs).

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Drew Brees says he wants to play until he’s 45. After he led the league in passing yards last season at 37, who’s to say he can’t?

Brett Favre was a Pro Bowler at 40 who came within one overtime of reaching the Super Bowl.

This is a much different era from when quarterbacks constantly peeled themselves off the turf after absorbing blows by the likes of Deacon Jones or Lawrence Taylor. We’re just now seeing the impact that this kinder, gentler NFL is having on the career longevity of quarterbacks. Based on the mounting evidence to the contrary, counting out signal-callers on the wrong side of 35 seems like an outdated practice.

Sure, Eli Manning’s numbers were down last season compared to the two previous years. But he also suffered from poor blocking, a subpar rushing attack and a receiving corps that was talented at the top but thin overall.

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Eli has never been a model of consistency, and he’s bounced back from down years before. Fix the Giants’ problems on offense, and there’s a good chance the two-time Super Bowl MVP will snap back into form.

Heading into the 2017 season, the Giants have the Lombardi Trophy in their sights, which is exactly why drafting Manning’s heir apparent with the 23rd overall pick would not only be ill-advised, it would be downright reckless.

What would help bring Big Blue closer to a title: grabbing an offensive tackle such as Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk, who could buy Manning more time in the pocket, or Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, who might still be carrying a clipboard when the Giants have to decide on his fifth-year option?

Wouldn’t the Giants be better off now teaming a running back such as Florida State’s Dalvin Cook with second-year man Paul Perkins than drafting Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes II?

Don’t you think Manning would rather be throwing passes to Miami tight end David Njoku than looking over his shoulder at Notre Dame product DeShone Kizer?

And it’s not like Manning’s durability is a concern. The last time the Giants started another quarterback, George W. Bush was still serving his first term.

Selecting a QB in the first round would send the message that Big Blue is more concerned about the future than the present, which might be an acceptable position for a rebuilding franchise, but certainly not a contending one.

Yet, CBSSports.com’s Dane Brugler has the Giants picking Mahomes in his mock draft. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller forecasts Watson landing in the Meadowlands. NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks wrote in February that Watson would be a “strong fit” for Big Blue.

Let’s hope general manager Jerry Reese does not share their thinking. But nevertheless, the Giants have been doing their due diligence on this year’s top QBs, with coach Ben McAdoo even taking the unusual step, by his own standards, of attending Mahomes’ Pro Day workout.

That’s not to say the Giants shouldn’t make some attempt to prepare for life after Eli. Want to spend a second-round pick on a QB? Go right ahead, assuming, again, the team isn’t passing on a player at another position who it believes could inch it closer to its ultimate goal right away.

Plus, keep in mind the Giants have a guy on their roster now, Geno Smith, who is a perfect reminder that the second round is highly unpredictable when it comes to finding future starting quarterbacks.

Even if the Giants luck into the next Derek Carr, he could have a long apprenticeship ahead of him.

Because there still might be plenty more sunshine before twilight truly sets in on Manning’s playing days.

Follow Ryan on Twitter at @ryanchatelain