By Ernie Palladino
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The Giants owe Eli Manning something after the disgrace they’ve made of the last couple of days, and it shouldn’t be about turning him into a tutor for the next fresh-faced “quarterback of the future.”
That’s what could have been, and oh so easily. With just a little forethought, Ben McAdoo could have gone to his two-time Super Bowl MVP with a plan that would have preserved Manning’s 210-game starting streak, allowed his 2-9 team a fighting chance, and given third-round pick Davis Webb some valuable game-day snaps.
Simply start Manning, let him play a half, and then either keep him in there or pull him depending on the game situation. Leading at halftime, down by seven, he stays in there so he can try for the win. Down by more, throw in Webb in the third quarter or later.
The way the Giants are going, that would have afforded the draft people enough evidence to decide if they should draft one of those top quarterbacks in April. And it would have provided for Manning a dignified, 2018 transition from all-time Giants great to professor emeritus, ready like his own rookie mentor, Kurt Warner, to give way to the new kid when the time was right.
That’s how it should have gone, with a respectful nod to Manning’s contributions. But McAdoo has never regarded the 36-year-old with the same gratitude as Tom Coughlin did. He always sounded like he wanted to put his own stamp on the team, a stamp that didn’t include Manning’s image.
He finally found a legitimate reason to turn the page. But he buried it beneath a pile of indignity when he tried to sell Geno Smith to the world as his big move.
That’s how things go in the NFL. Careers rarely end well in this league. Even ones that yield two Lombardi Trophies. Yet, this move stinks so high to heaven that the Giants now owe their quarterback of the last 14 seasons something more than this ignominious slide into retirement.
They owe him another team, another chance to lead and produce, and perhaps get to another Super Bowl.
The only way that happens is through trade or release.
Manning would have to waive his no-trade clause. The Giants would have to find a trade partner willing to pick up his contract. That would be a heavy lift for a lot of teams even if Manning restructures.
A clean cut would set him free to negotiate a new deal with anyone he chooses. He’d have to take less, but his sad days of commanding the scout team huddle would end immediately.
That would create a headache for the salary cap people, but nothing that couldn’t be tolerated. They’d be on the hook for about $12 million in dead money, but that’s still better than the $22 million hit they’d absorb by keeping him around. And if they cut him right after the season, they wouldn’t owe him the $5 million roster bonus due on March 17.
They could put those $9 million-plus of savings toward a free agent. An offensive lineman, perhaps? That forlorn, neglected unit was a big factor in putting Manning in his current predicament to begin with. A wide receiver? We saw this year how fast depth can disappear. And the new guy, whoever he is, will need all the help a general manager — whoever winds up in that chair — can give him.
The sad part is that none of this would merit discussion if McAdoo had just used his head. The organization has a legitimate reason for finding field time for Webb. The personnel staff needs a solid evaluation before they fly headlong into the April quarterback sweepstakes.
They could have accomplished that without as much as a mention of Geno Smith. That name never should have crossed McAdoo’s lips.
Instead, Manning, his ironman streak and his legacy give way to a career failure McAdoo preposterously sells as the Giants’ best chance to win.
The Giants will have their dossier on Webb, but they incurred a debt that can only be repaid by losing their legend.
The Giants can never replace the dignity Manning lost in all this. That went out the window as soon as McAdoo named Smith as the starter in Oakland.
The best they can do is to let their quarterback find it someplace else.
That much they owe him.
Please follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino