Would Giants consider trading Eli Manning? 1 team makes most sense

Would Giants consider trading Eli Manning? 1 team makes most sense

16 OCT 2016: New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) back to pass during the game between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Ravens played at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford,NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

Eli Manning will take the field Sunday against the Denver Broncos, just as he has the previous 204 regular season Sundays for the New York Giants. He has been the face of the franchise since the team made the dramatic trade to land him in the 2004 NFL Draft, and Manning secured his place in team lore with Super Bowl MVP Awards following the 2007 and 2011 seasons.

Since taking over in that rookie season of 2004 and never looking back, Manning hasn’t been a model in terms of consistency for this franchise — but you can’t say he hasn’t been the paragon of reliability. It’s not just the 2017 consecutive starts (including postseason) or the weathering of the annual New York drama with Manning’s uncanny equanimity. It’s that he has been a role model, a target, a quality performer and a stand-up teammate from the day arrived, and that’s never wavered.

Teams go generations without finding players such as these. There have been better quarterbacks in the NFL over the past 13-plus seasons. But ask Giants management, and they might tell you there has been no player they’ve wanted more representing their franchise.

There’s even an argument that a player and a rock such as Manning is exactly what the Giants need in one of their darkest times — sitting at 0-5 and having just lost their best offensive weapon, Odell Beckham Jr., for the season.

But there’s also the counterargument that no one expected to come this quickly, as recently as a month ago: Might it be time to consider trading Manning?

On the surface, it’s a wild idea borne in a fantasy-football-steeped time. But if you think about it, there might be some sense to it, too. Likely? Perhaps not. Worth considering? Absolutely.

Days after Manning turned 36 years old in January, Giant general manager Jerry Reese made an interesting if not eye-opening statement.

“He’s probably on the back nine [of his career], but I don’t think it’s ancient for a quarterback,” Reese said, via Paul Schwartz of the New York Post.

We knew then it was one of those file-it-away quotes because, after all, the Giants were coming off an 11-5 season and were dominating the Green Bay Packers for most of the first half at Lambeau Field before getting blown out in the game.

Expectations remained high entering this season, backed by seemingly solid reasoning. The Giants returned the bulk of a defense that ranked in the top 10 last season in nine major categories, including second in fewest points allowed. They had Beckham, added Brandon Marshall and tight Evan Engram, and had the same starting offensive line intact. On paper, this looked like a contender again.

Now 0-5 has struck and 0-6 looks likely. Three of their next four opponents currently have winning records. The bottom appears to have fallen out. The fact that the Giants, and not the 3-2 New York Jets, have a better chance to land the draft’s top pick next spring is utterly astounding. But it’s also reality.

Is trading Manning now the best course of action? And if so, to whom?

There’s a team that just so happens to have a need at quarterback — a pretty darned big one — that’s in contention now.

The Jacksonville Jaguars are 3-2, one of the nicer surprises in the NFL, and they’ve done an incredible job of hiding their quarterback, Blake Bortles, in their three victories. In those games, he’s averaging 22 passes; in Sunday’s huge win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bortles attempted one pass in the game’s final 31 minutes.

But in the two losses, including one disastrous one to the Jets in Week 4, Bortles is averaging 34.5 attempts per game. The more he throws, the less chance the Jaguars have to win it appears. The numbers aren’t quite as dramatic for Bortles over the past two seasons, but Bortles threw the ball on average more than six attempts fewer in wins than in losses.

They can only hide him for so long. Teams eventually will catch up. The Jaguars need someone at the position who can deliver a clutch throw and handle the pressure of a playoff push.

Manning could be the guy.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 22: New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) looks to throw during the game between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles on December 22, 2016 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia PA. (Photo by Gavin Baker/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Gavin Baker/Icon Sportswire)

With all indications suggesting that Tom Coughlin truly does have final say over football matters, it doesn’t take an anonymous source or a league insider to connect the dots there. Coughlin has been one of Manning’s biggest supporters. Who could forget Coughlin’s emotional farewell with the Giants — with a teary Manning listening in the front row — as his former coach paid Manning some of the loftiest praise you’ll ever hear from the man?

“[Eli] can handle it all. He’s done it before, he’ll handle it again,” Coughlin said in early 2016, via “He’s extremely bright, he’s extremely competitive. He’s what you want a son to be made out of. He thinks he’s the reason. He’s not the reason that I’m… Eli, it’s not you, it’s not you. It’s us. We win, we lose together. Remember when we lose, I lose, when we win, you guys win.”

With that, Coughlin walked away. He reemerged as the Jaguars’ executive vice president of football operations. The worst-kept secret in the NFL is Coughlin’s feelings about Bortles. It’s not personal — it’s just that Coughlin doesn’t believe in Bortles’ abilities, and based on the way Doug Marrone used his QB late in Sunday’s win, you can safely assume the head coach feels similarly. After all, Marrone famously said he’d “run the ball every play” if he could. Sunday felt like hyperbole becoming reality in that regard.

We praised Marrone for his coaching in that game a week after we bashed him for how he used Bortles late in the Jet loss. But Marrone shouldn’t have to play a weekly shell game with his QB given that he has a run game and a defense that seem to be playoff-caliber right now.

This is a division that most certainly is up for grabs. The Houston Texans, whom the Jaguars already have beaten once, just lost their two best defenders. The Tennessee Titans have already seen Marcus Mariota go down once and have a defense giving up the third-most points in the NFL. The Indianapolis Colts are also-rans until further notice. The time is now for the Jaguars — going on almost 10 years since their last playoff performance — to go for it.

What’s crazy is that the timing works out too, it seems. The trade deadline is on Halloween. The Jaguars host the 3-2 Los Angeles Rams this week, followed by the Colts on Oct. 22. The bye falls perfectly during trade-deadline week, so the Jaguars in theory could make something happen after that Colt game and have almost two weeks to get Manning up to speed.

The Giants also have a bye that same week. They easily could be 0-7 at that point. If they want to give third-round pick Davis Webb a shot, he also would have extra time to get starter’s reps. If Geno Smith is your best option for the time being, so be it. Trading Manning would put the Giants in line to land a top-10 pick, perhaps one in the top five. That pick then would be earmarked for Manning’s long-term successor.

Financially, it would work, too. The Jaguars are flush with salary-cap space to take on Manning’s deal, which runs through 2019. The cap hits in 2018 ($22.2 million) and 2019 ($23.2 million) are more than doable. The Jags even could get out of Manning’s deal following the 2018 season and not be stuck with much in the way of dead money — a mere $6.3 million, per Spotrac.

So what might the Jaguars be willing to give up? I think the Giants would start by asking for at least a first-round pick (more on this below) and go from there. If the Jaguars make the playoffs, we’re talking about a selection in the 20s most likely. For a team that has made 39 draft picks since 2013 — including two quarterback, Bortles and Brandon Allen, who is gone now — that price would be a relative pittance, even if Manning is only a 1.5-season rental.

For the Giants, though, letting go of Manning would not be easy. It’s clear just how much he means to owners John Mara and Steve Tisch. Mara told WFAN’s Mike Francesa in June that Manning has “a lot of years left in him,” and the owner’s bond with the QB is considered to be strong. This would not just be a run-of-the-mill transaction — it would be a franchise changer, to say the least, and the end of an era.

The Giants might believe that the 0-5 start, with the past three losses by one score, is an aberration and that there could be one more run for a title. We’re not sure how much of a factor it would be, but the Jaguars are scheduled to play at the Giants next season. And there’s also the matter of the complicated relationship between Mara and Coughlin and their strange, awkward divorce — would Mara want to help deliver a franchise stabilizer to his former employee?

Also, the Giants could set too high a price. They might ask for more than a first-rounder. That would feel a bit costly and unrealistic, but then again we’re not sure how desperate the Jaguars might be to land some stability at the position — especially in the middle of a season, which makes things trickier.

But if the Giants want to reboot, this is certainly an option. Having two first-round picks, including one very high one, would allow them to get USC’s Sam Darnold or UCLA’s Josh Rosen, for instance. You know, one of the quarterbacks many Jet fans thought they’d be getting next year. That might be a fascinating little plot twist if it ever came about.

The Giants also have to figure out what they’re going to do with Beckham. He says he wants to be the highest-paid player (not just highest-paid receiver) in the NFL with his next contract, due to expire after 2018. Certainly, his season-ending injury clouds that situation dramatically, but the Giants absolutely could get a deal done with Beckham with Manning’s contract off the books.

The No. 2 pick this year, Chicago Bear QB Mitch Trubisky, has cap hits of $5.3 million, $6.6 million, $7.9 million and $9.2 million for the first four years of his deal. That gives you an idea of the kind of temporary relief a team can receive when picking a quarterback at the top of the draft.

All of this is purely speculative. Manning said this week he hasn’t given it a second’s thought about potentially playing elsewhere, and we believe him. He spoke instead about fixing the team’s mood and finding solutions amid the darkness that has fallen on the Giants in their brutal start and their dim immediate future. That’s what leaders do.

But, boy, isn’t there some sense to this whole thing? Isn’t there some logic to it all? Might this help two franchises set their immediate courses nicely? Blockbuster trades remain extremely rare this time of year in the NFL, and there would be a lot of reasons for this not to happen as well.

You can’t say that both teams shouldn’t at least consider it, however.


October 11th, 2017

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