Eli Manning was shown the door. The Giants think they were graceful about it. They would grant him first-half play in their final five games. They did not bench him earlier this season. So, in the Giants’ eyes, this was fair. This was sensible.
But Manning would not walk through that door. Bench me now, he answered. So, they did.
Ben McAdoo and Jerry Reese and John Mara know there is no easy divorce from a two-time Super Bowl winning, two-time Super Bowl MVP franchise quarterback. The coach, the general manager, the owner, this trio of Giants leadership, decided that divorce must happen now in the midst of a 2-9 season of calamity.
But this decision should have been made by midseason when the Giants were still in the playoff race. Waiting until now, out of it with a tepid string of five games left, cashing in on that over Manning’s legacy and franchise contributions makes the trio look dense.
We do not know if McAdoo has been clamoring for this move for some time but simply was not allowed to execute it by Mara. But what we do know is that McAdoo, for some time, has been chirping in the Giants’ building to others about Manning’s lack of arm strength, lack of mobility, bad decisions, and an inability to win with him. Two different Giants coaches told me on Tuesday night that they have heard this barking/analysis from both McAdoo and Giants quarterback coach Frank Cignetti Jr.
And let’s be real about this: Eli Manning has played a downward spiral of football for some time. Skittish in the pocket. Overthrows. Underthrows. Horrible ball security. Poor decision making.
And let’s be real about this: Injuries ravaged the 2017 Giants offense. And the offensive line was awful before that. And the running game was putrid. The defense and special teams have not played enough complementary football. The offensive scheme does not fit Manning’s strengths.
All of that equals divorce.
But why so messy?
NFL divorces are often messy.
Manning took the high road.
“I have a ton of respect for Eli not agreeing to play just halves of football to keep his consecutive game streak going,” an NFC East general manager said. “They should have let him finish the season. You’re 2-9 and you’re not going anywhere. Let him finish with some honor. Let him be the only quarterback who started every game he played for the Giants. Let him be that. Or if he plays and struggles in these last five games, put in the backups you want to take a look at then. But don’t go to him with that. There’s got to be a better way.”
That was the sentiment of many of Manning’s former and current teammates.
One current Giants player told me: “It’s not smart. You just made Eli immortal now. You traded five games for his dignity and for all he did for you? Did you think about who you are dealing with? He’s stood for everything you stand for. I don’t see anything positive coming out of it.”
McAdoo will now see how his offense operates with Geno Smith and with Davis Webb. Younger, more mobile quarterbacks. Of course, the same issues in skill level and competence around them exists as it did for Manning.
Does McAdoo believe that if he wins five straight and finishes 7-9 that he will save his job? Does Reese think this, too?
“Ben wasn’t ready to be a head coach,” a Giants front office executive said. “Let’s be straight about that. He didn’t have the confidence. He didn’t know how to deal with all of the players. He wasn’t ready for New York. When had he really led before? If he gets to 7-9, that will be a surprise. That would be one heck of a Christmas considering everything.”
It’s a McAdoo bid to survive or burn in a blaze on his own terms. All NFL coaches desire that.
McAdoo went 11-5 and made the playoffs in his first season.
But a fast start does not mean sustained success.
That reminds me of something one of my favorite NFL coaches and personalities, Bum Phillips, once told me: “What doesn’t come out in the wash comes out in the rinse.”
People across the league were touched by Manning’s emotional, nearly tearful admission that his time in New York and as a Giant is likely, nearly over.
He arrived here in 2004 scurrying from the then-San Diego Chargers, seeking to surround himself with the class of the Giants and not associate with the then-perceived dysfunction and cluelessness of the Chargers.
But what he avoided in the beginning, in the end punched him in the gut.