“I don’t know,” Manning said. “I don’t know. I’ll take it one week at a time.”
But Manning is 36, and time isn’t on his side. The Giants, at 2-9, are ready to see what they have in their young quarterbacks, Smith and Davis Webb.
Smith signed with the Giants as a free agent during the offseason. Webb, a third-round pick this year, is waiting in the wings. Head coach Ben McAdoo said Tuesday in the wake of the announcement that Webb would also get playing time this season. What those two players show the Giants’ brass will help determine what path they pursue in the spring to address the quarterback position as the team undergoes a rebuilding effort.
But Manning has shown that he can still play. He hasn’t been great this season, but his overall numbers are respectable enough. Manning has 2,411 yards passing, 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
His production has taken a hit, thanks to the fact that he’s missing Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, and starting center Weston Richburg. Manning gets almost no help on the ground from a rushing attack that averages just 91.3 yards per game. The struggling offensive line has given up 26 sacks.
Manning still has enough left to contribute, so it’s unlikely to expect him, even at 36, to retire.
So what’s next for Manning?
The Giants could trade him. He’s due $16 million next season, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. That’s a manageable contract for a quarterback-needy team. And there are more than a few of those. If the Giants do attempt to trade him, they might not be able to ask for much, given his age and contract. So teams could wait it out until the Giants release him.
New York could also release him outright. They could do that now, which is exactly what Pro Football Talk suggested was the right thing to do. If they let him go after the season, the Giants would eat $12.4 million in dead cap in 2018.
Or the Giants could keep him. Head coach Ben McAdoo downplayed the notion that the move meant Manning’s time with the Giants was over. But McAdoo is less likely to be with the Giants next year than Manning, so take that for what it’s worth.
It would be tricky to keep him because of his contract — he’ll count $22.2 million against the cap next season and $23.2 million in 2019. That’s a lot to pay for a guy who isn’t starting.
Where could Manning land?
Jaguars Twitter went into a tizzy after the news broke, for good reason. They’ve got a dominant defense, but quarterback Blake Bortles is the kind of liability that could prevent them from being serious playoff contenders over the next few seasons.
The Jags are projected to have about $35 million in cap space to work with next season. Oh, and executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin being Manning’s former head coach certainly couldn’t hurt.
Coughlin expressed his support for Manning in the wake of Tuesday’s news.
“Surprised is not the word. My sentiments are totally with Eli Manning. … He’s a class act, a two-time Super Bowl champ, one of the finest, most humble men in that locker room. … I was very upset about when I heard that.”
In Arizona, Carson Palmer is done for the season with a broken arm, and whether he’ll return in 2018 or hang it up for good is up in the air. The Cardinals could bring in Manning if Palmer does choose to retire. They’re projected to have about $35 million in cap space for next season. Bringing in a veteran with two Super Bowl wins might entice Larry Fitzgerald to play out the extension he just signed, too.
There’s also the Broncos. John Elway hasn’t been very good at finding quarterback talent, except for when he signed the other Manning brother — a move that worked out pretty well for Denver.
Or Manning could go to a division rival like Washington, if it does let Kirk Cousins hit free agency this offseason. He could also choose to stay in New York, filling a need for the Jets.
It’s tough to even imagine Manning in some other team’s jersey next season after 14 years with the Giants. However, sticking around while a team rebuilds, especially one that could be on the verge of cleaning house in the front office and with the coaching staff, isn’t how most quarterbacks in their late 30s with two Super Bowl rings would choose to spend the twilight of their career.
The quarterback market for 2018 was already shaping up to be the most interesting reshuffling of arm talent in years. It just got a little more exciting.