Eli Manning had started 210 straight regular season games with the Giants before head coach Ben McAdoo sent him to the bench in a desperate effort to save his job. That much-maligned strategy failed to pay off, and now the veteran quarterback could get the chance to start a new, much more modest streak in Week 14.
Interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo made it official on Wednesday, after owner John Mara named him the interim on Tuesday:
Spags: Eli Manning is going to be our quarterback.— New York Giants (@Giants) December 6, 2017
Geno Smith will be the team’s No. 2:
Geno Smith will be the No. 2 QB “right now”, Spags said. ... He also says Davis Webb’s practice routine “probably” will not change this week.— Ralph Vacchiano (@RVacchianoSNY) December 6, 2017
McAdoo was fired on Monday, making him the first New York coach to fail to make it though a full season since 1976. General manager Jerry Reese, who rubber-stamped the decision to pull Manning from the lineup, was sacked as well. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, former head coach with the then-St. Louis Rams, will serve as the team’s caretaker for its final four games.
With nothing left to play for, the 2-10 Giants can only make an effort to control the damage that’s already been done. Manning’s ouster was almost universally derided, allowing everyone from fans to front-office executives to get a shot in at the franchise. Pushing the veteran back into the starting lineup in a season devoid of optimism would be an easy way to raise hopes in the Big Apple.
The Giants are making the obvious call, and starting Manning on Sunday:
Giants coaches and staffers had final game-planning discussions today and sources say the expected result is finalized: Eli Manning is the starting quarterback. On Sunday vs the Cowboys, he’ll extend his streak to one.— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) December 5, 2017
At the very least, it will appease the Giants’ alumni who had planned on making a statement by wearing No. 10 jerseys to Sunday’s home game against the Cowboys.
What does this mean for Eli Manning? Manning balked at the idea of starting last week’s game only to be replaced by Geno Smith in the second half, understanding such a move would look petty. Spagnuolo’s path of least resistance — the preferred avenue of most interim head coaches looking to keep their future job prospects intact — will be to return to the veteran New Yorkers either love or hate, depending on the season.
Manning wasn’t having a great 2017, though that’s not all his fault. The Giants lost their two top offensive weapons when Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall suffered season-ending injuries early in the year. Despite having few weapons and being bolstered by one of the league’s least-effective running games, Manning has still managed to put up respectable numbers — 219 passing yards per game and a 14:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
The bigger question is what this means for Manning’s future. He has two years and $55.4 million remaining on his current contract, and while his brief demotion seemed to mark the end of his time with the Giants, the franchise’s in-season firings of McAdoo and Reese appear to be a pretty strong statement in Manning’s favor. Even if the club decides to use its upcoming high draft slot to draft a quarterback, New York could use its reinstated starter to serve as a veteran tutor — especially since cutting him would leave $12.4 million in dead money on the team’s salary cap for 2018.
What does this mean for the Giants? 2017 will go down as one of the worst seasons in franchise history. McAdoo’s turnaround from 11-5 playoff participant to first midseason firing in four decades is a stunning rebuke of his ability to manage an NFL team. Pulling Manning out of the lineup in favor of Geno Smith was simply the last bad decision in a string of them — even if Smith was statistically similar to Manning in the team’s Week 13 loss to Oakland.
Monday’s personnel moves will give the team a head start on its rebuild — one that will start with Manning back where he belongs.