USA Today Images

Keidel: Herbert Decision May Leave Eli Manning As Giants' Best Option For 2019

Jason Keidel
December 27, 2018 - 12:19 pm

It's rare that a career decision by one college football player doubles as doom for a single NFL team.

But when QB Justin Herbert decided to return to Oregon for one more year, it sounded like nails across a classroom chalkboard for the Giants, who are now playing with the idea of keeping Eli Manning for yet another season despite his age, wage and recent record in the standings. 

Those of us who admonished Big Blue against drafting all-world RB Saquon Barkley last spring assumed they blew their lone chance last year to shop for a franchise QB, after passing on the aisle fertile with prolific passers. For his part, Barkley dazzled the league all year, planting his flag on weekly highlight reels. But the club is still 5-10 despite his epic athletic splendor.

Watch every Giants game season this season with fuboTV -- click to start free trial now

Surely the G-Men goofed when they passed on Sam Darnold - and every other high-end QB talent coming out of college in 2017. Still, we thought that the rookie runner, joining WR Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and one more year's worth of accurate passing from current QB Eli Manning, was enough to win nine or ten games and squeak into the playoffs.

Then the Giants jumped out of the team plane to start the 2018 season, pulled the ripcord, and the parachutes failed to deploy. Big Blue plunged down on MetLife and pancaked, resulting in a 1-7 record after half the season. All the promise that echoed from 2016, including a playoff run and chance to play the Packers at Lambeau, was swept away with poor play, a wholly misguided boat trip in Miami - captained by Beckham, who had a horrible playoff game - and a group photo more suitable for a Lil Wayne album. 

Yet it looked like Big Blue were getting a mulligan. The Giants will finish this season well below the poverty line, giving them one more undeserving chance to get their club right under center. 

Now, with Herbert, whom Giants GM Dave Gettleman scouted in person this season, nudging his NFL career back one more year, the Giants will have to choose from a gaggle of college QBs who have potential, but none of whom have a universal seal of pro approval. Had Herbert declared for the draft, the Giants could have inched up the board by making a deal with lower-tier teams that already have their franchise QB. The Bills, Cardinals, Raiders, Jets, 49ers, and Lions are all expected to start next year with their starting QBs from this year. 

None of that matters now. The Giants are relegated to scouting Duke and Missouri and West Virginia and Ohio State and try to convince themselves that this QB crop resembles last year's, which included four quarterbacks - Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Lamar Jackson, and Rookie of the Year candidate Baker Mayfield - who have already showed great promise as NFL rookies. Every NFL Draft gives us an unheralded player who blossoms into a star. But we're not seeing arched eyebrows over this class of quarterbacks that includes the likes of Drew Lock, Dwayne Haskins, Daniel Jones, Ryan Finley and Will Grier. 

Eli Manning just told the media that he's not sure if he's going to be Big Blue's QB next year. Despite Eli's newfound place as a punching bag for incensed Giants fans, the two-time Super Bowl MVP is not having a bad season. Indeed, if you look solely at the stats, Manning is having one of his best seasons as a pro. Of course no one believes Eli is the answer under center, but considering the dearth of dominant QBs coming out of college, Eli may be the Giants' best option for at least one more autumn. 

They say if some forlorn franchise picks the wrong QB at the top of the draft, it sets the team back five to ten years. History has pretty much proved that to be true. What we don't know is what happens to a team that picks no quarterback with its top draft pick.

Unless the Giants stumble on the skill, will and luck to unearth a franchise QB next spring, we could be looking at another ten years until Big Blue plays in the big game with the Roman numerals. 

Twitter: @JasonKeidel