Giants quarterback Eli Manning

USA TODAY Images

Keidel: Manning Is Giants' Most Important Player This Season

Jason Keidel
June 21, 2018 - 11:48 am
Categories: 

As we sweat through the summer, walk the hot plank toward the fall and football season, all the talk around the New York Giants has been their facelift on offense. After a grotesque, 3-13 season that saw head coach Ben McAdoo get run off the sideline, Big Blue should be better by default. 

By getting a healthy Odell Beckham Jr, drafting RB Saquon Barkley, signing OT Nate Solder, and a sophomore growth spurt from TE Evan Engram, the Giants can actually talk about scratching on the playoff door in 2018. 

Oddly, we're not talking about the most important player in the building, and the greatest beneficiary of these offseason moves - Elisha Nelson Manning IV. 

Eli Manning, the lone, enduring face through all the hardships and regimes, through the Super Bowl and toilet bowl seasons, is still the player on whom this season pivots. And while Manning shows up for every practice, plays every game, and takes every snap and every sack, he may be the biggest variable in the huddle.  

Manning got a major hall pass last season, based largely on the injuries on the field and incompetence at coach. Not even Joe Montana could overcome the twin-maladies suffered by Beckham and Brandon Marshall, or their emaciated running game, or their woeful offensive line, or the team-wide mutiny against McAdoo. The former head coach lost the club so clearly and quickly that not even the Mara family, astonishingly patient by the ADD standards of pro sports, could keep him for the full 2017 season.         

Enter Pat Shurmur, the former Vikings offensive magician, who is the latest in the modern conga line of QB whisperers. And if anyone needs some sweet nothings whispered into his beleaguered ears, it's Eli Manning. Even someone with his bona fides for Canton all but assured, he's hardly got the media or the masses bubbling over with confidence in him. 

Indeed, is there a future Hall of Famer who's been questioned, doubted, or dissected more than the Giants' quarterback? Despite his two Super Bowls - and MVP Award from each one - Manning seems to have a symbolic, yearly contract with his employer and the public. In the third year of a four-year, $84 million deal, he surely gets paid like a top-tier quarterback. But he turned 37 in January, and his 111-103 record is hardly transcendent. Manning detractors basically frame his career in two parts - a decent quarterback who got hot for eight games and led a white-hot defense to two wins over Tom Brady. They see his two Lombardi Trophies as gridiron hiccups in an otherwise average career. 

It's entirely unfair to dismiss 2007 and 2011 simply because he's not Aaron Rodgers in the intervening years. Manning has put up ample, aggregate stats, and his two rings double as a key to the closet that has those mustard-colored jackets. 

But Manning is old by athletic standards. He's made just one Pro Bowl in the last five years, in an era when nearly half the league seems to get a crack at one. (Kirk Cousins, Tyrod Taylor, and Teddy Bridgewater have each played in one since 2015.)

Making the optics worse, Manning was benched for Geno Smith (perhaps the final nail in McAdoo's coffin.) So Manning has some bad memories and mojo to shed this summer. But if anyone can, it's No. 10, whose jersey, and personality, seem coated in Teflon.  Other than Derek Jeter, it's hard to think of a Big Apple icon who kept his low-key regularity inside that celebrity fishbowl as Manning has. 

And despite the last, disastrous season in the Meadowlands, Manning wasn't all that bad. He's lead the league in interceptions three times, yet never lead the NFL in touchdowns. Still, he tossed 19 TD with just 13 INT in 2017, and completed nearly 62 percent of his passes, in spite of his 3-12 record on the field. Add Barkley and Beckham and you've slid a serious gun in each of Eli's holsters. Solder is a fine upgrade at tackle. And surely Shurmur - who did a fabulous job last year leading the Vikings to within 60 minutes of the Super Bowl - will tweak the offense to fit their athletic contours.

Also, when you consider the Giants play in perhaps the hardest division in the NFL, and must play the Super Bowl champion Eagles twice, their schedule isn't that toxic. According to CBSSports.com, the combined record of Big Blue's 2018 foes is 133-123, 11th in the league.  

Manning can bounce back, because that's what he does. Forget his age and wage for a moment and you've got the greatest QB in Giants history. We've got a soon-to-be 41-year-old QB about 230 miles north on I-95 who just played in his eighth Super Bowl, and shows no signs of decay. Maybe you won't find any EM10 motivational mantras, as we've heard from those TB12 sermons in Boston.  

But Eli is still a few years from 40. Maybe he can't play like Tom Brady, but he did beat him. Twice. And few players in the NFL have beaten the odds as often as Eli Manning has.

Twitter: @JasonKeidel