Save for a Geno Smith cameo in 2017, football in the New York City area has been taken on a roller coaster ride captained solely by Eli Manning since 2004. The youngest of the Southeastern quarterbacking dynasty has driven the blue cars of the New York Giants up two massive hills, coming down them with a pair of Super Bowl titles, but the descents have been equally exhausting…and longer. Over the past two seasons, Manning has a record of 8-25 as a starter, by far one of the worst marks in the league.
Seat belts on the Manning thrill ride were finally loosened on Tuesday afternoon. The Giants officially announced rookie Daniel Jones as the starter for their Sunday visit to Tampa Bay. This isn’t like the ill-fated Smith decision, where Manning was handed the job back after the powers-that-be (head coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese) were dismissed. This is fully intended to be the next era of Giants football, one commandeered by a rookie who was famous for wearing blue in college, albeit in the fields of Durham.
The Giants made it clear to Manning that the process of searching for his successor was well underway. Jones’s promotion was more than likely inevitable. This is Manning’s final year under contract and New York more than likely wasn’t playing for a Super Bowl this season. Free research and development were set to be a dark gift granted for the times ahead. After two games, the clamors got understandably louder.
Even with Manning’s skills visibly declining, 2019 was turning into a slog. The modern Giants made a living with dinky passes that often began behind the line of scrimmage. Manning’s 6.2 yards per attempt (personally besting only a 6.1 average earned during that garish 3-13 campaign in 2017) currently ranks 27th in the league. You’ve probably figured out by now that the Giants are 0-2 after losses to Dallas and Buffalo weren’t close in the slightest.
Yet, it feels the Giants could’ve held off on the Jones inevitability.
Jones is immediately being thrown to the wolves in his NFL entry. The Buccaneers are a manageable opponent, perhaps beneficiaries of Cam Newton’s decline in their win last week. Those expecting his insertion to make the Giants instant Super Bowl contenders, however, are in for a rude awakening. You’re already aware, for instance, that Jones’s quarterback status will render him unable to help a defense that’s currently ranked 28th in yardage and has failed to register a single takeaway.
Cruel as it may have been to treat a Giants icon like Manning as a de facto lab rat in his final games, it feels like cruel and unusual punishment to subject Jones to this offensive line in his opening NFL minutes. Several mistakes from prior eras are gone — Ereck Flowers, for instance, is the Washington Redskins’ problem now — but nothing that hasn’t prevented the not-so-mobile Manning from running for his life every week.
When Jones will finally be able to look downfield, he won’t see much. This is no jab at his height, but, rather, he won’t see much NFL experience when he looks downfield. Third-year tight end and 2017 first-round pick Evan Engram is currently the most popular, and perhaps accomplished, target with 164 yards on 17 receptions. Downfield options are at a premium to say the least.
The Sterling Shepard concussion timeline will be unpredictable, but perhaps it would’ve been best to let Jones wait in the wings until veteran newcomer Golden Tate came back. Tate is controversially serving a four-game suspension for taking a banned substance via a fertility medication. The ban was upheld despite Tate’s full cooperation with the league. He’s eligible to return October 6 at home against Minnesota.
This delicate situation also requires a pristine amount of preparation. Jones, per ESPN’s Jordan Raanan, now has five days to prepare for a decent Tampa Bay defense, having spent a majority of his time with the second and scout teams. A more attractive option was perhaps on the table immediately after the Minnesota game.
If any game could’ve sealed Manning’s fate, it would’ve been ironic if it was the October 10 Thursday night tilt against the New England Patriots. With 10 days to prepare for a mediocre-at-best Arizona Cardinals squad, Jones could’ve had all the time he needed to prepare for an all-too crucial start.
Again, this Manning departure is more than likely made to be permanent. Jones’ starting spot must be assured and free from peers over the shoulder to see if Manning is ready to start a new streak. The Giants have set the original clock at 14 games. Time will only tell if this big, if not perhaps premature, decision prevent that number from growing.