The New York Giants have had a contemptible, humiliating season, with much blame to go around. But Tuesday afternoon the team seemed to abruptly lay much of its problems at the feet of its best player of this century, Eli Manning.
Manning has been the franchise’s template for a leader, role model and big-game performer in the last 14 years. His benching, however, seemed to reveal a directionless and dysfunctional organization.
The Giants’ record is 2-9. They have placed nearly 20 players on injured reserve since the season began, including stars like Odell Beckham Jr., Manning’s favorite target. There have been games when it looked as if the entire defense — 11 players in unison — had no interest whatsoever in being on the field. The offense regularly looks overmatched, confused and wholly inept.
Still, the Giants should be thanking Manning for not quitting on them.
It is true a transition inevitably was on the horizon. Manning, 36, is not playing at Hall of Fame, or even good-season, caliber. He ranks in the bottom half of the league’s quarterbacks this season.
There would have been nothing wrong with the Giants announcing that, for the good of the franchise and its future, the team’s second-year quarterback and recent draft pick Davis Webb would replace Manning, 36, in parts of the final five games this year. In time, perhaps, Webb might even start a game or two.
The Giants would need to magnanimously acknowledge that it was time for Manning to watch some football rather than play it. There will be enough lopsided games during the next five weeks in which putting Manning on the sideline would be a prudent move.
It would enable the Giants, most especially, to see what they have in Webb, since they could easily find themselves with a top draft pick next spring and need to determine if they should use it on a another young quarterback.
What is rightfully perplexing to fans, and a sign that this team’s troubles reach deeply into the front office, is the decision to make Geno Smith the starter. In a five-year NFL career, he has thrown 28 touchdown passes and 36 interceptions.
Smith’s record as a starting quarterback is 12-18. He has not started a game since October 2016. The New York Jets, of all teams, could not wait to see Smith leave.
He will take the field when the Giants play the Oakland Raiders, still hungry for a playoff spot, on Sunday in Oakland.
As for Webb, the only player worth all this teeth-gnashing, coach Ben McAdoo would not confirm that he would be in uniform when the Giants play the Raiders in Oakland this weekend. Webb will eventually be “in the mix,” McAdoo said.
So this is all about getting another look at Geno Smith?
“We’re going to start Geno this week and give him an opportunity to show what he can do,” McAdoo said.
To Giants fans, Manning, a popular, esteemed player, who after being smacked to the ground hundreds of times got back up to start 210 consecutive games, was besmirched by his churlish bosses.
But what should disturb those fans the most is that the men who made this call, McAdoo and the general manager, Jerry Reese, are still in a position to determine the future of the team.
Or at least they are for now. The Giants’ owners, John Mara and Steve Tisch, who should not escape blame for Tuesday’s fiasco, should be asking themselves whether the handling of Manning is the last clumsy, self-destructive act for McAdoo and Reese. Because if there is any resounding message that came out of the Giants’ training complex Tuesday, it was that the Giants are struggling for a coherent vision for the coming seasons.
Manning, in brief comments at his locker on Tuesday, fought back tears and admitted, “I don’t have to make sense of it.”
Somebody does. But it will not be the one man in uniform who for 14 years could reliably be counted for that kind of leadership.