EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Eli Manning is the New York Giants‘ starting quarterback, at least for now. He will start Monday against the Philadelphia Eagles (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN) and until Daniel Jones‘ ankle heals, at which point Manning will return to his post as two-time Super Bowl-winning caddie for the 2019 first-round pick.
Aside from this impromptu mini-farewell tour, the next time Manning surfaces on the field in an NFL game, he could be in a different uniform. He’s in the final year of his current deal and seemingly resigned to the fact his Giants career will be over at the end of the season.
Those close to Manning believe he wants to continue playing and his competitive juices will have him looking for a starting gig this offseason.
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“You miss being a part of the action and practicing and all that,” said Manning, who had been relegated to the scout team for the past 10 weeks. “Felt good to get out there [Wednesday] and throw it around and compete a little bit.”
The opportunity to start will not exist in the future with the Giants (2-10), the only professional team he’s known. The Giants are fully invested in Jones, the No. 6 overall pick, and Manning isn’t likely to return as his backup — a role that hasn’t seemed to suit him.
That will leave Manning in a position he has never been in before — as a free agent trying to sell his services.
To be fair, he isn’t your everyday free agent. Manning will be 39 years old in January and doesn’t need to chase a ring. He has two and a pair of Super Bowl MVP trophies. He also has a family with four young children entrenched in New Jersey, which they have made their permanent home.
These will all be factors early next year when Manning pursues a new job. If an opportunity doesn’t present itself, Manning will likely retire by default rather than of his own volition. He’s not going anywhere where he’s not the starter or at least has a legitimate shot to compete for the starting job.
But the conversation hasn’t gotten this far, yet. There are still too many unpredictable unknowns.
Perhaps something like the situations with the Chicago Bears or Tennessee Titans would make sense. They are teams that are close, but might need a steady veteran quarterback to get them to the next level — as Peyton Manning did for the Denver Broncos, winning a Super Bowl in the final year of his career.
It all depends on the preference and evaluation of the teams looking for a quarterback, as Manning will undoubtedly face competition. Will he be viewed as a better option than Andy Dalton, Ryan Tannehill, Marcus Mariota or potentially Philip Rivers? It likely depends on perspective candidates’ salary cap and the draft.
Manning’s spot in the market could also depend on how he plays Monday night and in the final games of the Giants’ season. If he performs well, it could convince a team he has something left. Otherwise, it might be a tough proposition to guarantee him (or even allow him to compete for) a starting position well past his prime. He hasn’t exactly played well the past few seasons, compiling an 8-25 record as a starter over the past three years.
That said, Manning is in position to be somewhat picky. The situation would have to be ideal for him to move elsewhere or step aside graciously. He’s not going to go to Cincinnati or Miami to join a rebuilding team to grab one last paycheck. Remember, this is the player with the highest career earnings ($252 million) in NFL history.
For now, he’s concentrating on the Eagles. Then he will finish out the season, whether it plays out with him as the starter until the end or not. It seems likely the Giants will be cautious with Jones, and Manning will get to start at home next week against the Miami Dolphins in a farewell of sorts.
Victor Cruz predicts a well-rested Eli Manning will lead the Giants past the Eagles on Monday Night Football.
But Manning isn’t thinking about any of this now. Even the difficult conversations about his future have been put off until next month.
“Again, just take it one game at a time,” Manning said. “You never want to try to make decisions about your future while you’re still living in the present and don’t know the circumstances of what could happen.
“Just have to go out there and try to get a win for the Giants if I’m asked to do that. I’ll analyze everything else after the season.”