Eli Manning will start for the Giants in Week 1, but his leash as Pat Shurmur’s starting quarterback is much shorter than anyone believes.
This, in my informed opinion, is the reality behind Shurmur’s coy comments and hedging last week on Manning’s job security and rookie Daniel Jones’ immediate future.
As much as Shurmur fanned the flames of a training camp competition for the starting job, the head coach fully intends to start Manning on Sept. 8 in Arlington, Texas, against the Dallas Cowboys, barring something outrageous and unforeseen occurring in August.
He just doesn’t want to label Jones officially as the backup this early because it would send him the wrong message, and Shurmur would be boxing himself in on an absolute.
So write it down: the plan is for Manning to start the season-opener against the Cowboys.
From that point, however, Manning’s job will be in jeopardy sooner than anyone realizes if he plays poorly, the team is losing due to his performance, and the staff remains high on Jones.
Shurmur already watched one 5-11 season go down the drain in no small part due to his veteran QB’s shortcomings. He can’t concede another playoff elimination before making the move.
I can’t say how many Manning losses, turnovers or checkdowns for negative yardage it will take for Shurmur to call down to his bullpen. I’m just saying that after Week 1, if Manning is playing poorly and the team is losing because of it, to me there are no guarantees.
And certainly if Manning is a major drag on the offense and the team’s record reflects it, I expect Giants-Jets in Week 10 to feature Daniel Jones, not Manning, starting against Sam Darnold.
Management obviously remains naive enough to believe that Manning, 38, suddenly might turn it all around given one more chance.
This is the same ownership structure responsible for the Great Benching of 2017 and the ongoing Eli Manning Apology Tour. So there is plenty of precedent to support the argument they would choose loyalty to Manning above all else again.
In my opinion, however, Shurmur is not going to stand by idly and watch the ship go down in 2019 before making the change to Jones. Plus, from what I can understand, the head coach has the power to make that call.
Nothing significant happens without the approval of co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch, obviously. (See Mara’s direction of the Manning ‘benching’ in Oakland and his subsequent about-face as Exhibit A).
But understand something about the Manning-Jones dynamic: Mara and Tisch already approved Shurmur’s eventual decision to sit Manning by backing GM Dave Gettleman’s decision to draft Jones.
This franchise refused last year to draft its future franchise QB and accelerate the official clock on the end of Manning’s career. This spring, though, they took Jones No. 6 overall.
Regardless of what I or anyone thinks of the pick, the bottom line is the Giants drafted a quarterback to take Manning’s job and to do it soon. At the latest, Jones will take over as the starter in Week 1 of 2020. At the earliest? Well, that depends on Manning.
If Manning plays well out of the gate this season, even if the Giants’ record is only so-so, he could end up starting until the team is officially eliminated from the playoffs. He would deserve to play deep into the season in that case, if they were in contention or within reach.
Imagine, though, if the Giants score three points in a Week 1 loss in Dallas and Manning looks overmatched. (This shouldn’t be difficult to imagine: the Giants lost 19-3 at AT&T Stadium two years ago and scored only three points in the first 58 minutes of last year’s 20-13 loss, too).
Or imagine Manning stays in, continues to struggle, and the Giants have a 1-3 record due to a bad offense heading into a Week 5 home game against Minnesota.
It’s impossible to define the exact week that would mark Shurmur’s potential breaking point. There would seem to be a good chance, for many reasons, that Manning makes it to Week 6 for what could be his final head-to-head with Tom Brady on FOX’s Thursday Night Football.
Week 7, though, would bring rookie QB Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals to MetLife Stadium. Then the Giants would be at the Lions, hosting the Cowboys, and facing the Jets on their shared field before a Week 11 bye.
It could easily be bye-bye to Eli before then. For while Shurmur isn’t giving Jones Manning’s Week 1 job, I don’t believe the coach is going to wait around if his quarterback is holding this team back, either.