Giant Furor Over Manning Benching Ignores the Football Machine

New York Giants fans reacting emotionally to the benching of Eli Manning is understandable. He was the quarterback of their two most recent Super Bowl winners. He took snaps from center in every game, 210 in a row, since November 2004. Yes, he makes those Eli faces, but that’s their guy and their faces. Tuesday’s Eli face had all in near tears.

It’s not stunning longtime New York radio icon Mike Francesa went wild when news broke of Manning’s benching. Not just sitting him but for former Jet disaster Geno Smith. Rage on, Mike, rage on.

As for the rest of you, calm down. The Giants enter Week 13 with a 2-9 record. In other words, as the Soup Nazi might say, no playoffs for you! The situation screams rebuild especially if management removes head coach Ben McAdoo, which is a reasonable assumption based on the season-long turmoil for Big Blue.

At that point, why saddle a new coach with the hassle of having to potentially bench a 37-year-old Manning and therefore endure exactly what’s going on now? Jimmy Johnson dealt with this issue when he inherited an aging Dan Marino, which is perhaps one of the reasons the Super Bowl-winning coach never had the same success in Miami as he did with the Cowboys.

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Even if Manning stays, the Giants must figure out a long-term plan at quarterback. They’re headed for a Top 5 pick, which could mean drafting one of the elite passing prospects like UCLA’s Josh Rosen or USC’s Sam Darnold.

Since 2000, the Giants have had only six losing seasons -- three in the past four years with Manning at quarterback. The last time the Giants had an opportunity to land an elite quarterback, 2004, they took Manning after a rare bad season. The opportunity for the next guy is upon them.

But wait, didn’t New York spend a third-round pick on Davis Webb in 2017? Shouldn’t they see what they have in the 6-foot-5 passer who threw 37 touchdowns for Cal during his final college season? No doubt folks would question the decision-makers if they never gave Webb a chance before using another high selection for a quarterback in back-to-back years. It sounds like Webb’s turn is coming.

The immediate plan has the Giants going with Geno Smith, who has become one of the major NFL punchlines in recent years for the way his career flamed out with New Jersey’s other team. Granted what most remember Smith for at this point is getting punched in the face by a teammate, leading to a broken jaw and perhaps broken dreams.

Then again, Smith, a former second-round pick, has some game. How much, who knows, but I like to think human beings can improve as they get older. Weird concept, I know.

For example, journeyman Case Keenum went from pffft to likely getting paid handsomely by someone this offseason by helping the Vikings cruise in the NFC North. It’s cool if some don’t view him as a 2018 starting passer, but he’s improved enough that someone probably will. Maybe the Giants want to see if Smith improved enough to consider him a starter or at least placeholder for 2018.

I also recall outrage in 2015 when another NFC East team made a controversial quarterback change, inserting a player who had a penchant for throwing interceptions. Said quarterback was “running out of rope” when he didn’t immediately stop throwing picks. Last I checked, things have worked out for Kirk Cousins.

No, this isn’t me saying Smith follows the Cousins trajectory or ever becomes a viable starter. Of course, nobody would have said Keenum had value even two months ago. Look at this list of terrible quarterbacks since 2013. Smith and Keenum are on it. So is Eli Manning.

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When Joe Theismann’s career ended with a crack on that Lawrence Taylor sack, everyone groaned and did so with all 328 replays. After the shock wore off some and the focus returned to football, you know what many in Redskins land honestly thought? Well, Theismann wasn’t playing well at that point and there was no way Joe Gibbs would bench him so at least now we get to see if the young Jay Schroder can play.

Cruel, absolutely, but in the context of the NFL machine, how did that work out for the Redskins? They saw Schroeder had game. So did the Oakland Raiders, who later traded Pro Bowl tackle Jim Lachey to Washington for Schroeder. The Hogs rolled on and so did the Redskins. Without Theismann’s exit, who knows when or if Schroeder ever gets a look. Who knows what the Giants have in Webb or Smith.

This move isn’t about scapegoating Eli Manning, who admitted he was told he could keep starting if he wanted though the others would get some work. He didn’t, which is fine. Everyone knows the Giants have been crushed by injuries. This decision also *probably* wasn’t made by McAdoo, who has lived on the hot seat for weeks. The fairy tale has Manning walking off into the sunset on his terms. That’s not always how things work out. Just ask Joe Theismann. Sometimes, at least in terms of the football machine, that’s not the worst-case scenario.

Ben Standig talks Wizards daily on the Locked on Wizards podcast, covers the Redskins for and tweets way too much via @benstandig.

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