Benching Eli Manning

The NFL has provided sports fans with more than a few examples of boneheaded leadership.  Just to give a couple of examples:

  • Leonard Tose had to sell the Philadelphia Eagles to pay off his gambling chits to casinos in Atlantic City.
  • Al Davis hung on as the capo di tutti capi with the Raiders for a decade after he lost more than a little bit off his fastball.
  • The “Matt Millen Era” in Detroit.
  • Everyone in a position of authority with the “Cleveland Browns 2.0”.
  • Daniel M. Snyder – – need I say more?

That is hardly a complete list; I am sure that a historian could provide lots more examples of boneheadedness in the NFL for those who crave that sort of thing; I merely want to establish the existence of the phenomenon because it is time to add to the list.

The New York Football Giants [ / Howard Cosell] have apparently mistaken a rabbit hole for a NYC subway entrance.  They issued a press release yesterday announcing that in the midst of a disastrous – and highly disappointing – season, they are going to bench Eli Manning in favor of Geno Smith.  Let that sink in for just a moment…

The Giants’ record stands at 2-9; the Giants have been outscored by 95 points this season; they have not scored more than 24 points in any game this year; they have been held to 10 points or less 4 times this year.  Last year, the Giants were 11-5 and made the playoffs.  In no way would I suggest that there is anything in this season’s performance that merits praise.  The 2017 version of the NY Giants stinks!

There were reports a few weeks ago that “people in ownership” had made it known to “the football people” that “the football people” should pay attention to the anticipated mother lode of college QBs slated to be in the NFL Draft in 2018.  There is nothing wrong with that; Eli Manning is about to turn 37 years old; it makes sense to plan for the future.  Indeed, if the Giants had a young QB on the roster who had been a highly touted pick, it might make sense to bench Eli Manning now to see what “the kid” can do.  But that is not the case…

There are two QBs on the depth chart who were behind Manning until yesterday.  They are Geno Smith and Davis Webb.  Let me begin with Davis Webb here:

  • He played 4 years of college football.  Three of them were at Texas Tech and the fourth was at Cal.  He had impressive numbers at both schools and it should be noted that both of those schools play “pass-happy football” making impressive numbers easier than normal to come by.  Overall, he played in 35 college games where he threw 83 TDs and 34 INTs.
  • He is about to turn 23 years old.  He was taken in the 3rd round of the 2017 NFL Draft about 6 months ago.

If the Giants had announced that they were benching Eli Manning and replacing him with Davis Webb, I would be surprised – maybe even shocked – but I would understand that there might be a strategic purpose to that move.  If Webb had been announced as the starter for this week’s game, I could interpret that to mean that Webb’s practices had been sufficiently enticing to make the “big thinkers” in the organization want to see if they already had their QB-of-the-future on the roster.  After all, no one on the planet has any empirical evidence related to Davis Webb as an NFL player; he has never seen the field on a Sunday in his career; he may be the next Aaron Rodgers sitting on the sidelines behind a franchise QB on the field – – or he may be the next Kevin Kolb sitting on the sidelines behind a franchise QB on the field.  I don’t know and the Giants’ “big thinkers” don’t know either.

What the Giants’ move tells me, however, is that the Giants’ coaching staff does not think that Davis Webb is better than Geno Smith at this point.  And that – ladies and gentlemen – is where I must get off the bus.  In the statements surrounding this decision, here is what head coach, Ben McAdoo had to say:

“I have a lot of confidence in Eli as a player, as a quarterback, but at this point it is my responsibility for the organization to make sure we take a look at Geno and at some point take a look at Davis [Webb] and give them the opportunity to show what they can do heading into next year.”

Let me deconstruct that sentence for you:

  1. You damned well better have confidence in Eli as a player and as a QB, coach.  He has won the Super Bowl twice – over the Pats both times I might add – and was the MVP in both of those Super Bowl games.  He has been to the Pro Bowl 4 times and in the 12 consecutive seasons where he has started every game for the Giants, they have had only 3 losing seasons.  Eli Manning is not the greatest QB of all time – and maybe not even the best Giants’ QB of all time – but he is an excellent player and QB.
  2. Your “responsibility to the organization” is to win football games until such time as your bosses tell you not to worry about that so much because they will not mind having a good draft pick next year.  Is that what just happened?
  3. You say you need to “take a look at Geno”.  Excuse me, but you and I and a jillion NFL fans have already looked at Geno and just about everyone else is pretty sure that Geno Smith is a career backup QB.  Period – – and exclamation point.  What Geno Smith can do next year is what he did last year; he can go looking for a job in the NFL with a team that has a solid starting QB where he is the guy on the sidelines that everyone hopes is never needed on the field in a real game.
  4. You say at some point you also need to take a look at Davis Webb.  I agree that would be a reasonable thing to do – – if and only if your assessment now is that Davis Webb is better than Geno Smith in terms of winning NFL games – – unless that is not the objective anymore.

I want to create the following scenario.  Imagine that the Giants’ record is 2-9 (as it is this morning) but in the first game of the season, Eli Manning suffered a season-ending injury; the Giants have gone with Geno Smith at QB since Manning left that game on a stretcher.  What would be the likely narrative in the football punditry today?

  • It has been a horribly disappointing season for the Giants, but what can you expect?  They lost their star QB in Game 1 and had to go with Geno Smith for the entire season.  Davis Webb is still too green to throw out there because he played in a spread offense in college and is still learning the pro game.  The Giants will be all right next year once Manning is healthy and back under center.

That sounds about right to me…

So, forget the fact that the two best WRs on the team have been lost to injury for almost all the season and that the third best WR has missed games due to injury.  Forget that the targets for Eli Manning’s passes are the likes of Tavarres King, Roger Lewis and Travis Rudolph.  Forget that the Giants’ OL looks like dancing bears on ice skates in pass blocking situations.  Forget that players on the defensive unit have played such that people label them “quitters”.  None of that matters – – and here is why none of that matters.

  • The fundamental problem with the 2017 NY Football Giants is not the QB and it is not the injuries to the WRs.  The fundamental problem is that the roster is poorly constructed.
  • There was no depth at WR in the event of injury.
  • The OL was sub-standard last year and nothing was done to improve it for this year.
  • The RB situation is mediocre at best – – even if any Giants’ RB had a functional OL in front of him to block and open holes.
  • The Giants’ star rookie TE, catches only 52% of the balls thrown his way.

All denunciation for the problems listed above must be directed at the Giants’ Front Office.  None of that is a “QB problem”.

On the other side of the ball, some of the defensive players have earned the label of “quitter”.  That is not a term thrown around lightly in NFL circles or in NFL reporting; but it has appeared this year relative to the Giants.  The blame for that – ladies and gentlemen – belongs on the coaching staff for deficiencies in motivational skills and on the individual players who have allegedly done the “quitting”.  None of that is a “QB problem.”

The “big thinkers” for the NY Giants have crossed the Rubicon here.  This decision can only mean that Eli Manning will not be the Giants’ QB in 2018.  It has been reported that Manning has a no-trade clause in his contract; it has also been reported that the Giants will owe him a $5M roster bonus in mid-March 2018.  I have to think that the Giants will arrange not to pay that money and the way for that to happen is for Eli Manning to be off their roster by mid-March.  That puts the coaching staff – whether or not it includes Ben McAdoo and company – and the front office – whether or not that includes Jerry Reese and company – and the Giants’ ownership mavens – the Maras and the Tischs – squarely in the spotlight.

It is easy to see what happens to NFL teams without a franchise QB.

  • The Browns have not had one since returning to the NFL and they are a laughingstock.
  • The Jets have not had one since Joe Namath.  Nonetheless even in their state of desperation, they gave up on Geno Smith.
  • Check out the 2017 version of the Miami Dolphins.
  • The Broncos have an excellent defense – that no one thinks has “quit” this year – but lack of QB play gives the Broncos a 3-8 record with one of those losses being to the Giants.
  • Compare the Houston Texans with Tom Savage to the Houston Texans with Deshaun Watson.

The Giants have just run off a franchise QB – an aging one to be sure but still a franchise QB.  If the “big thinkers” there do not find a replacement for Eli Manning – or someone who can become a replacement for Eli Manning in a year or two, the Giants are going to experience life down that rabbit hole they mistook for a subway entrance.  They can pick their QBs from the attendees at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and the coaches/execs can busy themselves the way the White Rabbit did by rushing off hither and yon being late for a very important date.

In the end, they need a replacement for Eli Manning – and it will be more difficult to find one in his absence than it would be with him playing QB.  It takes time for most young QBs to learn to play the position at the NFL level; with a QB mentor on the team, a young QB can be eased into the position to play when he is ready.  If Geno Smith is the starter going forward, the pressure to win games and keep the fans from open revolt will be felt right down to the youngster(s) in the QB room.

All I can say is, whoever made the decision to bench Eli Manning starting right now had better be the smartest football guy on the planet – or the luckiest – because that decision is a career defining one.  Right now, this looks to me as if the caboose is pulling the engine.

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



2 thoughts on “Benching Eli Manning”

  1. Bob Howsam was the original owner of the Denver Broncos. From 1960 – 1972, the Bronco record was 53-123-6 (.301).

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