New York Giants: How Much Longer Can Eli Manning Play?
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning has entered the twilight of his career, but knowing when he’ll be done is a must for the Giants this offseason.
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning isn’t ageless. Sure, he’s been under center for the Giants for over 12 calendar years, but Father Time will catch up with him sooner than later. It happened to his older brother, Peyton. It happened to Brett Favre, and it will eventually happen to Eli.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady seems to be the exception these days. Brady, who turned 39 years old last August, played some of the best football of his career after returning from a four-game “Deflategate” suspension last fall. Now he’s a five-time Super Bowl champion and four-time Super Bowl MVP.
Unlike Brady, Manning is not known for abiding by an insanely strict diet that includes avocado ice cream. You won’t find a lot if you search “Eli Manning diet” on the ol’ Google machine. In fact, Manning was recently the subject of a supposed “body shaming” meme as Yahoo’s Hayley FitzPatrick recently explained, but that’s a different story for a different time.
Manning may not be obsessed with his body image, but nobody can deny he’s been one of the more reliable offensive players of his generation. Unlike Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and so many other top-tier quarterbacks in the league, Manning hasn’t missed a start since taking over for Kurt Warner in November 2004, and the 36-year-old has remained relatively healthy for the bulk of his career.
The biggest physical setback of Manning’s career, to date, occurred in the fall of 2009 when he was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis per ESPN.com. Manning chose to play through the pain rather than rest and recover, and he finished the season with what were, at the time, career highs in touchdown passes (27), completion percentage (62.3) and rating (93.1) according to Pro-Football-Reference.com.
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Manning is hardly perfect, as passionate Giants fans know all too well, particularly as it pertains to giving the ball to opposing teams. He tossed a total of 71 interceptions over the past four regular seasons, good for an average of over one pick per start. His matched 26 touchdowns with 16 interceptions during the 2016 campaign, leading some to speculate if the time has come for the Giants to target a quarterback in the first round of the upcoming draft.
Pump the breaks before you go tossing dirt onto Manning’s New York career. He completed 63 percent of his pass attempts this season, not bad considering he was the victim of 22 recorded drops per SportingCharts.com (drops are not an officially recognized NFL stat). It’s also worth noting Manning played behind what Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus referred to as possibly “the worst pair of tackles in the game this season.” Second-year pro left tackle Ereck Flowers regressed so much it seems inevitable he will be moved to the right side of the line after the Giants land his replacement before September arrives.
In the past, it has appeared as if Manning lost steam and ran out of gas during the second halves of seasons. The opposite appeared true this time around, as the two-time Super Bowl MVP seemed to be finding his form minus a lousy Thursday Night Football showing against the Philadelphia Eagles on Dec. 22. Some of the best passes Manning threw all season occurred in New York’s Week 17 win over the Washington Redskins and during the first half of the team’s playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers.
According to Spotrac, Manning still carries a significant cap hit through the end of the 2018 season. The Giants theoretically could save money moving on from Manning next offseason, but it’s more realistic to assume he’ll remain New York’s starter for at least the next two years unless he suffers an unforeseen injury or decides he’s had enough and rides off into the sunset.
Unlike Peyton, Eli Manning has no lingering neck injury impacting how he’ll throw the football in his late 30s. He never suffered a serious knee injury as Carson Palmer did on two separate occasions. The younger Manning brother doesn’t have a long history of dealing with concussions. He should be ready to go once summer training camp sessions begin.
General manager Jerry Reese and head coach Ben McAdoo must consider all of this over the next several months before the opening night of the draft. On paper, the Giants are only a handful of pieces away from contending for a conference championship and an opportunity to play in a Super Bowl. Spending a first-round pick on a quarterback who will sit for at least one entire season could cost the Giants more than a couple of wins. Doing so could close Manning’s championship window for good.
The upcoming draft will be the franchise’s most important during Manning’s tenure with the club for this very reason. New York can win a Super Bowl if the team’s front office has a second-straight winning offseason. Otherwise, Manning may never again play on the final Sunday of a season.