Pat Shurmur told the Giants that he believes he can win with Eli Manning as his quarterback, which is exactly what his soon-to-be new bosses wanted to hear. They don't believe Manning is finished. They also don't know who'll replace him when he is.
So the only thing that makes sense -- the only thing that ever made sense -- is for Manning to return as the Giants' starting quarterback in 2018. And if GM Dave Gettleman puts the right team around him -- and the right offensive line in front of him -- there's absolutely no reason to think that the 37-year-old Manning can't win.
That, of course, is exactly what the Giants plan to do, according to multiple sources familiar with the plan. The Giants will build around Manning in the short-term, while grooming his successor for the long-term. And whether that successor is Davis Webb, their third-round pick from a year ago, or a quarterback they take with the No. 2 pick in the draft, that's still to be determined.
Whoever it is, he's still at least a year -- and maybe more -- away.
That's because when the Giants look at Manning they see what many others around the league see -- a quarterback who still has a lot of talent and ability, even if he is showing some signs of decline. They also see that some of that decline may have been due to what has been an awful offensive line in front of him for most of the last five seasons. He also hasn't been helped by a game plan that wasn't creative, and a group of receivers plagued by drops.
Manning has been far from blameless in the collapse of the Giants' offense over the last two years. He still has a penchant for forcing throws -- as he has throughout most of his career -- and especially this past season he misfired far too often, putting the ball on the wrong side of his receiver's body or just out of their reach.
But a lot of that had to do with knowing the cast was crumbling around him, and especially knowing that every throw was going to be rushed. Despite a patchwork offensive line that wasn't good to begin with, no Odell Beckham, Jr., no Brandon Marshall, and a rarely healthy Sterling Shepard (when he was on the field at all), Manning still threw for 3,468 yards in 15 games, still completed 61.6 percent of his passes, and still threw for 19 touchdowns and only 13 interceptions.
No, it wasn't a great season. But the circumstances were daunting. And in the three previous seasons, his numbers were outstanding. When Gettleman took over the Giants, he raved about the Manning he saw when he watched the Giants' 34-29 loss to the Eagles in Week 15 -- the one who completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 434 yards and three touchdowns, with just one interception. He said that he was going to look at more film, but "if what I saw (against) Philadelphia was not a mirage -- and I don't believe it was -- then we'll just keep moving" with Manning as the Giants' starter.
That quarterback, the Giants have concluded, is still there. They don't believe it was a mirage at all.
And so their plan is to do the right thing and the smart thing. They know the window is closing on Manning, who at this point seems unlikely to be re-signed when his contract expires after the 2019 season. They know, with such a high pick in a quarterback-rich draft, that they may have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to grab another franchise quarterback, to ensure a smooth transition between quarterback eras that, for most teams, is usually a mess.
The way to do that is not the way Jerry Reese and Ben McAdoo tried to do it last season with their clumsy benching of Manning in early December so they could start a quarterback (Geno Smith) who had zero chance to be the Giants' future. And it's not to discard Manning when everyone sees he has a few years remaining, only to take a young, green quarterback and throw him in cold.
The gold standard for this is what the Green Bay Packers did 10 years ago, when they squeezed as much as they could out of Brett Favre as Aaron Rodgers watched him for three years before taking over the job. Or what the Chargers did when Philip Rivers sat for his first two years behind Drew Brees. Good quarterbacks are rare in this league. Easily one-third of NFL teams are either looking or at least wishing for an upgrade at quarterback right now.
When a team has one that can still play and win, it's a mistake to just toss him away. They should never do that until they're sure a replacement is ready -- really, really ready to step in and play.
Right now Shurmur and Gettleman know there is no ready replacement. They don't even know for certain who that replacement is. What they know is that at 37 years old, Manning isn't finished and there's no reason they can't make another playoff run before his window is closed for good.
So they're playing it right. They are beginning the inevitable transition. They're planning for a future with someone else. They understand that sometime in the next two years, maybe three, the Giants will need to have a different starting quarterback. In the meantime, they're hopeful -- maybe even confident -- that Manning can take them on one more thrilling ride between now and then.