EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The Giants believe in Eli Manning and they've made that clear. But he's still 37 years old, has only two years left on his contract, and there's still no obvious replacement for him on the roster. They don't seem to have a long-term plan at quarterback.
Unless that plan includes the man who currently holds the job.
Maybe that sounds crazy, but in an era where quarterbacks have proven they can thrive deep into their 30s (and sometimes beyond), the idea of Manning playing quarterback for the Giants beyond his current contract isn't nearly as absurd as it seems. A team source recently told SNY that such talk is wildly premature since he's signed through next season. And the source is right. It is.
But what if Manning's performance on Sunday was the start of the revival season the Giants are expecting? What if he plays well during the 2019 season too, and the Giants still haven't found his successor?
He'll be 39 then. Saquon Barkley will be 23. Odell Beckham Jr. will be 27. Evan Engram will be 25. Those are some prime years the Giants might not want to waste developing a young quarterback.
Peyton Manning won a Super Bowl at 39. Tom Brady just played in a Super Bowl at 40. Drew Brees is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL at age 39.
Why does everyone assume Manning won't still be able to lead the Giants after he turns 39, too?
"It's not extremely taxing on your body," Manning said about playing quarterback in the NFL. "Besides your arm, practices aren't brutal. (In) games you can take a few hits, but you don't necessarily have to be fast or be explosive, which you could lose at an older age. Guys are taking care of their bodies better. Guys are taking care of their arms. If you can still keep a strong arm and keep your joints healthy where you can move around a little bit you can continue to play."
Maybe there are some things that Manning doesn't do as well as he did in his early 30s, but his performance on Sunday in Houston proved that his overall ability is still there. NFL scouts that have watched him haven't noticed a big drop in arm strength. He's relatively immobile, but he always was. The biggest knock on him is that he sometimes rushes throws, as if he's anticipating pressure whether it's there or not.
But again, his game against the Texans - 25-of-29, 297 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions - showed he can be pretty good when he gets even decent protection from his offensive line.
That game is what Shurmur envisioned when he took over as the Giants head coach, and said he believed Manning had "years" remaining in his career. He didn't say that just to make his bosses or quarterback happy. He said it because he saw the ability on film, and he knows good quarterbacks can have a long shelf life in this league.
"There's no substitute for experience, especially when you're performing guys like (Manning and Brees) are," Shurmur said. "I think in this game, at certain positions, as long as your legs and your arm stay good you have a chance to continue to play."
It helps, as Manning pointed out, that technology has advanced a lot during his 15 NFL seasons, especially when it comes to training, lifting and conditioning. Quarterbacks know a lot more about how to take care of their arms.
"You probably don't throw as much," he added. "Two-a-days, where you used to tire out your arm and wear it out, you don't have to go through those things anymore. (We're) probably just being smarter about everything."
That includes the NFL's efforts over the last decade or so to make sure their prized quarterbacks stay in the game. "(We're) taking care of the quarterback and the hits," Manning said. "Back in the '70s a late hit on the quarterback probably wasn't called that often."
And don't forget this: Manning still hasn't suffered a major injury. That means that not only is his body still relatively undamaged, but he's also never had to endure a lengthy rehab. Every offseason he's been able to dedicate himself to getting ready for the next year, working on his craft, not resting, healing and trying to get healthy again.
Manning's father, Archie, was a shell of his younger self late in his career because of the pounding his body had taken in the '70s and early '80s. His brother, Peyton, showed some obvious decline in his final season even though he helped the Broncos to a Super Bowl title. But remember he missed an entire season four years earlier while undergoing multiple surgeries on his neck. That took a long-term toll.
By comparison, Eli Manning is a young 37. Anyone who didn't know his age couldn't have watched him on Sunday and thought he was anywhere close to being done.
And maybe he's not. Maybe he'll play himself into another (short) contract extension and another shot at making a run with Barkley and Beckham at his side. Maybe in the next two years the Giants will draft his successor, but Manning will stick around a little longer to show the kid what to do.
Maybe everyone just has to reset his or her expectation that Manning only has two years remaining as the Giants quarterback. Because he's healthy, he's smart, he's talented, and he's still going strong. And even he hasn't put much thought into when his career will end just yet.
"I don't think I ever had an expectation of how long it would be in the first place," Manning said. "You kind of play until you're not."