As the mock drafts start to come out, and the way-too-early guessing game begins, the Giants are widely believed to have two choices for the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft. Either they draft a quarterback or they draft Penn State running back Saquon Barkley.
If only it were as simple as that.
That choice -- if that even is still the choice they have to make when the draft begins more than two months from now -- will still have more to do with their current quarterback situation than anything else. Yes, it will matter how they evaluate the top of the quarterback class. And yes, it will matter whether they think that Barkley is the best player in the draft.
But the Giants aren't fools. They know they have a 37-year-old quarterback in Eli Manning who some feel has begun to show signs of a decline. They also know they are in what they hope is a rare position at the top of a draft where they can possibly grab the next Manning -- a franchise quarterback that can set them up for the next decade, maybe more.
Barkley might be a stud. Maybe he is the next Ezekiel Elliott or Todd Gurley. Maybe he can be a superstar if new Giants GM Dave Gettleman really can fix the offensive line. But the Giants know from experience and from decades of examples around the NFL that it's the quarterback position that matters the most. Teams without all-pro running backs can be Super Bowl contenders. Teams without franchise quarterbacks rarely are.
Given Manning's age, his possible decline, and the fact that he has only two more years on his contract, the Giants know they need to find his successor now. They knew it last year, which is why they used a third-round pick on potential heir-apparent Davis Webb. That need for a new franchise quarterback will loom over everything they do in the run up to the draft on April 26.
That's why there are only a few scenarios for them where taking Barkley -- or anyone that doesn't play quarterback -- makes any sense at all...
If they believe Davis Webb is their future starter
The old regime of GM Jerry Reese and coach Ben McAdoo seemed to believe that. McAdoo in particular was high on Webb's future, according to a team source, and was maybe even eager to let the Webb Era begin. Some others aren't as sold. What matters most is what Gettleman and new coach Pat Shurmur think, and so far they've said publicly they don't know enough about Webb.
Given that there's little time for them to learn more, since they won't see him on the field again before the draft, this would seem like a leap of faith. But if they believe in Webb, they can use the second pick on another position of need.
If they believe Manning really does have "years" left as a starter
That's what Shurmur said in his introductory press conference. Was he being nice, overly optimistic, or does he really see Manning being a productive starter until he's much closer to 40? Even if he does, it's a risky bet, because when age-related decline happens in sports, it happens fast.
The Giants could end up stuck with a broken-down quarterback and no idea how to replace him. That would put them in what Gettleman has called "Quarterback Hell." But if they think Manning is still somehow near his prime and will be for three years, maybe more, then adding Barkley to his arsenal with a healthy Odell Beckham, Jr. and a rebuilt line could give them a shot at one last Super Bowl run.
If they don't think there's really a franchise quarterback in this draft
Early indications are that they do like this quarterback class. And honestly, with four quarterbacks regularly projected near the top -- Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Baker Mayfield -- it's hard to imagine they wouldn't think one of them is worth of the second overall pick.
Usually the quarterbacks that go at the top of the draft are special, and remember that the Giants will assume it'll be years before they're drafting this high again. But if they really think the available quarterbacks are overrated then they won't be afraid to pass. Same goes if they only like one and Cleveland takes him with the first overall pick.
You'll notice that one scenario wasn't included, even though it's one that will be spoken about many times in the next few months. What if the Giants simply think Barkley is the best player in the draft?
First of all, "best player available" is mostly a myth. Teams always draft -- and rank their draft boards -- with need in mind. And the rules of quarterbacks are just different because there aren't enough franchise quarterbacks to go around. Teams that don't have one are often on the outside of contention looking in, and in a constant search for the quarterback of their dreams. Again, in Gettleman's words, they're in "Quarterback Hell."
Maybe -- maybe -- it would be different if Barkley is rated far above the top-rated quarterback. Maybe then they'd deem him just too good to pass up. But the top prospects are rarely separated by a wide gulf. And even if Barkley is, the Giants could still end up in a version of "Quarterback Hell" if they took him, and they could be right back in this spot in a couple of years, searching for Manning's replacement, only with likely a much lower draft pick.
The bottom line is no matter how good the Giants think Barkley is, they know they can't take him -- or anyone else -- unless they have their future at quarterback figured out first.