EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Eli Manning reported for his 16th Giants training camp on Wednesday, sounding a little more reflective than he ever has before. He understands his situation, that he's 38 and in the final year of his contract, with a first-round rookie quarterback suddenly on his heels.
So yes, he knows this could be his last Giants training camp.
But don't be surprised if he's still here next year, too.
While everyone else has assumed the 2019 season will be Eli Manning's last stand, multiple sources in the Giants organization have steadfastly refused to rule out his return in 2020. The odds may be against it. It would require a contract extension. And privately, team officials acknowledge they'd need to see Manning have a stellar -- and a playoff -- season to even consider one more year.
But the plan to hand rookie Daniel Jones the ball by the start of next season is not written in stone, even though Giants coach Pat Shurmur raved about him on Wednesday. Maybe the big switch will happen this season. Maybe it'll happen next season. But Manning has told friends that he'd love to play at least another year beyond this one, preferably with the Giants.
And the truth is, whether that happens might be entirely up to him, and how his 2019 season goes.
Asked about that possibility on Wednesday, the day the Giants' full team reported to training camp, a team source said it was "too early" for anyone to have that conversation, but again refused to just say no. Even on the record they haven't. After Giants GM Dave Gettleman talked up the "Kansas City model" where a rookie quarterback sits for one year and then takes over the next like Patrick Mahomes did with the Chiefs, he amended that on Draft Day to say, "Maybe we'll be the Green Bay model where (Aaron) Rodgers sat for three years."
Clearly they're not planning to have Jones sit until Manning turns 41. But the point is there is no countdown clock hanging over Manning's locker either.
"Let's see how he plays first," the source said.
Still, Manning obviously can sense the ticking of the clock on his career. In the past, it was always a given that he'd be back the next season. Now he understands that next year isn't guaranteed.
"You know you don't know how long you get to play this (game). You don't know what the future holds," Manning said. "I think when you're younger you assume you're going to keep playing. You just assume you'll be back playing and you don't think about it. Now there is that mindset where you don't know kind of the future of things. Which is fine. I think it makes you appreciate being here and want to take advantage of this opportunity."
It's been a while since he has seized an opportunity with the Giants, though. He's led the Giants to the playoffs just once in the last seven seasons. And though his statistics were strong last season -- 4,299 passing yards, a completion percentage of 66.0, 21 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions -- he knows most people consider him to be in decline.
And now there's Jones, whom the Giants drafted sixth overall back in April to be Manning's eventual successor. He clearly represents the greatest threat to Manning's record-long tenure as the Giants starting quarterback. For the first time in forever, really, he knows the Giants have a viable option behind him if he can't get the job done.
How viable? Shurmur has never hidden his excitement over Jones' potential. On Wednesday, he said the rookie quarterback has "exceeded expectations" and added "We really haven't seen anything that he can't do."
How quickly the Giants turn the page, though, is totally up to Manning. If he struggles, it could be during this season. But if Manning can have a revival season and the Giants can somehow become contenders again?
Then maybe the book on Manning's career with the Giants might not be closed as soon as everyone expects.