The clock is winding down on Eli Manning's career, though no one knows how quickly. It's probably safe to assume that Manning doesn't have more than three seasons left as the starting quarterback of the New York Giants. Maybe.
But even if that's true, that still doesn't mean the Giants have to start looking for his replacement. At least not right now.
Sure, it would be nice if the Giants had an Aaron Rodgers sitting on their bench, the way the Green Bay Packers did when Brett Favre "retired" after the 2007 season, but the reality is that's probably not going to happen. The truth is that the bridge from one franchise quarterback to the next is rarely seamless and almost never easy. And drafting a replacement and letting him sit and learn for 2-3 years isn't the perfect solution as some think.
That doesn't mean the Giants shouldn't be thinking about what's next. They have been and they will be, according to GM Jerry Reese.
"We always think about every position," Reese said on Monday. "But Eli is 36, and we have started to think about who is the next quarterback, and who is in line, so we will look into that as we move into the offseason."
There is a huge difference between thinking about it and doing something about, though. Manning is signed through the 2019 season, when he'll turn 39 days after the regular season ends. That's probably it for him, though not definitely. Regardless, that's still three more seasons. And though this wasn't Manning's finest season, he still completed 63 percent of his passes and threw for 4,027 yards with 26 touchdowns and 16 interceptions despite playing behind a porous offensive line with drop-happy receivers and barely viable tight ends.
Maybe that's not an "elite" level anymore, but it's hardly a sign of the beginning of some age-related decline.
"I don't think (36) is ancient for a quarterback," Reese said. "I think he is probably on the back nine, but I don't think that is ancient for a quarterback, and he is taking care of himself really well, and I thought he finished the season strong."
Manning has started 211 consecutive games, including playoffs. Sure, his injury luck could run out eventually, but that isn't necessarily related to age. Tom Brady is still going strong at 39. Drew Brees is about to turn 38 and doesn't seem to be slowing down. Peyton Manning played until he was 39, reaching two Super Bowls (and winning one) even after multiple neck surgeries. Favre even lasted until he was 41.
So why should the Giants rush out now and grab the quarterback of the next generation? At this point, his contract could expire before he even takes a snap in a game.
Still, the Giants should be on the lookout for opportunities; finding the right franchise quarterback is all about opportunity and need. The Packers weren't looking for Favre's replacement in 2005 until Rodgers stunningly fell from a potential No. 1 overall pick to 24th in the draft. Even the Giants weren't looking to move on from Kerry Collins until Collins' injury in 2003 led them go 4-12 that season and GM Ernie Accorsi found himself with the No. 4 pick in a quarterback-rich draft that included Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger.
The Giants will be picking 23rd in a draft that, at the moment, doesn't appear loaded with franchise quarterbacks. Could they draft one in the third or fourth round and hope he becomes a Russell Wilson or Dak Prescott? Sure. Having a developmental quarterback on the roster is always a good idea.
But they don't have to really decide on who's next until there's a need. If Manning retires after the 2019 season (or earlier) they can survey the landscape then, see who they can get in the draft or who might be available in free agency or a trade. Things change year-to-year. Who knows who'll even be their coach then? Who knows what impressive young quarterback will emerge?
It might take some time. Not everyone is as fortunate as the Packers to have a Rodgers slip to them in the draft, or the Indianapolis Colts, who self-destructed enough to land Andrew Luck with the No.1 overall pick in 2-12 just as Peyton's neck problems put his future in doubt.
And still, those situations were messy. The Colts had to cut Peyton, who clearly wasn't done. The Packers had to nudge Favre in to the first of his retirements, which made for a very ugly divorce. Even the Giants' last two splits from franchise quarterbacks were ugly. They cut Phil Simms after the 1993 season, and he nearly ended up playing another year for the Cleveland Browns. Collins was furious when the Giants drafted Manning in 2004 and demanded he be released the next week
Why force that kind of drama by positioning Manning's obvious replacement over his shoulder, or beginning to nudge him towards the end?
At this point, there is simply no need to rush the process. There's no need to use a high draft pick on a future quarterback, or to trade away picks to move up for one when those picks could be used to help the Giants take advantage of Manning's last few years. The priority at this point should be to make the end of Manning's career successful, to give him everything he needs to take the franchise on one last Super Bowl run.
No matter how hard teams look, championship-caliber franchise quarterbacks don't come around often and are definitely hard to find. So there's no reason to rush things. There's no reason to plan for the future when the present is more important.
Because the end of the Manning era may be near, but it's not that near. Not yet.