EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Eli Manning's recent run of success hasn't changed the Giants' plan to get a glimpse of their future. They still intend to play rookie quarterback Kyle Lauletta at some point this season, according to a source.
Just not yet. Not while their long-shot playoff dream is still alive.
The slim possibility of winning the wide-open NFC East definitely has the potential of complicating their plans, but the Giants front office apparently hasn't lost sight of the big picture. They know they need to see Lauletta, their fourth-round pick out of Richmond, on the field before they head into this crucial offseason, according to the source with knowledge of their plans. Ideally they'd even like to get journeyman backup Alex Tanney in for at least a few series too, so they can have a better evaluation of both before they begin their search for Manning's heir.
But the issue they have is: When? And how? Before they won their last two games and closed the gap slightly in the division, the assumption was they'd be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention shortly after Thanksgiving. That would've given them a chance to get Tanney into the second half of a game, and perhaps give Lauletta a December start.
But their recent offensive revival around the 37-year-old Manning, coupled with the carnage in the rest of the division, has changed their outlook on that timing - at least for the moment. The Giants are three games out of first place with six games remaining, but the first-place Redskins have lost their starting quarterback for the season and the Philadelphia Eagles - whom the Giants play Sunday - are a mess.
If the Giants win on Sunday in Philadelphia they could be just two games out of first with five games to go, including games against the Cowboys and Redskins. Winning the division - and the idea that the Giants could rebound from a 1-7 start to win their final eight games - may still be a longshot, but at least then they'd have chance to remain mathematically in the race deep into December.
And if they are, the source said, there's no way the front office will order Giants coach Pat Shurmur to pull Manning off the field.
Exactly how they'd get Lauletta or Tanney into a game then is unclear. One possibility they've discussed is getting them into the second half of games when one team has a comfortable lead. But even that is complicated because, as the source said "Just look at what the defense did on Sunday".
The Giants took a 24-7 lead over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers midway through the third quarter on Sunday and seemed to be in control and in theoretical position to get another quarterback some action. But over the next 19 ½ minutes, the Bucs - behind backup quarterback Jameis Winston - scored touchdowns on four straight drives. The Giants barely hung on for a 38-35 win.
So the specifics will have to be worked out. And the source acknowledged that if the Giants somehow remain in the race all the way to Week 17, getting Lauletta and Tanney into a game may turn out to be impossible. But for now, the source said, the Giants are intent on not repeating their mistakes of a year ago when they never got a look at then-rookie quarterback Davis Webb before they went into the offseason.
This time, the Giants want to know what they have in Lauletta. Shurmur in particular seems to like his ability and potential. But with Manning set to turn 38 in January and only signed through the 2019 season they need to see Lauletta in action to quickly get a better read on whether he really can be Manning's heir.
The Giants could have a high pick in the 2019 draft and have already begun scouting quarterback prospects, like Oregon's Justin Herbert. There's also at least one potential young franchise quarterback set to hit free agency in Teddy Bridgewater, whom Shurmur coached in Minnesota. It's too early to know if the Giants will consider them better options than Lauletta.
But there's really only one way for the Giants to find out. They have to see him in action. And they intend to - as soon as their playoff hopes officially end.