EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Eli Manning has never once even hinted about his plans for 2020, and those close to him have sworn they either don't know his plans, or that the Giants quarterback really hasn't made up his mind. Everyone, though, seemed to think his NFL career was likely over.
Now, of course, the Giants' long-time franchise quarterback is back for one last hurrah, thanks to the "moderate" high ankle sprain to rookie quarterback Daniel Jones that will likely force Manning to start again for the Giants in Philadelphia on Monday night.
Maybe Manning's career will still come to an end with the Giants' miserable season on Dec. 30. It's still hard to find a spot for him in 2020 when looking around the NFL. But what if he plays well on Monday night and the Giants win for the first time since Sept. 22? And what if he's forced to start a few more games and plays well in them, too?
It remains to be seen if that would be enough to convince Manning to try again next season, or if anything he does would be enough to convince another team to give him a shot at age 39. But it's hard not to look at this late-season surprise as a showcase for what Manning has left.
"I'm not worried about that," Manning said on Wednesday, when he spoke to the media for the first time in three months. "I'm trying to go out there and play hard, compete and try to get a win for the team."
That's a typical, stock, Eli Manning answer on his future, which isn't much different than the ones he gave on Sept. 17 -- the last day he spoke publicly, and the day he was benched. He is not giving an inch to anyone about his future plans, or whether he even wants to have a future in the NFL.
All that's known about Manning's future is that it won't be with the Giants. His contract is up and they have turned the page to Jones, a 22-year-old who appears to have a bright future ahead.
But is there any chance he could play someplace else?
"I just try to take it one game at a time," Manning said. "You never want to make decisions about your future while you're living in the present and don't know the circumstances of what could happen. You've just got to go out there and try to get a win for the Giants. I'll analyze everything else after the season."
The reality is there won't be much of a market for a 39-year old quarterback, especially if Manning wants to start. There has been a tidal wave of young quarterbacks entering the NFL in the last three years. And the few teams who don't know who their 2020 starter will be -- like the Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals -- should be well positioned to find a quarterback in the draft.
There are a few other teams with somewhat uncertain quarterback situations, like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Chicago Bears, and Tennessee Titans. But even if they did want to sign a veteran to see if they could make a playoff run, it's hard to imagine any team would be attracted to Manning. He didn't show much when he started the first two games of the season for the Giants, completing 62.9 percent of his passes for 556 yards with just two touchdown passes and two interceptions. He's also 8-25 as a starter over the last three years.
One good game probably wouldn't change any minds, but a four-game surge and a couple of wins? It probably wouldn't change minds around the NFL, where the general consensus seemed to be that Manning was done. But it might give Manning reason to think he's got enough left to sign somewhere as a backup and give it one last shot.
Only Manning knows for sure, and he wasn't saying.
"I just kind of try to take it one week at a time," he said. "You never know what can happen. Always got to be ready."
Ready for a finale or ready for a revival? Time will tell.