PHOENIX -- Giants co-owner John Mara loves Eli Manning and everything he's done for the franchise. But the idea that he's keeping the 38-year-old quarterback around out of "sentimentality"?
Well, that really riles Mara up.
Mara got angry and emotional when reporters at the NFL owners meetings on Sunday night raised that question. He said it was "absolutely nonsense" to suggest he'd ever let personal feelings get in the way of keeping or dumping any player. And he seemed genuinely stunned that he's read so many stories suggesting that's why Manning is still on the team.
"I've read that and I have to tell you that really gets under my skin," Mara said at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel. "Because that is absolutely nonsense. Do I feel a certain amount of sentimentality towards Eli? Of course I do. Would I ever let that get in the way of making a football decision? Absolutely not. And I can not believe that some of you write that.
"I would never tell a coach or a general manager we've got to keep this guy because we love him and because he's done so much for the franchise," Mara continued, his voice beginning to rise. "Make a football decision based on whether you think he can play or not. And if you think he can and you have a conviction and the coach has a conviction, fine. I'm never going to interfere with that based on my sentiment towards a player."
Both Giants GM Dave Gettleman and coach Pat Shurmur have both made it clear they believe the Giants can still win with Manning at quarterback, despite the signs that he may be declining and the fact the Giants haven't won much over the last few years. They saw enough in the second half of last season to suggest that Manning's ability is still there, if the team around him is better.
And on that, Mara clearly agreed.
"Yes I do (think the Giants can win with Manning) if we surround him with the right people," Mara said. "I think we started to do that on the offensive line. We obviously need a number of additional pieces to do that. We have 12 picks in this draft thankfully, so hopefully we'll be able to do that. But hopefully yes, the answer your question is I do believe we can win with him if we continue to surround him with the right people."
Of course, trying to win with a 38-year-old quarterback doesn't seem to mesh with many of the other Giants moves, such as trading players like Odell Beckham Jr., Damon Harrison, Eli Apple and Olivier Vernon, and not giving the franchise tag to Landon Collins. Those moves make it look like the Giants are rebuilding, trying to accumulate salary cap space and draft picks.
But how can they be rebuilding around a 38-year-old quarterback? It's a good question, but Mara doesn't see why keeping Manning can't mesh with the rebuilding plan, too.
"I don't see why it doesn't line up," he said. "We're trying to improve the team. So you have Odell who is an exceptional talent and what are we getting in return for him? A player who will start for us immediately, a first-round pick who will help us, a third-round pick who will help us. That's three players if we make the right decisions. We think we'll be better off in the long run. It doesn't matter whether Eli's going to be around or not. Is the team going to be better in the long run with these players?
"You're always trying to build your team and make it better, whether Eli is a part of that or not, we're still trying to do the same thing."