EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Maybe the Giants are throwing away what's left of an already lost season just to get a glimpse of what might be their future.
But John Mara insisted that they're not throwing anything away on purpose.
That was one of his strongest messages on Wednesday when he addressed the benching of Eli Manning, the Giants' franchise quarterback, for the first time. Mara, the Giants' co-owner, seemed bothered by a lot of things that happened over the past few days and many of the things that were said.
But nothing bothered him more than the suggestion that this decision signaled the Giants were tanking to get a higher pick in the 2018 draft.
"We're still going to try to win the games," Mara said on Wednesday afternoon. "I read something somewhere (that said) "Are we going to tank the rest of the season?' That's complete bulls--t. I would never allow that here.
"We're going to try to win the games. We're just going to have to try to do it with a different guy at quarterback."
The fact that the guy at quarterback this Sunday in Oakland will be former Jets starter Geno Smith instead of Manning - who will be a backup quarterback for the first time since 2004 - is the reason why many believe the Giants are, indeed, tanking in the hopes of securing one of the top picks in a draft that could be top-heavy with potential franchise quarterbacks. Manning has been a rock for the Giants for most of the last 14 seasons. Smith washed out as the Jets' starter three years ago. It's virtually impossible to argue Smith gives the Giants a better chance to win than Manning does. The same goes for rookie Davis Webb, who hasn't taken a single NFL snap.
But with their carefully chosen words, and definitely with their actions, that sure seemed like what the Giants' decision-makers were trying to say.
"Don't put words in my mouth. I didn't say that," Giants coach Ben McAdoo said. "I said that I feel we have a game plan in place where we feel Geno can give us a chance to be successful and win the ballgame on Sunday."
"We'll have to find out," Mara added. "We're 2-9. We'll have to find out whether they give us a better chance of winning. Let them play and see."
Despite what happened during his tenure with the Jets, the Giants think there's a lot to like about Smith. His teammates - who have offered him nothing but support - have raved about his arm strength and his ability to create plays when the pocket collapses. He seems to have developed a rapport with his teammates and demonstrated a leadership ability that was sorely lacking with the Jets.
Put it all together, and that's why McAdoo is optimistic that Smith can provide the spark his pathetic offense needs.
"He's a talented player with a big arm," McAdoo said. "He can create. I want to see him run the offense, complete the ball, put points on the board and give us a chance to win."
And if he doesn't? The Giants should turn to Webb quickly. In fact, they're likely to do that regardless of Smith's initial results. And if the Giants don't win much - or at all - the last five games, they're not likely to be too upset with a Top 3 draft pick, especially with some incredibly talented quarterbacks - like USC's Sam Darnold and UCLA's Josh Rosen - expected to come out.
That may not be the goal, but it would be an acceptable consolation prize. And that's the real point of this post-Manning experiment, according to Mara. They want to get a look at Smith and Webb so they can be better equipped to decide if they need to draft one of those college quarterbacks, just in case.
"I don't know that this is going to give us all the information that we need, but it's going to be better than nothing," Mara said. "(It's) better than just watching them run scout team out there every day. With quarterbacks in particular, you don't know what you have until they're out there facing a pass rush, making decisions at critical points in the game. So we want to get whatever information we can.
"Obviously we're going to have a high draft pick and there are going to be some quarterbacks available so that's going to be a decision we're going to have to make. But I'd like to make that decision at least having watched some of these guys play."