EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Dave Gettleman did everything he could to not commit to Eli Manning as the Giants quarterback in 2019 in his press conference on Wednesday. He made it clear from the start he wasn't ready to answer that question, and he followed up by ducking every attempt.
But maybe the better way to read his answers is that he didn't decommit to Manning as the quarterback of the Giants either. In fact, he acknowledged that the soon-to-be-38-year-old "still can make the NFL throws. You know what I'm saying? He's still got it." And Manning's stats - 4,299 yards, 21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and a career-high completion percentage of 66 percent -- "wasn't too shabby either," Gettleman said.
Most importantly, after 35 minutes of listening to Gettleman speak publicly for the first time since July, this much was clear about the Giants' 2019 quarterback plans: They still don't have any better options.
And that's why moving on from Manning now makes no sense.
Yes, Gettleman said "Everything is on the table for us." But what, exactly, could that be? Kyle Lauletta, after his rookie season, is obviously not ready. They certainly could draft a quarterback, like Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins, but that's a long-term solution and a step backwards in the short term. And the free agent market will be predictably overpriced and overrated. The two interesting names are Teddy Bridgewater and Nick Foles. Foles is 30 and has one good season and one good playoff run on his resume, while Bridgewater has played one game since 2015.
How is the best option for 2019 not Manning? He wasn't good in the first half of the season when Gettleman acknowledged, "we were having O-line issues". The Giants were also learning a new offense and, as Gettleman said, "when you're installing a new offense you're looking at 4-6 weeks before everybody's really on the same page. Head coach Pat Shurmur said the same thing in an interview on WFAN later on Wednesday.
"When we started to block better it's a better indication of what Eli can do," Shurmur said. "Probably the last eight games of the season is a better indication of what Eli is in my mind."
So read between those lines. Both Gettleman and Shurmur still think Manning can play. They believe he played better in the second half when he finally got some blocking in front of him. And that, by the way, is with his best receiver, Odell Beckham Jr., missing the last four games of the season. And neither of them can identify an alternative at quarterback that makes any sense.
What was Gettleman's "extensive … no holds barred … very up front and honest conversation" with Manning about then? Likely that the end is near, and the Giants will have to begin planning for the future. It sure was mentioned that they may have to do something with his contract to reduce his $23 million cap hit in 2019. They likely broached the possibility that his duties next year might include grooming his eventual replacement.
But the Giants think they can win next year. Shurmur, again, said he feels the team is "very close". They won't be if they take a step backwards at quarterback. They're better off taking another step - maybe one last step - with Manning. And it sure sounds like that's what they're going to do.
Here are some more takeaways from Gettleman's rare press conference:
Odell Beckham Jr. isn't going anywhere
The season hasn't been over for a week, and already there had been speculation that the Giants might trade their best receiver, months after signing him to a $95 million contract. Good for Gettleman squashing that nonsense by saying "We didn't sign him to trade him." They may have flirted with the idea last offseason, but they decided Beckham was part of their future before they offered him that megadeal.
Also, stop the silliness about the offense being better without Beckham in it because they did well in a few games when he was injured. As Gettleman said, "The bottom line is you want him on the field. I have this crazy idea that he's a great player, so let's get him on the field."
Don't be so sure the Giants will draft a QB in the first round -- even though they probably should
That seems crazy, since the Giants are picking sixth and might have a shot at the top quarterback on their board.
"You can't force it, especially at quarterback," Gettleman said. "You do that, you're going to make a mistake. You're going to screw it up."
OK, but at some point they have to force it, unless they expect Manning to play until he's 45. It's too early to know if they'll fall in love with any quarterbacks in the draft, or whether the top guys like Haskins are worthy of Top 10 picks. But the Giants better at least take a long, hard look at who's available. Manning isn't going to last forever. Probably.
Giants have no doubts they hired the right coach
Never mind the 1-7 start or 5-11 record. Compared to what the Giants saw a year ago, when they went 3-13 and the locker room was a dysfunctional mess, this was outstanding.
"If anything, it reinforced my feeling about him (from) a year ago," Gettleman said. "It was the steadiness. It was the message. Just the way Pat and the coaches kept everyone on task, going in the right direction. There's no doubt in my mind that he's the right guy."
Gettleman is right. And he made that judgement on the important things - the fact that the team played hard, never quit, and was better at the end. It's why he opened the press conference saying, "It's easy for me to say it to you people that we are headed in the right direction."
This offseason may be all about a defensive overhaul
The Giants need work on the offensive line, but not as much as they needed last year. And they seem to think they have enough weapons. But the defensive issues, Gettleman said, "is why you're 5-11."
Everyone focuses on Manning, but there are four or five games the Giants could've won if the defense had come up with a stop at the end. They need to find a pass rush, and need to improve their secondary.
"Just like I looked you right in the eye last year and told you we've got to fix this O-line," Gettleman said, "we've got to get better on the defensive side."
The Giants line might be 4/5ths completed
The Giants believe LT Nate Solder played better as the year went on, and they're real happy with rookie LG Will Hernandez. And Gettleman added "don't forget Pio (center Jon Halapio)." They also were pleased with RG Jamon Brown, but he's a free agent. If they can bring him back, they'll need a right tackle to replace Chad Wheeler. But Gettleman will still be looking out for depth and better players at what he considers one of the most important positions on the team.
"You can not have enough Hog Mollies," he said.
The Giants still don't think they're "rebuilding". It's still about winning now.
"I just hate the word 'rebuild'," Gettleman said. "You just keep building. We're doing our best to accumulate the talent that fits our schemes, understands how to play the game and hates to flippin' lose."
Let's face it, if they were rebuilding, they'd be all in on a rookie quarterback in 2019. They really see themselves in a window of contention. They see how, as Gettleman said, "we tied for the league lead with 12 games decided by a touchdown or less" (and how they went 4-8 in those games), and they believe they're close. Or "very close" as Shurmur said.
Are they fooling themselves? That depends. They look nothing like a championship team, but the difference between 5-11 and 9-7 and a playoff berth is pretty slim these days. There's really no reason why, with a few tweaks, good health, and enough protection to squeeze another season out of Manning, that they can't return to the postseason in 2019.