The very last thing Eli Manning requested the night before he signed his final contract with the Giants was a full no-trade clause. It seemed ridiculous at the time. He was about to get a four-year, $84 million deal. The Giants had long made it clear they wanted Manning to retire as a Giant.
So they gave it to him without much hesitation.
Now that clause will loom heavy over Manning's future, because he may have to waive it if he wants to continue his career as an NFL starter.
And he might.
There is no indication at all from Manning or his camp that the 36-year-old quarterback has even begun pondering whether he'll request a trade in the offseason, but several people that know him believe he will strongly consider it, especially if the Giants won't commit to him as their starter in 2018. They base that on their strong belief that Manning still wants to play and believes he is one of the NFL's better quarterbacks.
And there could be several teams -- most notably Tom Coughlin's Jacksonville Jaguars -- that agree.
First, of course, the Giants have to figure out the quarterback mess they just created when they essentially benched the 36-year-old Manning for failed former Jets starter Geno Smith. Giants coach Ben McAdoo said "No" when he was asked if this was the end of the Manning Era in New York, but McAdoo has lied to the media before.
Manning certainly didn't sound like he was buying that. When he was asked if he thought he'd played his last game for the Giants, he said "I don't know. I don't know. One week at a time."
If the Giants are looking at Smith and Davis Webb, though, they are planning for a future without Manning. If one of them performs well, presumably they'd be the starter next season. If not, there's no doubt the Giants will try to grab Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen at the top of draft, assuming either of those college quarterbacks come out.
Going back to Manning in 2018 would be a little humiliating for all parties, which is just one of the many reasons it's unlikely.
So what happens if Manning wants to still play?
For starters, the Giants could do him a favor and release him -- the way they released veteran Kerry Collins shortly after they drafted Manning, even though they wanted Collins to stick around as Manning's mentor. If they do it before March 17 (the third day of the new league year) they wouldn't have to pay him a $5 million roster bonus. They'd also save his $10.5 million salary and could clear as much as $16 million off their salary cap books.
The cap savings would only be $9.8 million if they traded him, unless they waited to trade him until June, so maybe cutting him makes more sense. Of course if they traded him, they'd also get something -- presumably draft picks -- in return. The price of acquiring a quarterback is usually pretty high, too, though given Manning's age (36) and the fact that the Giants clearly would need to get rid of him would keep his value low.
There would be takers, though. He'd make no sense at all for a rebuilding, quarterback-needy team like the Cleveland Browns. He probably wouldn't even make much more sense for the Jets, no matter how close to contention they've appeared at times this year. Manning's real value would be to a team that has the makings of a contender, but feels it's only missing the quarterback.
Like, perhaps, the Denver Broncos, where Manning's brother Peyton went to finish his career. Or the Jaguars, who are a surprising 7-4 this season thanks to a strong defense and running game, but are likely going nowhere in the playoffs with quarterback Blake Bortles running their show.
Would Coughlin want a reunion with the quarterback that helped him to his only two Super Bowl titles as a head coach? Well, here's what the 71-year-old VP of football operations with the Jaguars told a Jacksonville radio station when he heard the latest Manning news.
"Surprised is not the word," Coughlin said. "My sentiments are totally with Eli manning. I love the kid. He is a class act. He is a two-time Super Bowl champion. He is the finest, most humblest young man in that locker room. I haven't followed the Giants. I know it's a disappointing year. But my thoughts are strictly with Eli. I was very upset when I heard about that.
It's hard to imagine Coughlin passing on a chance for a reunion and for one last run with a quarterback he adores. And anyone who remembers Manning choking back tears at the press conference where the Giants basically fired Coughlin knows Manning would welcome a reunion, too.
He'd prefer to remain with the Giants. He and anyone who knows him have always made that clear. But if the Giants aren't an option in 2018 and he still wants to play, he's not likely to let a no-trade clause stand in his way.