Every weekend since Nov. 21, 2004, Eli Manning has suited up as the Giants’ quarterback.
That’s a nine-year stretch and 135 consecutive regular season games, with an additional 11 playoff games. That streak is the longest among active quarterbacks and fourth longest overall behind Ronde Barber (215), London Fletcher (195) and Brandon Moore (137).
But quarterbacks don’t last forever in this league, and Manning recently turned 32 years old.
It’s tough to imagine a Giants’ team led by someone other than Manning, but that reality will come to fruition at some point, and the Giants must be prepared with a plan.
Big Blue can look at this issue in one of three ways.
The team can either draft and develop a quarterback over a few years, draft a quarterback the year Manning decides to retire or sign or trade for a quarterback when Manning hangs up the spikes.
Let’s assume that Manning has at least another five productive years left in his career. He’d be 37 years old, and Canton, Ohio, would likely be awaiting his arrival.
As a non-mobile quarterback who has had above-average offensive lines, he’s been able to maintain his durability throughout his career. He may even have more than five good years left in him, but that’s a realistic expectation.
So the first option would be to draft and develop a quarterback. The Giants can wait for a year in which they have a higher draft pick and take a quarterback in the first round.
Just like the Packers sat Aaron Rodgers for three years behind Brett Favre, the Giants can draft a young quarterback and have him develop under Manning. Who better to learn from than a Manning brother about being an NFL quarterback?
The experiment with Rodgers has obviously worked out for the better, and that might be the Giants’ best option. The franchise would have to be sure though that the next quarterback is willing to be groomed for a few seasons.
The next option for Big Blue would be to wait until Manning’s career is over and then draft a quarterback that year. Look to the situation the Colts were in this past offseason. A franchise quarterback in Andrew Luck was available, and even though the team could have brought back superstar veteran Peyton Manning, Indianapolis put its faith in the youngster.
The Colts had plenty of “Luck” this year as the rookie took them to the playoffs with an 11-5 record.
The issue here is that the Colts were so bad without Peyton Manning in 2011 that they earned the No. 1 overall pick. Unless Eli Manning gets injured for a season, it’s highly unlikely that the Giants will play bad enough to receive that high of a draft pick.
Sometimes a franchise quarterback will be available later in the first or second round – or even the third round like the Seahawks and Russell Wilson this year. But the Giants really aren’t a franchise that rebuilds since they are usually competitive every season, and drafting a quarterback to take over right away would be a sign of rebuilding. That’s why this scenario seems unlikely.
If that were the case, the fanbase would just have to be patient as this new quarterback works through his mistakes. Keep in mind Eli Manning lost the first six starts of his career.
Finally, the Giants may look to sign or trade for a quarterback after Manning retires. By that time, many of the league’s talented young quarterbacks would have accrued the necessary service time to hit free agency.
It’s unclear at this point which quarterbacks will be available when Manning retires, since gunslingers like Cam Newton, Sam Bradford, Ryan Tannehill, Jake Locker and Luck all have varying contract. But they will all be in the prime of their careers at that time.
Do the Giants try to bring in a proven arm (though the majority of the above crop of quarterbacks are far from proven at this point in their careers) when Manning calls it quits?
That decision would come into play if the Giants decide not to draft a successor and there happens to be no viable draft options the year Manning retires.
It of course would be ideal if the Giants can turn the reins of the franchise over to a competent winner (again hypothetical based on the above crop). But it will depend on the timing of Manning’s retirement to see if the team explores a trade or free agency.
So to recap, the best option here would be for the Giants to go down the same route the Packers took with Rodgers. Maybe not in the next three years, but sometime down the road, Big Blue should monitor the draft market for a potential franchise quarterback.
If the team feels it can develop the next Eli Manning, draft him and let him learn under the two-time – and maybe even more by that time – Super Bowl champion quarterback.
For now, Giants’ fans can continue to enjoy Manning’s production. But just as “all good things come to an end,” Manning’s tenure with the G-Men is finite.
Whoever winds up being the next Giants’ quarterback will certainly have big shoes to fill.
Follow Jim Mancari on Twitter @JMMancari.