EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Imagine waking up from this nightmare of a season for the Giants just in time for Week 1 of the 2018 season. And there, just like old times, comes Eli Manning, running out of the Meadowlands tunnel.
Only this time he's wearing green.
It's crazy, right? And it probably makes no sense. It will look and feel to everyone like as much of a betrayal as if the long-time Giants quarterback signed with the Cowboys or the Eagles. Besides, a 37-year-old quarterback wouldn't exactly fit into the Jets' youth movement. They need a young quarterback. And if they want to stick with a veteran, they'll just keep Josh McCown.
But if this mess of a Giants season and the recent benching of Manning has taught everyone anything, it should be that anything - no matter how unthinkable - is possible.
And if you really think about it, there are some interesting reasons why this unthinkable scenario could actually occur.
For starters, the Jets still haven't answered the question of who their next franchise quarterback will be. Everyone assumes they'll have one in place next season. And really, it would be malpractice by GM Mike Maccagnan if they don't. But with four wins already, they may not be in position to draft USC's Sam Darnold or UCLA's Josh Rosen. Then what? Unless they break the bank for Kirk Cousins they'll be left with Christian Hackenberg or some other rookie who might have to sit a year behind a veteran.
McCown, of course, is a fine choice for a mentor. Manning, though, might have more to offer.
But would he be willing to do it? Probably only in the right circumstance. Those that know him doubt he'd go to a situation like Kurt Warner did with the Giants in 2004, when he knew his time as a starter would be limited. But if a team - the Jets - told Manning he'd have a full year at least, and the offer was strong enough, why not?
What Manning wants to do is play.
True, he also wants to win. That's why he's unlikely to land in a hopeless place like Cleveland. His ideal spot would seem to be a team that's a quarterback away from becoming a contender - and in that category, the Jacksonville Jaguars, Denver Broncos, and maybe the Arizona Cardinals offer the strongest case.
The Jets? Well, they are rebuilding and probably more than a year away from truly being a championship contender. Then again, think of what's happened to them in the last few weeks. They have lost five of their last six to fall to 4-7. Two of those losses can be directly attributed to McCown - a late interception in a fourth-quarter collapse in Miami, and his horrific fumble against the Panthers last week. There's a strong argument to be made that a better quarterback turns at least one of those other losses into a win, too.
Would Manning have been enough to turn the Jets from 4-7 to 6-5 or 7-4 - both record enough to put them in the playoff chase? Maybe. It depends on whether you believe Manning is in a steep decline, or has been a product of the inferior cast the Giants have been assembled around him.
Of course, he doesn't believe he's on the decline. So when he looks at the Jets, he may see a team he can help become a contender next season - especially with their young, talented nucleus and nearly $80 million in expected salary cap room to spend. In today's NFL, are the Jets really in any worse shape than the Jaguars or Broncos? Probably not.
And while Manning surely would understand the bad optics of him playing for the Jets, it at least would let him stay in his New Jersey home - and those that know him well say he loves living in this area (he also lives part of the year in Mississippi). Given the choice, he might not want to move his family, with his three young daughters, to an unfamiliar town - assuming the option to remain in New York is there.
Again, it's an unlikely scenario and lot of things would have to happen for it to even be discussed. The Giants would have to release Manning - they'd never trade him to the Jets - and the Jets would have to strike out in their search for a ready-to-go franchise quarterback in the offseason and decide that the best mentor for whomever they end up with is not McCown. Manning would also have to decide that this is a more comfortable situation than Denver, where his brother Peyton finished his career, or Jacksonville, where Tom Coughlin runs the show. Or the Jaguars and Broncos would simply have to not come calling at all.
So a lot has to happen and the timing would all have to be perfect. The odds are probably astronomical that it will. But stranger things have happened, even in just the last few days.
After all, who would've ever thought that the immediate successor to Eli Manning would be former Jets quarterback Geno Smith? A few years ago - maybe even a few months ago - few things would have seemed more improbable than that.