NEW YORK — Had things broken a little differently some time in the last 12 years, Bill Cowher might have the fate of the Giants‘ quarterback situation in his hands.
Cowher has been connected to the Giants head coach position (thanks mostly to Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis’ speculation) more than once since he retired from the Steelers after the 2006 season. And yet he did not interview either of the two times the job came open in the last three years.
Instead it is head coach Pat Shurmur, general manager Dave Gettleman and ownership that must decide whether to bring back Eli Manning for a 16th season and under what circumstances: As a starter? To be compete against a veteran for the job? To mentor a rookie? Only if he accepts a pay cut?
Cowher, meanwhile, remains a studio analyst on CBS’ The NFL Today and New York City resident. His perfect scenario for Manning’s future might require a sales pitch from the Giants’ brass to the two-time Super Bowl MVP.
“I would love to bring in a young quarterback to watch him prepare,” Cowher told NJ Advance Media. “If at some point he is not able to get it done, I understand I would then make the transition. But there is no better person to mentor a quarterback than Eli Manning.
“Ideally you can get a young quarterback who he can mentor — maybe that transition is sooner or later — but understand it’s going to take place at some point. If they are willing to come to that understanding, that’s the best-case scenario.”
The Giants tried the mentorship program before: They drafted Ryan Nassib in the fourth round in 2013, Davis Webb in the third round in 2017 and Kyle Lauletta in the fourth round in 2018. Nassib and Webb are elsewhere now, and the Giants appear to have quickly soured on Lauletta.
But they never have picked a first-round quarterback as a direct successor for Manning, like the Ravens did by drafting Lamar Jackson to supplant Joe Flacco. That history could change if the Giants grab Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Manning completed a career-best 66 percent of his passes and ranked No. 9 in the NFL in yards and No. 17 in touchdowns with the 15th-most interceptions in 2018.
“I don’t know if it’s a high level,” Cowher said when asked if Manning still is playing at a high level.
When the season ended with the Giants missing the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years, Gettleman agreed to stay in contact with Manning and Manning agreed to let the Giants know if he can “handle” their plans.
“He’s given so much to this organization,” Cowher said. “Certainly the one thing you want is do the right thing.
“That’s the most important thing is to (determine) what is the right thing to do. As they have some time to reflect a little before they get to free agency, let’s talk about where we are, what would be the role, where do you foresee me fitting into the plans — if there is fitting into the plans.”
The Giants botched a plan to bench Manning late in the 2017 season.
Manning rejected a plan to start games and ceremoniously continue his iron-man streak but be pulled in the second half. He wound up choking back tears in front of cameras, head coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese were fired and Manning was reinstated as the starter.
“Unfortunately we’ve seen situations where quarterbacks have had to move on,” Cowher said. “They are very sensitive subjects. I think the most important thing you can do is talk through it and be fair and transparent about it. Hopefully they will come to some sort of consensus on what the common ground will be.”
Fellow CBS analyst Tony Romo’s plan would be to take another shot at upgrading the offensive line. Maybe it is not that simple.
“There are a lot of things you have to take into account: Where is that young quarterback coming from? The cap becomes a part of it, too,” Cowher said. “A lot of hypotheticals and moving parts that have to be discussed.”