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Exit Interview: New York Giants

It’s that time of year, when some NFL teams have started looking toward next season. As each club is eliminated, The Ringer will examine what went right, what went wrong, and where the franchise could go from here. Today we close the books on the New York Giants, who will finish outside of the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

What Went Right

Second overall pick Saquon Barkley has been everything the Giants could have asked for and more. Through 14 weeks, he’s third in the league in rushing yards, fifth in yards per attempt, and second in yards from scrimmage. He’s the odds-on favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year, and he has an outside shot at Offensive Player of the Year. He’s the most talented running back in the league and doubles as the best offensive line coach too.

Saquon is the hero Gotham deserves—or, at least, the distraction Giants fans need from the dumpster fire blazing around him. Things have been bleak beyond Barkley, but there is still some light at the end of the Holland Tunnel. Odell Beckham Jr. emerged as the best quarterback on the team. Second-round pick Will Hernandez is already one of the better guards in the league, and he’s scrappy enough to give the team an identity. Best of all, the Giants released much-maligned former first-round pick and turnstile tackle Ereck Flowers in October. When cutting a failed first-rounder is the most cathartic moment of the season, you know not much is going well.

What Went Wrong

Civil wars divide families, and Giants fans are divided between the Eli loyalists and Eli separatists. My mother is an Eli loyalist. She’s a wonderful woman. She’d never hurt a fly. But she is on the wrong side of history, and our relationship may never be the same. Eli Manning does not have the arm strength to hit receivers downfield (even when they are wide open) and he doesn’t have the mobility to buy one millisecond beyond what the offensive line can provide. We knew these things entering this year. The issue in 2018 is that Manning is making mental mistakes while adapting to head coach Pat Shurmur’s offense. Football IQ is the only argument for employing a 37-year-old quarterback with a declining skill set, and there have been far too many moments like this, when Manning doesn’t realize Odell is uncovered on third-and-goal.

The excuse for Manning the past few years has been that it’s not him; it’s the offensive line. That has largely been debunked this year, as he fails to see open receivers even when he has time in the pocket and checks down on third-and-long like clockwork.

It’s difficult to find something Manning brings in 2018 beyond fond memories. He can’t throw and he can’t move. If he doesn’t play with wisdom, then he can’t play at all.

The Giants need to move on, but the fan base was so jittery when the team briefly benched him last season that ownership may be at risk of oversteering and committing to Manning again in 2019. That would be a huge mistake. Manning’s cap number in 2019 is $23.2 million, tied with Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Newton for the 11th biggest in the league (notice how those two are good). If the team cuts Manning this offseason, it would light $6.2 million of cap space on fire but save the remaining $17 million, increasing its cap space from less than $32 million to nearly $50 million, according to Spotrac projections. It’s a no-brainer move, but that doesn’t mean the Giants can’t screw it up.

There are plenty of non-Manning areas that can be touched on from this season. Pass rusher Olivier Vernon suffered a nagging ankle injury that hampered him all year. Starting center/car salesman Jon Halapio was placed on injured reserve shortly after the Giants traded away their backup center. Defensive tackle Damon Harrison and former first-round pick Eli Apple (who were beloved and beleaguered by fans, respectively) were both traded. Left tackle Nate Solder has not lived up to a fraction of the value of his massive free-agent deal. Alec Ogletree has the second-most guaranteed money at his position but is graded 53rd of 58 qualifying linebackers by Pro Football Focus. Every time the camera cuts to Shurmur on the sideline, he looks like he’s trying to remember the dream he had last night. The list goes on, but none of those issues will have as meaningful an impact on the future of the franchise as the decision at quarterback. The team’s problems begin with Manning, and they won’t end until the situation is fixed. It’s unlikely the Giants turn to Kyle Lauletta or Alex Tanney, which means they’ll likely look outside the organization.

Free Agency

Pop quiz: Name the two players from the Giants Super Bowl wins still on the roster. The answer is Eli Manning and … long snapper Zak DeOssie, who will be a free agent this offseason. If he and Manning both leave this offseason, there will be no remnants of either Super Bowl squad on the team.

The Giants have slightly bigger fish to fry than DeOssie. Safety Landon Collins will be a free agent, but his season ended with a shoulder injury that landed him on injured reserve, which complicates contract negotiations. Collins was named a captain this season at 24 years old, and while he can be a liability in coverage at times, letting him leave seems too risky for a team with turbulence ahead, so the franchise tag may be in Collins’s future.

Other notable free agents include defensive end Kerry Wynn, who has been a surprisingly stout contributor after signing with the Giants as an undrafted free agent in 2014; guard Jamon Brown, who signed midseason and solidified the offensive line by replacing Patrick Omameh; and cornerback B.W. Webb. The Giants would be wise to retain all three. Receiver Corey Coleman, who was traded by the Browns to the Bills on Hard Knocks, cut by the Bills, signed by New England, cut by New England, and signed by the Giants in a span of two months this year, is also a free agent this season. The Giants might be wise to let him go.

What matters, again, is the quarterback position. Teddy Bridgewater, Tyrod Taylor, Josh McCown, and Robert Griffin III are all free agents this offseason. All could be useful stopgap options for a fraction of Manning’s price if the team is reluctant to let a young starter play immediately.

The Draft

The question isn’t whether to take a quarterback in the top 10, but which one to take. (There are some saying the Giants should wait until 2020, when the quarterback class looks more fruitful. Nonsense. Ignore them. There is no time like the present.) Oregon’s Justin Herbert may not declare for the draft because he reportedly wants to play college football with his brother, though that may change if he is potentially a top-10 pick. Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins might be the best passer in the draft and could be the best fit for the team, but he also is not a lock to declare for the draft. Among the people who will be eligible, West Virginia’s Will Grier looks like the best, and while he knows how to deal with fame, he may do worse with NFL defenses.

Yet debates between which college QB would be the best don’t matter if the team doesn’t admit it needs to draft one. The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one, but Manning and the Giants aren’t known for mobility.

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