“He still has it in him, in my eyes,” Shepard told reporters on Wednesday, via Ralph Vacchiano. “He’s the smartest guy I’ve ever played with. He’s still making throws. You can see last week he made a lot of great throws and bad decisions with the ball. So I don’t see why not.”
Shepard was then asked if he would like the Giants to bring back Manning for the 2019 season where he would once again serve as the wide receiver’s quarterback.
“Yeah I’d love to,” Shepard said. “You never know what you’re getting in the draft and he’s proven that he can play in this league. He’s been in this league for a long time doing his thing. I’d love for him to be my QB.”
Shepard is correct when it comes to how difficult it is to evaluate and choose the right rookie quarterback in any given draft class. On top of that, even if you find yourself a franchise quarterback, it will most likely take him at least one season before he is ready to help contribute to a championship season. Take Manning for example, who struggled mightily during his rookie 2004 season. The Giants were not ready to compete for a championship with Manning in 2004, but just three years later, he was ready.
The Manning decision figures to be the most highly-contested topic among Giants fans this offseason with the fanbase essentially split into those who agree with Shepard and those who want to see a change. The good news is that both sides of the fanbase will not have to wait long before they find out whether or not Manning will return as the team’s starting quarterback in 2019. Manning is due to receive a roster bonus of $5 million on March 17, 2019. If the Giants decide to pick up his roster bonus, the decision on Manning has been made — he will return as the projected starter.
The Giants can save $17 million by releasing Manning this offseason, but if they pick up his $5 million roster bonus, they will allocate $23.2 million in 2019 salary cap space to him. If the Giants allocate such a large chunk of cap space to Manning, or to any one player, it’s very difficult to envision any scenario where said player is not projected as a starter in that season.
The argument for keeping Manning centers around the fact that he is on pace to set career-highs in completion percentage and quarterback rating with a career-low interception rate. This argument also centers around the idea that Manning will improve in year two of head coach Pat Shurmur’s offensive scheme as he gets more comfortable within the offense. In Week 16, we saw signs of this. We also saw vintage 2011 Manning on a deep pass connection with Shepard in the first half.
These are the types of throws Manning was not comfortable launching earlier in 2018 as he was still getting acclimated to Shurmur’s scheme and these are also the types of throws he was never afraid to attempt before ex-head coach Ben McAdoo arrived with a philosophical change in how to play the quarterback.
Shepard was asked to recall the throw outlined above and determine if it takes a special player to make a throw like that.
“Yeah it does,” Shepard said. “He did a great job of moving in the pocket as well and then he pretty much hit me in stride. He can still make all the throws and I don’t see where a lot of people are coming from when they say that (he can’t).”
Shortly after Shepard spoke with reporters on Wednesday, Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert announced that he will not declare for the 2019 NFL Draft. The Giants have reportedly sent scouts to watch Herbert play on multiple occasions in 2018 including one time where general manager Dave Gettleman was in attendance. With Herbert headed back to the college football ranks for another season, the high-upside options to replace Manning at quarterback in 2019 have greatly diminished. And yes, that’s how difficult it is to find a franchise quarterback in the NFL and that’s how underwhelming the 2019 rookie quarterback class appears to be.