Giants general manager Dave Gettleman addresses the media Wednesday.
Art Stapleton, Staff Writer, @art_stapleton
EAST RUTHERFORD — Kurt Warner was blindsided, and even though he probably should have seen it coming, the decision still caught him off guard.
The eventual Hall of Famer stood in front of reporters and expressed his desire to remain the starting quarterback of the New York Giants.
Big Blue was 5-4 with Warner at the helm of the offense and still in the NFC wild-card race despite losing three of its last four games to Detroit, Chicago and Arizona.
Here’s what Warner told reporters the day Tom Coughlin announced he was turning the starting gig over to a rookie named Eli Manning, the future of the franchise.
“I never expected it and I’m disappointed because I want to be out there playing and competing. It’s a decision he [Coughlin] made, the organization has made. They’ve gotten everything that I’ve got to give and they’ll get it until I’m not here anymore,” Warner said.
“They know what they’re going to get and I’m going to do whatever I can to continue to help this team win, to help Eli be successful. I believed I have shown people I can still play and win at this level. I’m not done yet. We’re not writing any obituaries here… This goes way beyond this game. I think there is a bigger picture here and there’s more things that are trying to be accomplished here and that’s why the decision was made.”
That was Nov. 15, 2004.
So, why the history lesson? Because it’s not difficult to imagine Manning standing at his locker at some point next season feeling how Warner did, saying the exact same things.
Instead of Manning the younger, sub in Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, or Duke’s Daniel Jones, maybe even a free agent such as Teddy Bridgewater or Nick Foles, and then picture Manning in Warner’s role, stepping aside for the greater good, even though the Giants were still in playoff contention.
The scene played out in my mind while listening to Manning during his Wednesday night radio interview on WFAN, hearing the uneasiness and uncertainty with which he discussed his immediate future with the Giants.
To that point, I’d bought into the idea that Manning’s return to the Giants would be about the money — the $17 million he’s owed in the final year of his current contract, the $23.2 million salary cap hit that comes with it and any financial concessions he might be asked to make by team brass.
Of course, all of that matters.
But the more I thought about it, the more I believe Manning isn’t just thinking about money. Let’s face reality: it’s more likely the Giants would choose to not take a penny from Manning, instead adding a year or two to his existing contract for salary cap purposes only, which would allow them to move money around and create extra space for 2019.
The fact that Manning met with Giants general manager Dave Gettleman on Monday was made even more compelling by the notion that Manning is the one who asked Gettleman to meet. Their “brutally honest” conversation had more to do with circumstances and scenarios, and not necessarily whatever financial plans the Giants may have regarding Manning moving forward.
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Couldn’t you see Manning saying, in no uncertain terms, that he would rather not endure the same fate Warner did 15 seasons ago? It’s pretty evident that, football-wise, the Giants see Manning as their best option on the current roster to be the quarterback in 2019, especially from the perspective of a team desperate to turn the corner on five losing seasons in the past six years.
This is about the long game here with the Giants, however, and Gettleman said as much Wednesday when he noted about committing to whatever is in the best interests of the franchise and his promise to “build sustained success.”
You can’t build sustained success with a quarterback who celebrated his 38th birthday on Thursday. So what will the Giants do to prepare themselves for the future at the position? It’s completely feasible that would be something Manning would want to be aware of as he’s contemplating what comes next.
And here’s the thing: the Giants don’t have those answers right now. They can’t. The timing won’t allow for it.
Gettleman and Giants coach Pat Shurmur and ownership may all have their ideas, but that’s what they are at the moment — just ideas. There are no guarantees.
Consider this answer from Gettleman when asked Wednesday what his ideal scenario at the quarterback position would be moving forward.
“I can’t answer that question because I don’t know what the field is right now,” Gettleman said. “You know what I’m saying? I don’t know what the field is.”
The Giants don’t know if Bridgewater, Foles or anyone else will be a legitimate target when free agency opens in March. Haskins has not even entered the draft yet, Jones’ stock is still to be assessed, and Gettleman won’t begin his video evaluation of college prospects until February.
Then there is the Scouting Combine, with the draft not until the last week of April.
Manning is due a $5 million roster bonus on March 18, five days after the league year opens.
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Warner was 33 when he signed with the Giants one month after they made their draft-day trade to acquire Manning from the Chargers. Warner ended up staying one season before signing with the Cardinals, and played five more years, leading Arizona to the Super Bowl in 2008 — the year after Manning won his first Super Bowl with Big Blue.
The Giants have been to the playoffs just once since Manning won his second Super Bowl during the 2011 season. They have 24 losses the past two seasons, tied with the Cleveland Browns for most in the league.
“[The losing] does take a toll,’’ Manning said on WFAN. “You got to search and try to figure out what you can do different or what you can do better. It’s tough on you personally, it’s tough on family, it’s tough on the team.”
The last two seasons have been emotional for Manning, who has done a remarkable job throughout his career to keep those emotions, for the most part, hidden from the public.
What if Manning is just being honest with himself and the Giants, and he knows the possibility of sitting and watching another quarterback from the sideline next season — if that were to happen — is not something he would enjoy?
Manning doesn’t need a history lesson. He was there and watched Warner have to deal with the emotions of losing his job — it was the right move for the Giants at the time.
It will be the right move for the Giants to move on from Manning at some point, too, and the argument can be made that the time is soon, maybe even now.
It’s entirely possible the Giants will commit to having Manning back, but they can’t make a guarantee to Manning that history won’t repeat itself.
He might need to decide if he’s willing to embrace that uncertainty, and whether it is worth walking in Warner’s footsteps if fate dictates a walk down memory lane, only this time from the other side.
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