New York Giants head coach Ben McAdoo announced on Tuesday that he will bench quarterback Eli Manning in favor of Geno Smith. Manning’s streak of starting 210 consecutive games will come to an end when the Giants take on the Raiders this Sunday, falling 87 games short of Brett Favre’s record for most consecutive regular-season starts by a quarterback in NFL history. The decision sent shockwaves throughout the sports world as Manning, a two-time Super Bowl MVP, was demoted and has now possibly already played his final game as a Giant. In a league in which stability is rarely found, especially as quarterback, Manning started in every game for the Giants since week 11 of 2004, a span during which 188 different quarterbacks started in the NFL. McAdoo’s latest choice further validates the claim that the Giants have been one of the most poorly managed NFL teams during his tenure. Given the venomous reaction from notable Giants’ alumni and countless fans on social media, this may be the breaking point for Giants fans, as they have put up with largely incompetent decision making since the team’s Super Bowl XLVI victory.
With the Giants currently posting a paltry 2-9 record, it seems logical to blame the team’s struggles on quarterback Manning, as the team’s offense currently ranks 28th in total yards. However, many of the team’s deficiencies have resulted instead from injuries and poor coaching. To start, Manning has been playing without Pro Bowl wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall since week five. Since their leaves, Manning’s receiving corps has only a combined 38 games of NFL experience, entering this season. Additionally, the Giants’ offense has failed to account for 30 points in a game over 27 consecutive games, the entirety of McAdoo’s time as head coach. Known as an offensive guru before taking the job, it appears his success as offensive coordinator was largely due to the work of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Coughlin and Manning.
New York’s offensive struggles also bring attention to the fact that Manning has not been surrounded by a roster built to contend for a Super Bowl since the team’s win in 2012. Balancing a strong running and passing game is key to constructing an offense that can score against a wide variety of defensive coverages. General Manager Jerry Reese appears to be fundamentally opposed to that belief, as the Giants haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since the 2012 season. Even in Manning’s second Super Bowl campaign, New York ranked last in the NFL in rushing, despite ranking eighth overall offensively (the Giants’ defense also ranked 27th in the 2011 regular season, in case you thought the defense was the reason the Giants were champions that year).
Criticism of this decision can be further extended to Team Co-owner John Mara. Known for refusing to fire coaches or members of the front office midseason, Mara is widely regarded among peers as one of the more conservative decision-makers in the NFL. With his team currently on pace for the most single-season losses in franchise history, there was a glimmer of hope from the fan base that Mara would move on from McAdoo and Reese before the end of the season; ownership, of course, has remained hesitant to shake things up during the season. Mara even released a statement to disgruntled fans following a decisive loss to the then-winless 49ers two weeks ago, a moment that fans viewed as rock bottom for this season at the time.
“Our plan is to do what we always have done, which is to not offer a commentary on the season,” Mara said. “At the end of the year, we will evaluate the 2017 season in its entirety and make a determination on how we move forward.”
Following this logic, why did Mara sign off on benching the team’s lone constant of the past 14 years? How is it rational to let a failing coaching staff finish the season, while simultaneously allowing said coaching staff to demote one of the most decorated players in franchise history? For an owner who has taken pride in operating a team at a more elite level than the New York Jets, this season and this decision have plunged him into the same category of disorder as his crosstown rival. Mara may have entered his team into the NFL’s expansive pool of mediocre franchises far earlier than he would like to admit, as the Giants are 41-50 in regular-season games since their last Super Bowl victory nearly six years ago.
Despite all of the largely inept work of the people surrounding him, Manning has remained a quintessential franchise cornerstone, as he has never publicly criticized any part of the Giants’ organization for nearly a decade and a half. It is frankly disrespectful to see him used as a scapegoat for a lost season largely due to things out of his control. With that said, the Giants still managed to mess up the process of shifting focus toward rebuilding. New York features a roster with only two starters over the age of 30, with Manning the eldest at 36. Evaluating the readiness of rookie quarterback Davis Webb — not proven bust Smith — makes sense in the middle of a lost season, but Webb has only started working with the team’s starters this week in practice. Still, it is not surprising that a team that used top-10 picks on offensive lineman Ereck Flowers and cornerback Eli Apple is unprepared for its own decision to bench its franchise quarterback.
With so many organizations prone to sifting through several quarterbacks before finding a franchise player, and some perennially unable to find an answer at the position, the Giants have now thrust themselves into a position that has been unfamiliar to them for the past 14 years. While Manning’s time with the Giants is expected to end in the next couple of years, McAdoo, Reese and Mara have agreed to expedite the process and are already experiencing the turmoil and uncertainty that they have had the privilege of ignoring for most of their recent memory. Welcome to reality for the vast majority of NFL teams, Giants fans.