On Tuesday the New York Giants benched Eli Manning for Geno Smith. Let’s just let that sink in…
Eli Manning led the Giants to two Super Bowl titles, both as unfancied opponents of the New England Patriots. In both games Manning was the MVP. He owns pretty much all the New York Giants franchise records. He has started 210 consecutive games. Well, that streak is over.
The calamity that is the Giants season cannot be downplayed and nor, within the problems, should the decline of Eli Manning be ignored. He is 36 years old and the last couple of years have not been his best, that’s true, but he is by no means the worst QB in the league and he is by no means the source of the issues for the G Men.
We won’t rehash here the on-the-field trials and tribulations of the Giants as they have limped, sputtered and slogged their way to 2-9 record this year but rather perhaps we should consider what is essentially an act of malice from a Head Coach who is effectively out of a job.
Ben McAdoo has become a figure of fun in the NFL. That is due to his sideline demeanor and appearance but there is a reason why ridicule takes place and it’s not because of his slicked hair or sunglasses. There are occasional laughing comments about Bill Belichick’s cut-off hoodies but not much. Do we know why? Because Belichick is one of the greatest to coach the game. McAdoo has been an utter disaster as a Head Coach.
Yes, the Giants made the play-offs in his first season with an 11-5 record. This season they are 2-9. So he is 13-14. That’s not terrible. But it’s the way in which the style of play has deteriorated to the point that the Giants are one of the worst teams to watch in the NFL. Without OBJ, there is no spark. With a suspect O line and no-name running backs, there is no release valve. They are slow, underpowered and moribund. It’s a sad sight.
Since having the offensive play-calling removed from his duties, and the Thanksgiving slog against Washington is a prime example, McAdoo has stood, stony-faced on the sidelines, hands in the front pocket of the oversized hoodie/windbreaker looking, well, disinterested. There is no intensity, guile or presence. He is giving off the image of the lamest of lame ducks.
So what does he do amid this lost, dismal season? He announces the benching of the player who will eventually be memorialised one way or another by the Giants organisation. A statue, a stand named after him. He may well end up in the Hall of Fame. But Ben McAdoo announced this as a run of the mill QB change and tried to convince the press that Eli was not done in New York. He really must not know the Manning family.
Eli gave an emotional but poised press conference of his own where he made sure he did not create negativity, he did not scapegoat anyone. Take a lesson, McAdoo.
The wider context is that this decision was not made without the agreement of the Mara family. Hailed as one of the ‘best’ owners in the NFL, the Mara family have cultivated a reputation for solid, stoic leadership as narrative befits one of the ‘great franchises’. This move goes against that very narrative, against that slightly antiquated view of America, of the gilded age and the bastions and scions of society – as the Maras purport to be, as the Giants franchise wishes to be.
The Mara family, General Manager Jerry Reese and Ben McAdoo are all at fault for the bungling of this decision and they must see the uniformly outraged response from within the sport and wonder how they got it so wrong.
McAdoo is out in the Summer, the non-statement statement issued weeks ago saying there would be no coaching change simply pushed the decision until 1 January 2018. Jerry Reese could also be a victim of his own failure to maximise heavy free agency spending and the tandem of Eli and OBJ with a roster capable of making a run at the Super Bowl.
Geno Smith is not the answer in New York. That is not to say he won’t play well, or that he is not capable of starting in the NFL but rather to say that he is not the future of the franchise. Nor is Davis Webb, the rookie third-string QB but one would feel that the decision to bench Eli could have been better justified had Webb been the one named starter.
What can McAdoo and his staff learn about Geno Smith that they don’t already know? He has 30 games of tape in the NFL. He is instead being placed in a near impossible position – replacing a legend unceremoniously dumped on an offence that is atrocious and with a coaching staff halfway out the door. I feel bad for Geno, his pro career has been blighted by institutional dysfunction.
Eli will not be in New York next season, I can’t see a path back for him – nor do I feel the counsel he will receive from his family – notably Archie and Peyton – would advise him to stick around. Many of the great quarterbacks have a late second-act to their career and with varying degrees of success. And, though not calling Eli one of the great QBs, it would be hard to begrudge him a late-career swansong after the manner in which he has been discarded by the Giants.