It’s hard to imagine anything more awkward than the rest of this New York Giants season. Lame-duck Ben McAdoo has become the least popular coach in Giants history after he benched Eli Manning, who will soldier on as a backup to … Geno Smith?
The rest of this season will be a train wreck, but what happens in 2018? Manning is on a decline but he’s clearly still one of the 32 best quarterbacks in the world. There are plenty of teams that could use him right now, and plenty that will be in the market for a veteran quarterback next offseason. If Manning wants to play, and the Giants either trade or cut him, Manning will be a starter somewhere next season. But where?
One complication is Manning’s no-trade clause. Assuming the Giants will try trading him before cutting him — if the Giants want to dump him at all, which we’ll get to in a moment — Manning could veto any deal. As NJ.com pointed out, Manning is due a $5 million bonus on the third day of the 2018 league year. Manning could refuse a trade and force the Giants to cut him before the bonus kicks in. There are a lot of different ways this could go.
Let’s take a look at any remotely realistic scenario for where Manning plays in 2018:
Nowhere: Manning turns 37 on Jan. 3. He has made more than enough money in his career and would have career opportunities in retirement. Although the Giants didn’t help him much these past two seasons, he is declining as a player. I don’t think he decides he has had enough and walks away, but it’s not like it would be the most shocking decision we’ve seen. LIKELIHOOD: Seems unlikely, but you never know.
Giants: It looks like the Manning era is over with the Giants, and I’d probably guess it is, but it seems a little more complicated than that. It would be an absolute shock if Ben McAdoo is back as coach, and general manager Jerry Reese could be fired too. It’s hard to project what the Giants want to do with Manning when we have no idea who will be making that decision. What if the new regime doesn’t want to start over at quarterback in 2018? Manning’s cap number for 2018 isn’t outrageous at $22.2 million. Even if the Giants draft a quarterback with a high pick, maybe the new decision makers think it’s worth it to have Manning as a bridge to the quarterback of the future. Emotions are high now, but the coach who benched Manning will be gone and and it seems likely an entirely new staff will be making the Manning decision next year. LIKELIHOOD: Probably higher than it seems today.
Washington Redskins: Let’s go through some long shots, starting with this juicy one. Let’s say Kirk Cousins leaves via free agency. Would the Redskins really roll with Colt McCoy if they could acquire Manning? If Manning is a free agent (again, he can probably force the Giants to cut him before that bonus kicks in), maybe he wants to pull a Brett Favre and play against the Giants twice a year. There are many possible scenarios, but this one is easily the most entertaining. LIKELIHOOD: Nah, though here’s hoping.
New York Jets: OK, I lied. This is the most entertaining scenario of all. Manning wouldn’t even have to move. It doesn’t make any sense for the Jets to go this route (Josh McCown has been better than Manning this season and the Jets could re-sign him, or the Jets could go young next season) and there’s no way this happens, but it would be spiteful and awesome. LIKELIHOOD: No. But I’d pay to see this happen, just for the back-page headlines.
Buffalo Bills: The Bills clearly are lukewarm at best on Tyrod Taylor, and do you really want to enter next season with Nathan Peterman at quarterback? LIKELIHOOD: Doubtful, though the Bills are as unsettled at quarterback as anyone.
Arizona Cardinals: If Carson Palmer retires, the Cardinals will need a quarterback. It would be kind of funny if it was Manning. Manning started his career by backing up Kurt Warner, who went to the Cardinals and had a fine final chapter. Maybe Manning gets pushed out in New York and follows the same path. LIKELIHOOD: Seems like a long shot, though Manning fits the Cardinals’ profile of collecting old players.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Let’s not forget, Ben Roethlisberger is going to flirt with retirement every offseason until he finally does it. If he decides after this season that he’s done, the Steelers will be in scramble mode. It’s not like the Steelers already have a quarterback of the future who they would trust with their championship-level roster if Roethlisberger retires. LIKELIHOOD: If Ben retires, why not?
Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings have Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater and Case Keenum, and all three are free agents next offseason. The Vikings should obviously feel they are Super Bowl contenders next season with the right quarterback. I’d assume they re-sign one of those guys, but who knows? If you’re trying to match up Manning with a team that can win now and has nothing set at quarterback for 2018, the Vikings are one of the few that fit the criteria. LIKELIHOOD: Not until the Vikings get desperate.
New Orleans Saints: Peter King of The MMQB threw out this possibility, and I hadn’t considered it before. Drew Brees’ future with the team past this season isn’t set, though I still can’t imagine he’s not back with the Saints. The Manning family is from New Orleans. The Saints are set up to win now. Manning could be on a good team with a fine coach and the Saints wouldn’t have to punt a season breaking in a rookie. Hmm. LIKELIHOOD: I’d bet Brees comes back. But if not, this is a fun scenario.
And now the two most obvious landing spots for Manning in 2018 …
Denver Broncos: It would be a great story if the Broncos solved their post-Peyton Manning problem by bringing in Eli. Signing Peyton worked out tremendously for John Elway — four division titles, two AFC championships and one Super Bowl win — so why not try again with another Manning? The Broncos are in a bad spot at quarterback, and Elway doesn’t want to rebuild. Even though Denver is deficient on offense aside from quarterback, Elway likely believes a better quarterback matched with a fantastic defense could provide a quick turnaround. If Manning is available, it would be shocking if the Broncos don’t kick the tires. LIKELIHOOD: It makes sense on many levels.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Everyone has already made the obvious connection with Jaguars executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin, who of course coached Manning in two Super Bowls. Manning could go play on a team with a championship-level defense. The Jaguars would be much closer to contention with a better quarterback. It’s not like the Jaguars will be drafting high enough to get a plug-and-play rookie quarterback. They’re winning in spite of Blake Bortles, and they’d probably be everyone’s dark horse Super Bowl pick next year if they landed Manning. Everyone wins here. LIKELIHOOD: This seems like the obvious conclusion.
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