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Sent: 01-23-15

E-GIANTS
Dave Klein was the Giants' beat writer for The Star-Ledger from 1961 to 1995.
He is the author of 26 books and he is one of only three sportswriters to have covered all the Super Bowls. Dave has allowed TEAM GIANTS to reprint some of his articles.

LIFE AFTER ELI?  NOT YET,
BUT HERE'S HOW THE GIANTS SHOULD PROCEED

By Aaron Klein
Has the future already begun in Giants Land?

Eli Manning is under contract for the 2015 season and if he doesn't sign an extension, he'll be eligible to find a new home.

There is no way the Giants will let him go, not after this season and not after next. He just turned 34 and there's no reason to think he can't play until his late 30s, which means someone's going to have to pay him. Since he's entering that final contract year, the Giants can't restructure but one should expect an extension in line with the deal New England's Tom Brady signed before the regular season ended, three years for roughly $14 million a year. When that deal will be struck is unknown. Preseason? Post-season? Week 15? It doesn't matter.

But before you say that they should just let him play out 2015 and see what happens, consider the alternative: Who else if not Eli? Well, Indianapolis' Andrew Luck is scheduled to be an Unrestricted Free Agent in 2016, so there's that (kidding). So are Ben Roethlisberger and Phillip Rivers, the two forever tied with Manning and the 2004 draft. RGIII? Ryan Tannehill? You get the idea, if a top-tier quarterback hits the open market there's reason for pause, but most of them won't hit the market at all, instead signing what might be their last pro contract.

With Odell Beckham Jr. quickly and firmly in place as the No. 1 start receiver, Victor Cruz (hopefully) coming back from the torn patella tendon injury he suffered in midseason and the potential of Rueben Randle finally coming to the fore and the successful implementation of the offense complete -- why not let Manning play as long as he can?

Despite the 2013 season of disaster, Manning had excellent numbers in 2014, numbers that rival his career bests, albeit one without a playoff appearance for the third straight season. That's really what it's all about, winning championships. Yet it's hard to hang a losing season on a quarterback who completed 63.1 percent of his passes, 4,410 yards, 30 touchdowns against just 14 interceptions for a 92.1 passer rating ... yet he will gladly take some of the blame.

Instead, the defense ruined so many opportunities in 2014 that Manning and the offense could not control the team's destiny. Why do you think the team released the coordinator and went back to the future by hiring former defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to take over once again?

So let's turn on the time machine and push forward four years, when the 2019 season is set to begin and, maybe, the Giants will be facing life without Manning.

Firstly, franchise quarterbacks do not come along every year, despite a given team's best efforts. Ask Washington. Ask Cleveland. Ask St. Louis, Oakland, the New York Jets, Chicago ... need we continue? In a perfect world, the Giants of the future have either had such a bad run that they will own the first pick overall and the best quarterback to come out of college in 10 years will be there for the taking. Sound familiar? That's what happened with the Colts, big brother Peyton and Luck, and it was a rare confluence of perfect factors.

Instead, the Giants would rather find the quarterback of the future before he's needed instead of going through what they did during the post-Phil Simms era, running through terrible draft choices (Dave Brown, Danny Kanell, Kent Graham, Jesse Palmer) and free agents until peaking with journeyman Kerry Collins and the Super Bowl time forgot in 2000. Find a sixth-rounder, a la Tom Brady? Rare and lucky. For every Brady and Joe Montana, there are more first- and second-round picks who go on to successful pro careers.

Is the quarterback of the future already on the roster? You know who: Did the Giants take quarterback Ryan Nassib in the fourth-round of the 2013 draft as the player who could one day replace Manning? Yes and no. The Giants don't waste draft picks or take flyers, especially in the fourth round. When they took Nassib they saw a player with a high grade, plenty of potential and a successful college resume. They knew that at minimum Nassib could elevate the competition at quarterback, pushing Curtis Painter and David Carr. The Giants kept three quarterbacks that season, a rare move, and wasted a roster spot because of their conviction that Nassib had value. Last year, he beat out Painter for the No. 2 spot and remained there, getting an opportunity here and there in mop up time and did, well, not much.

He was okay, but didn't show the world that he was ready to make something happen. There was no Brady-Drew Bledsoe moment there. With the draft less than less than four months away, one could argue that the Giants will stick with Manning and Nassib and not draft another passer this year, adding to the roster via free agency (Ricky Stanzi has been signed to a futures contract).

Again, is Nassib the guy? Many are skeptical and few have seen his regular practices as scout team quarterback, even fewer know him in the locker room and the film or meeting rooms. From the outside looking in, the consensus is that Nassib is a solid placeholder and could become the starter in case Manning is injured or exits, but that he isn't a future franchise quarterback. The Giants feel strongly that Nassib can play at the pro level, yet at the same time are on the lookout for an obvious replacement surrounded by little doubt.

Before 2019, assuming Manning has played out his next contract and walked off into retirement, the best guess is that the Giants will have their next franchise quarterback, whether he's found in the first round of the 2019 draft, or perhaps sometime sooner. Look to the Green Bay Packers who, with Brett Favre still in his prime, drafted Aaron Rodgers, tumbling down the first-round board in 2005, and sat him for three years before moving on.

Following the Packers' blueprint, the Giants would be looking (hoping) to find the next superstar in the next three years. This year's draft doesn't really project as that kind of year, with Florida State's Jameis Winston (smart player, pro skills, questionable maturity, baggage), and Oregon's Marcus Mariota (all the intangibles, clean background, superb leader, arguable pro potential) as the best two quarterbacks and may be the only first-rounders. UCLA's Brett Hundley could emerge as a third in the top 32.

In 2005, Rodgers was projected as a potential first overall pick, certainly a Top 5, yet famously fell to 24 before the Packers made a bold best-player-available choice. I don't know what the Giants think of this year's eligible quarterbacks should one slip to 9, but I doubt they're in love with any of them enough to, say, trade back into the bottom of the round to get one should any still remain available.

Let's say this: They won't draft the quarterback of the future this year.

Next year, however, or maybe 2017, the Giants could start looking at the future. Certainly, this has a lot to do with Manning's contract situation, health and overall performance. Unless the team pulls the trigger before the season begins, and barring a completely awful 2015 performance or devastating injury, Manning will surely get a new contract and the terms within that deal will dictate, in part, how the team moves forward in subsequent drafts.

Okay, let's say that the 2016-17 drafts will be the ones. Right now, it is virtually impossible to say who the best quarterbacks of those drafts will be, but we can safely say the Giants are looking at all of them right now, projecting, studying and waiting. Could they have eyes on Tennessee's Josh Dobbs? They'd better. Cincinnati's Gunner Kiel? Let's see how the Notre Dame transfer does this year. California's Jared Goff? Only if his surgical shoulder checks out. There are also more than dozen others to study between today and the next two or three drafts.

For now, Eli Manning isn't going anywhere, and that's just what the Giants and the fans should want. One day, he'll be gone, like Simms was gone. This time around, however, the Giants will surely be careful in finding his replacement.

Have something to say? Ask a question?
Send it over to aklein22@verizon.net
and follow me on Twitter @_AaronKlein_
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- Team Giants

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