“Breaking: Eli Manning has been benched.”
I read this tweet, posted by SportsCenter, over and over again on my phone screen — disbelief (and, oddly enough, defensiveness) finally settling in. After 14 years, 210 straight starts, two Super Bowl wins and two Super Bowl MVP awards, Eli Manning was being pulled.
New York Giants coach Ben McAdoo released a statement saying: “Over the last five games, we will take a look at Geno, and we will also give [rookie third-round pick] Davis [Webb] an opportunity,” a move that has the coach under fire for disrespect towards the franchise’s leading quarterback.
Despite a horrendous 2-9 record thus far and the need for some major changes within the organization in the offseason, you don’t pull the team’s leading quarterback — the quarterback that has stuck with his team and fans through thick and thin — with five games left in the season.
Five games. Five. This is startling. This doesn’t make sense!
Here’s the thing: Everyone knows that I am the first one to make an Eli Manning joke. As a New England Patriots fan, I hate the guy. He’s beaten us twice with skills that are far less refined than Tom Brady’s, on a team with a coaching staff that dims in comparison to New England and Bill Belichick. He and his star-studded familial counterpart, Peyton, are the bane of our existences.
But as a National Football League fan, a sports journalist and a football-junkie who appreciates the game, the league and its players, I am disappointed.
First of all, just practically, it really isn’t the “best thing for the organization,” contrary to what Giants General Manager Jerry Reese says.
What will five games do for Jets-reject Geno Smith or rookie Davis Webb? New York doesn’t need to see Smith flounder for another one of his teams, and throwing Webb in unceremoniously against the Oakland Raiders will do little for the 22-year-old other than crush his spirit when he, inevitably, can’t keep up.
A team like the Giants needs their quarterback to remain in place, especially during a losing, injury-prone season. McAdoo is not only stripping the team of an offensive veteran, but a source of perseverance, consistency and most importantly, leadership.
However, the most insulting part of this benching fiasco is that McAdoo offered to let Manning start the rest of the season to maintain his streak, only to be pulled post-halftime anyway — which Manning, obviously, rejected.
“My feeling is that if you are going to play the other guys, play them,” he said in a press release. “Starting just to keep the streak going and knowing you won’t finish the game and have a chance to win it is pointless to me, and it tarnishes the streak.”
Tarnish the streak, indeed, as well as tarnishing all that Manning has done for the organization. But Eli’s benching comes as no surprise amidst a season in which the NFL has endured the wrath of President Donald Trump, scornings from CTE researchers and scandals like Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension.
Although, maybe the problem with the Giants is not Eli at all. Maybe it’s Jerry Reese and his poor drafting skills. Maybe it’s McAdoo, who is certainly not in the fans’ favor after this week. Or maybe the Giants have simply been unlucky this season (and last, and the one before that, and the one before that…), with their injury list mounting up and fanbase losing hope.
Regardless, the way Eli went was disappointing, disrespectful and a downright smack in the face by the franchise. To quote his former New York Giants teammate Osi Umenyiora, “Eli deserves much better than that. Much better.”
No one really thought that Eli would be with the Giants forever (or even after the 2018 season, really, especially when he’s due to receive a $5 million roster bonus in March). But when winning is off the table, there is one thing that coaches, teams, fans and players should value more than anything else: loyalty. While loyal Eli has been to the Giants, the Giants have not been loyal back.