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Eli Manning is the “starter,” but will he actually start the season opener?

Mike Florio

If we’ve learned anything about the Giants this year it’s to take nothing the team says at face value.

Monday’s headlines regarding the most important situation on the field were driven by the notion that coach Pat Shurmur won’t have a quarterback competition, that Eli Manning is the “starter,” and the rookie Daniel Jones occupies a spot in the group behind him. But this is the organization that insisted it didn’t sign Odell Beckham to trade him, and then traded him. So what they say about any given topic really isn’t all that binding.

Especially if Jones ends up performing extremely well between now and September, and Manning doesn’t.

Consider the assessment of Monday’s overall circumstances from Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News. Leonard writes that Manning struggled in a red-zone, 11-on-11 drill, with three passes thrown out of the back of the end zone and a fourth tipped by defensive back Sam Beal and intercepted by safety Jabrill Peppers, with Beal explaining after the fact that Eli was “staring [the receiver] down.”

Consider specifically this passage from Leonard’s article regarding Monday’s OTA work: “Manning did not impress. And if he practices and plays the way he does on Monday — and Jones simultaneously improves — the pressure will turn up higher on Manning quickly and significantly.”

“There is little room for any more Eli error,” Leonard concluded. “The pressure is on, and the leash could be much shorter than anyone expects.”

I’ve quoted at length from Leonard’s article because I continue to believe that the leash is indeed short on Manning, and that if Jones performs in a manner befitting the sixth overall pick in the draft, he should be able to fairly and squarely win the starting job over an aging veteran whose performance last year put him outside of at least 20 of his peers. In a league that has only 31 peers in all, that’s not good.

But the transition from Manning to Jones will be extremely delicate, and the Giants will have to tread lightly, or risk a repeat of the ugliness that emerged when former head coach Ben McAdoo tried to bench Manning for Geno Smith. The Giants have to say whatever they can say to prop up Manning, and if it becomes painfully obvious that they were absolutely right to make Jones the sixth overall pick, they can welcome the development as the proverbial “good problem to have.”

Impatience in this regard would invite the worst problem to have, because an ignominious benching of Eli coupled with underachievement from Jones would be the worst way to close the book on one franchise quarterback and to open the book on the next one. The safe, and smart, play will be to stand firmly behind Eli unless and until it becomes clear that Jones is the better option.

If that happens, Shurmur will have no choice but to make the switch. Otherwise, he’ll lose all credibility in the locker room. Which is much worse than whatever credibility he’d lose (not much at all) if the unofficial depth chart he outlined on Monday ends up being a far cry from the way the quarterbacks line up against the Cowboys on September 8.