Eli Manning and the Giants faces some uncertainty heading into the offseason:
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –No one on the Giants is as familiar with the end-of-season routine as Eli Manning.
Today, he attended his 14th breakup day. Only two of them have been happy affairs, when the Giants won Super Bowls XLII and XLVI. The rest followed the same numbing route: exit physicals, meetings with his positon coach, saying goodbye to teammates, coaches, and staff members, cleaning out his locker, and attending a final team meeting.
Despite the familiarity, this final goodbye was different for Manning than the first 13.
"I guess there's more uncertainty this year than after others," Manning said. "But it's always a disappointing day, that the season's over, [other than] the two years you win Super Bowls, where it's not. It's always tough that it's coming to an end, and another year that didn't go as we wanted. You just try to learn from each game, each year, each situation and try to be better for it."
But it goes deeper than that. Asked if this was the first time in his career he was uncertain if he would return, Manning said, "Yeah, you could probably say that."
Although the Giants defeated Washington yesterday in their season finale, 18-10, the big picture is that they finished 3-13, and will choose second in the NFL Draft. A new general manager, Dave Gettleman, was hired last week. Gettleman has indicated Manning will start the 2018 season as the team's quarterback, but with an offseason of change, nothing is certain.
Manning and Gettleman have not yet scheduled a meeting. But Manning reiterated what he said after the game yesterday, that he wants to remain the Giants' quarterback.
"This is what I want to do," said Manning, who turns 37 on Wednesday. "I want to play quarterback for the New York Giants. That's what I hope happens, and obviously we'll talk and figure out what's the plan for the franchise going forward."
Manning was asked he would respond to different potential developments. For example, if he's not the starter in 2018, would he prefer to go elsewhere?
"Those are all situations and scenarios we'll have to talk with Mr. Gettleman and figure out what his plan is, and make those decisions later," Manning said.
If the Giants select a quarterback at No. 2, would Manning be "comfortable" mentoring him?
"I think I've always been a good teammate," Manning said. "Whatever quarterbacks are in there, I think you're always talking football. I don't think you're ever specifically a mentor. You've got a job to play quarterback and get ready, but I think you're always helping the other guys and learning from the other guys in the room. And, hey, they help me, I would help them."
Would Manning be willing to rework his contract or take a pay cut to return to the Giants next season?
"We've got to figure out all those things," Manning said. "A lot of conversations have to be had with management before we get into all those things."
As Manning said, more uncertainty surrounds him than ever before. Except on one very important point.
"I feel like I can still play at a high level," he said. "I feel like I can make the throws and if you get the right guys around, that I can be very effective and play at an extremely high level."
The coming weeks and months will tell us whether he gets an opportunity to do just that.
*Quarterback Davis Webb, a third-round draft choice last year, didn't play a down in his rookie season, but believes he improved throughout the season, thanks in part to the help he received from Manning and Geno Smith.
"I'm going to be honest with you, I feel so good, I really do," Webb said. "I really grew and took some steps as a quarterback this year. I got some reps the past couple of weeks and I did better than I expected. Let's be honest, I haven't gotten a rep in team practice since really OTA's (in the spring). Training camp, I was in opportunity periods, we had four quarterbacks. The plan for us was to have a great season and me develop and it just didn't go that way and it was disappointing, it sucks. But at the same time, I didn't get many reps, so I was pretty excited to do as good as I did the past couple of weeks in team settings and kind of get me fired up going into the offseason."
*Tight end Evan Engram, the Giants' first-round draft choice last year, was proud he led the team with 64 receptions and six touchdowns, despite missing the game yesterday with a rib injury. But like everyone else who had impressive personal achievements, the joy they derived was mitigated by the team's dismal record.
"It was definitely good to come in and make an impact and make plays and try to come in and compete and be a force, but it was definitely tough losing," Engram said. "It was definitely tough going through a lot of the hardships that we went through, but it was definitely a good year learning this year and I had fun.
"The only way is to go up from here. I'm definitely really excited about getting to work, getting better. There's so much I can get better at, I already know what I'm going to work on. I'm really just anxious to get back, get ready to go to work and turn this thing around."
*Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a 10-year veteran who has played in two Super Bowls and two Pro Bowls. One of the most experienced voices in the locker room, DRC believes the Giants can quickly reverse their fortunes.
"Easily, definitely," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "I know the guys that are in the locker room, the guys that were hurt, I know they are eager to get back and get started, and I can tell you that no man wants this taste in their mouth this whole offseason. So I think it was good to get a win even now to get that feeling back. It was a very, very difficult season, but I think guys' mindset is coming back and not having that feeling again."
Rodgers-Cromartie said he'd like to return for a fifth season in a Giants uniform.
"Definitely," he said. "I think this is a classy organization. I love the guys in the locker room, the young guys. I made a lot of friends here man and it will be sad to be gone. But at the end of the day, my main focus is just chilling."
*Offensive lineman Justin Pugh, the former first-round draft choice, missed eight games, including the final seven with a back injury.
"Not the year we wanted. Not the year I wanted," said Pugh, an impending free agent. "We're going to have to go and figure this out. Changes are going to be made. I know that. It's coming. Hopefully, I'm a part of it."
Pugh said he has no long-term concerns about his back.
"I went to see the number one back specialist in the world out in California, and he told me everything will be alright," Pugh said. "I have no reservations about it. I'll be good to go in a month."
Count Pugh among those who believe the Giants can quickly return to playoff contention without blowing up the roster.
"I don't know how much change there's going to be," Pugh said. "I know this is – despite our record – we got some really good players in this room. No matter what you're going to say, we're going to have an elite defense next year, and those guys are unbelievable. On offense, we're going to be healthy and go back at it. Obviously things are going to change. We know that. You've heard the G.M. talk. We'll see what happens with the coaching situation, but that's the NFL. I'm used to that by now. I'm the only one left in my draft class. None of the coaches I came in with are here anymore. I know that change and turnover happens, and we'll see."