PHOENIX – Eli Manning will be the Giants' starting quarterback in 2019 because the franchise's principal decision-makers believe he can be a vital component in the team's revival, and not, as outsiders have speculated, for sentimental reasons.
"I read that and I have to tell you, that really gets under my skin, because that is absolutely nonsense," team president John Mara said today. "Do I feel a sort of sentimentality towards Eli? Of course I do. Would I ever let that get in the way of making a football decision? Absolutely not. I cannot believe that some of you write that. I would never tell a coach or a GM that we have to keep this guy because we love him, and he has done so much for the franchise. Make a football decision based on whether or not you think he can play or not. If you think he can and you have a conviction or the coach has a conviction, that is fine. I will never interfere with that based on my sentiment with a player."
Mara and co-owner Steve Tisch today held a joint news conference at the NFL owners meeting, their first public comments of what has been a busy offseason.
Manning last week received a $5 million roster bonus, validating the Giants' intention to bring him back for a 16th season as their starter. General manager Dave Gettleman said based on Manning's performance in the second half of the 2018 season and his salary, "there wasn't a decision to make" about bringing him back.
But Mara, like everyone else in the team's hierarchy, stressed that the 38-year-old quarterback can't succeed by himself.
"I do (believe he can play) with the right players around him," Mara said. "I think we started to do that with the offensive line. We obviously need a number of additional pieces to do that. We have 12 picks in this draft so hopefully we will be able to do that. The answer is yes, I do believe we can win with him if we surround him with the right people."
The owners also voiced their vehement disagreement that the Giants lack a plan. Critics have cited trading Odell Beckham, Jr. one year after signing him to a lucrative contract extension, or retaining Manning five-year when the team is supposedly rebuilding following 3-13 and 5-11 seasons.
"I love that question," Mara said. "The plan is build a team and make it better. We are not going to get into, we like this player at number six (in the first round of the NFL Draft) and these two at number 17. Yes, we are definitely going to address the quarterback in this draft. The plan is to build a team and make it better. I don't know why that is such an issue with you guys or with fans. That is the plan.
"We know where we need to build certain positions," Tisch said. "Dave has a plan that he discusses with (head coach) Pat (Shurmur). Pat has a plan that he discusses with Dave. There is a plan. Over the next six weeks, pieces of that plan are going to start coming together."
The Giants firmly believe they can contend for a postseason berth as they improve the roster, while many outside the organization claim the two goals are incompatible.
"I understand what you guys see as conflict," Mara said to a group of nine reporters. "Are they rebuilding or are they trying to win now? You are trying to do both. You are trying to build a team and still remain as competitive as possible. We obviously have a lot of holes to fill. We think we have the draft capital to at least start to address that. Whenever you are building a team you have to have the right combination of veteran and young players. You want to have the veterans teach the young players how to be professional and how to be a Giant. You have to have the combination in the locker room to be successful. For me, it is not a conflict. I understand why you would as and why it would be perceived as a conflict. We never told them you have to get these guys and these guys. It comes down to getting the right guys in the locker room and that has been Dave's philosophy from day one. That is what he is trying to accomplish."
Would Mara like to draft a quarterback who could sit behind and learn from Manning for year – the "Kansas City model" Gettleman spoke of at the scouting combine.
"I think that would be a great scenario, if it happened," Mara said. "I don't want us to force a situation where if the value of quarterbacks is not there then don't take one. If it is there, take one. It would be a great situation to have someone in place to sit behind Eli for some period of time and see how he prepares and what a professional he is. A young quarterback could only get better doing that.
"I would like to come out of this draft with a quarterback. Here is the thing. Show me what the grades are and what the value is. If the top QB's are graded toward the bottom of the first round or in the second round, I am not going to insist that we take one at number six or number 17. Show me what the value is. That has always been our philosophy on that. The worst thing we can do is force the situation and you end up with a QB that is not worth that particular spot. Would we love to have a QB coming out of this draft, yes, but only if we have a conviction about it. We are not there yet. Until they bring these guys in, put them on the board, put the final grades up, we are a long way away from that."
At the same time, Mara didn't rule out Manning playing for the Giants in 2020.
"We are going to take it one year at a time," he said. "At this stage in his career you take it one year at a time."
And this year, the Giants hope to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
"Of course we would," Mara said. "We are never going to come into the season and say we don't want to be a playoff team. The direction from ownership to Dave and Pat is build the team."
Build and win – those are the Giants' twin goals in 2019.