EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – After much speculation, general manager Dave Gettleman confirmed that Eli Manning would return as the Giants' starting quarterback 78 days after the conclusion of the 2018 season. But Manning knew long before that March 18 pronouncement that he wanted to return for a 16th season.
"I made that decision pretty quickly," Manning said today. "I still wanted to play. I told the Giants that very quickly. I didn't have to think about it long. This is what I do and what I like to do, and I have worked extremely hard the last few months to get ready. I liked how the team rallied toward the end of the year with the coaches. Everyone got on a better page together. Could have won a few more games, but had great opportunities to win. We are headed in the right direction."
And Manning will lead the way, as he has for so long.
The Giants today began their voluntary offseason conditioning program, and after a team meeting and the initial workout, Manning spoke publicly for the first time in what has been a momentous offseason. The significant transactions include the arrivals of Golden Tate, Kevin Zeitler and Jabrill Peppers, and the departures of Odell Beckham, Jr., Landon Collins and Olivier Vernon.
But the unanswered question for 2½ months was whether the best quarterback in franchise history would remain in a Giants uniform. Three days after the Giants' 5-11 season ended, Gettleman was asked if he was "committed" to bringing Manning back. "My commitment," Gettleman said, "is to make this team the best team it can be and if that happens to have Eli playing quarterback, it does." Manning had already told him of his desire to return.
"It was right after the season, so they had a lot to look at and a lot to go over," Manning said. "I just wanted to let them know how I was feeling before they made their decision. … Just telling them that I still want to play and feel like I can still play. Just want to be a part of this moving forward. Just told them that, where I was and how I was thinking."
The Giants are back at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center to begin offseason workouts
Coach Pat Shurmur clearly wanted Manning back this year, a notion Gettleman strongly endorsed. When he said last month that Manning would return, the G.M. said, "there really wasn't a decision to make."
Manning said he recently learned of the judgment.
"I had some talks with Mr. Gettleman and coach Shurmur within the last month or so," he said. "They told me that I would come back and be on the team this year. I got word within the last month."
So now we move on to speculation scenario No. 2: with three of the top 37 selections in the NFL Draft next week, will the Giants choose the quarterback who could one day succeed Manning?
Manning is not spending emotional energy worrying about what might or might not happen in the long term.
"I never concerned myself with that," he said. "I think every year I am just worried about that next year. That is what I am thinking about. I am thinking about right now with this team. Getting rolling, getting wins and doing whatever it takes to be a good teammate to get this team winning football games.
"I can see the Giants getting a young quarterback. I understand that. I still have to do my job. I will do my part. Same as last year. Go out there, play quarterback, win football games. That is what I am trying to do."
The Giants report back to the Quest Diagnostics Training Center
If the Giants do select a quarterback, Manning will be the same supportive and helpful teammate he's always been with players at an y position, including those who play his spot.
"I have always felt that in the quarterback room I have always had a great relationship with everyone," he said. "All the QBs, we have drafted quarterbacks and have had young quarterbacks in there. I enjoy talking football and enjoy talking ball. Giving tips on coverages, protections, concepts, everyone is trying to help each other. It is an open conversation for everyone to get ideas and everyone just sticks around after to get on the same page. That is just part of being a quarterback. I have enjoyed putting in the extra effort and the work. Getting everyone comfortable and up to speed. Help young guys trying to learn a new offense."
Although he learned of his own fate in conversations with Gettleman and Shurmur, he heard about the offseason's other big news – the trade of Beckham to Cleveland – like so many others.
"I found out just watching TV one night," he said. "I just came across the (tracker) at the bottom of the screen. Started to get a few texts. That is how I found out. The reaction, I wanted to reach out to him. Odell has been a teammate for five years and has been a friend. These circumstances, you think about the player involved. It is more than just a player; it is someone you have a relationship with. You think more about that person, how they are handling it and that they are OK and doing well with it."
Manning said he has been in touch with Beckham, his fellow alumnus from the Isidore Newman School in New Orleans. He said the trade didn't surprise him, but not because he expected Beckham to be dealt.
"I think after being in the NFL for 16 years, I don't think there are a whole lot of surprises anymore," he said. "You learn to deal with everything. You learn to adjust, you move on and do my job. Do it to the best of my ability and get the players that are here up to speed. That is the great thing about football. I am excited about the players that we have and the additions that we have made. Get everyone up to speed and on the same page. Keep moving forward."
They will do so with Tate and Sterling Shepard – who signed a contract extension last week – as their top two wideouts, Rookie of the Year running back Saquon Barkley as the top offensive weapon, Evan Engram continuing to produce at tight end, and perhaps members of the new draft class contributing regularly.
"Guys have to step up," Manning said. "We have good players on this team. Talented receivers and running backs. We played the last four, five games of the season without (Beckham). We were able to score points and move the ball. He is a tremendous player and was a tremendous player for us. There are certain things that he can do that not everyone can do, but we still have guys that can play and help us be a tremendous offense and score a lot of points."
Manning couldn't be happier that he will again be an integral part of that attack.