It also may have marked the unofficial end of Manning’s tenure with the franchise that traded for him on draft day 2004 after Manning, his family and agent Tom Condon made it clear that he had no intention of playing in San Diego for the Chargers.
The Giants say they do not consider it a done deal that Manning will not be with the team next season. After all, Giants co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch very well could decide to part with Coach Ben McAdoo and General Manager Jerry Reese, and the new coach and GM might want to retain Manning even if they secure their quarterback of the future in next year’s NFL draft.
But it might be easier for everyone if Manning simply moves on. Emotions are running high and feelings clearly have been hurt. Manning declined the Giants’ offer to continue to start games and give way after halftime to Geno Smith or rookie Davis Webb. The Giants say they want to evaluate Smith and, especially, Webb during what remains of this season. They are likely to have a lofty first-round selection in a draft that is to be loaded with coveted quarterbacks.
The most likely destination for Manning, who turns 37 in January, if he leaves the Giants is Jacksonville, where the Jaguars have a very promising young team and have former Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who teamed with Manning for those two memorable Super Bowl triumphs over the New England Patriots, as their chief roster architect in their front office.
But there undoubtedly would be other possibilities. Here is a quick assessment of some of the teams that could be in contention to land Manning if he indeed becomes available.
Jaguars: They would be the clear favorite, given Manning’s connection to Coughlin. Some within the sport actually were surprised that Jacksonville did not deal for Manning before this year’s NFL trade deadline. The defense has been overpowering at times, and the young talent on the roster is impressive. Blake Bortles has not been the answer at quarterback, at least not consistently. If the Jaguars win the AFC South and have a decent showing during the postseason, that might convince them to stay the course with Bortles and avoid a reunion between Manning and Coughlin. But anything short of that probably would leave open the possibility of Manning being brought in to attempt to elevate the team to true-contender status.
Broncos: They won a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning at quarterback. Why not try to win another one with his brother? The Broncos have tried Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch at quarterback since Manning’s retirement, and none has staked a claim to the starting job. Lynch was taken in the opening round of last year’s NFL draft, but he has been plagued by injuries and is yet to show signs that he’s about to become a franchise quarterback. If the Broncos believe that they have the elements of a championship contender still in place, especially on defense, executive John Elway might be tempted to add Eli Manning for another Super Bowl push.
Bills: Coach Sean McDermott’s brief and ill-fated switch to rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman underscored his lack of trust in Tyrod Taylor as his starter. The Bills clearly have many pieces of a playoff team in place. They remain in the AFC wild-card chase even with their quarterback situation in great flux. Perhaps they would regard Manning as the right quarterback to get them back into the postseason and potentially even challenge the Patriots in the AFC East.
Jets: Manning’s popularity in New York was reinforced by the outcry over his benching and the Giants’ handling of the matter. The other New York-area franchise, the one that must share a stadium with the Giants and must endure the notion that it is the city’s junior varsity NFL team, might be well served to tap into that popularity. The Jets clearly need to start over at quarterback and bring in a youngster taken very early in next year’s NFL draft. But that doesn’t mean that Manning couldn’t come along also and serve as the caretaker of the position until the youngster is deemed ready to play.
Cardinals: They could move on from the now-injured Carson Palmer, and it seems unlikely that they would want to go into next season with Drew Stanton or Blaine Gabbert as the starter. There will be other options on the quarterback market. But if they don’t land one of those other quarterbacks, the Cardinals might be comfortable with Manning’s experience and steadying influence.
Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill will return from this season’s knee injury. But if the Dolphins are not confident in the soundness of Tannehill’s knee, it might make sense for them to consider Manning. Spending another season relying on Jay Cutler and Matt Moore does not sound particularly comforting.
Redskins: Crazy, right? Maybe. But what if Kirk Cousins exits? The Redskins won’t have a pick at the top of the draft and might be left needing a temporary solution. They once made a bid to sign Peyton Manning, even when they were about to draft Robert Griffin III. That failed. But they could allow Manning to finish his career in the NFC East – and face the Giants twice per season.
Browns: The Browns absolutely, positively, without a doubt need to use the No. 1 overall selection in the NFL draft on a quarterback. But do you put anything past the Browns? The team that passed on Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson in the last two NFL drafts is liable to do just about anything. Manning would be very unlikely to want to end up in Cleveland. But what if he ends up with no other options?