The NFLs most heavily scrutinized two-time Super Bowl MVP winner, up-and-down Eli Manning has been far from elite this year. With 16 TDs & 20 INTs through 13 games, his current 74.2 QB rating is his worst since 2007—the year he led the Giants to improbable Super Bowl run number 1.
Eli Manning (QB) 1/3/81 (32 years old) (via ESPN.com) Career Statistics
Dissect Eli’s career numbers, and it’s clear where his critics originate. A gunslinger at heart, he tossed 25 INTs in 2010 before throwing for almost 5,000 yards in 2011; He was rock solid statistically last year (26 TD, 15 INT, 87.2 QBR), and has been anything but solid this year.
You can make the argument that he’s exactly what you don’t want from the quarterback position: a model of inconsistency who happened to get (very) hot, at the right time—twice.
But you can’t argue that since being handed the reigns to the Giants franchise at the start of the 2005 season, he’s 82-59 as he finishes up his 9th full season. You can’t argue that he’s never missed a game due to injury. You can’t argue that with the Giants now out of contention this year, he’s still led them to 5 playoff appearances in his 9 full seasons as the starter.
You can’t argue that he’s one of the few quarterbacks whose hands you’d want the ball in with a game on the line. And, of course, you can’t argue with two Super Bowl MVPs.
Up until this year, Eli Manning’s salary cap figure was reflective of all this. He was being paid, fairly, as a franchise quarterback—which he undoubtedly has proven to be.
But when he restructured his contract before the 2012 season, decreasing his 2012 base salary from $10.75 million to $1.75 million, the ramifications were that he’d be paid like a top 3 quarterback from 2013-2015. Since Manning is certainly not one of the NFLs top 3 quarterbacks, this has the Giants franchise in a current bind.
Manning defenders will blame many of this year’s struggles on a lack of talent surrounding him. At the start of this past offseason, Giants GM Jerry Reese cut veterans Michael Boley, Chris Canty and Ahmad Bradshaw—all respected locker room presences as well as valued on-field contributors. Manning’s offensive line has also been one of the worst in football for the majority of the season.
But that is where the problem lies. Manning’s salary cap figure denotes that he’s the type of QB that can win with moving parts—with a sub-par offensive-line or skill deficiencies at other positions. With the NFLs 2013 salary cap set at $123 million, his $20,850,000 cap figure accounts for about 17% of what the Giants were allowed to spend this past year. And with the salary cap not expected to increase much (if at all) in 2014, his $20.4 million cap figure will account for something in that same range.
Of course it’s not impossible to win while having a quarterback seize such a large portion of his teams total spending. Drew Brees’ cap hit is $17.4 million this year while leading the 10-3 Saints, and Eli’s brother Peyton’s cap hit is $17.5 million for his 11-2 Broncos. Yet nobody is confusing Eli Manning for Drew Brees or his brother.
With Eli’s monstrous cap figures in place for the next two years, Jerry Reese is essentially betting on Eli Manning turning into something he’s not. And while I certainly would not bet against Eli having a better 2014 than his current 2013, I also wouldn’t count on him magically turning into his brother in his age 33 season.
So unless Eli Manning takes a pay cut this offseason (unlikely), gets cut (next to impossible), or restructures his contract again (very dangerous), the Giants roster will continue to be sapped of talent due to salary cap casualties (Antrelle Rolle, Mathias Kiwanuka & Justin Tuck are all veteran candidates). Manning’s cap figure also means the Giants will have a lot of trouble bringing in any difference-makers via the free agent market as well as resigning their own free-agents (like Hakeem Nicks).
At 5-8, the Giants will likely have their highest draft selection in some time. With Eli Manning’s contract strapping the franchise in the short-term, it’s more important than ever that Jerry Reese makes these picks count. If he doesn’t, 2014 could look eerily similar to 2013.