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Was Eli Benched, Or Was He “Doug Pedersoned”

By Mike Greger

The supportive tweets came reigning in, faster and more furious than any pass Eli Manning ever threw.

Justin Tuck: “I’m honestly at a loss for words. As a person that has seen Eli the QB but also Eli the Man, I’m truly pissed about what has [taken] place today. This decision is one of the STUPIDEST I’ve seen in my time being asap with pro sports #noloyalty #14years #bullshit.”

David Diehl: “I’m absolutely speechless. I’ve watched every game & have sat through this rough @Giants season & this what you do to a man who has lead this team for 210 straight games.”

Kurt Warner: “He’s never done anything but show character and do the right thing. … Shame on the Giants.”

Heck, even Marshawn Lynch chimed in: The @Giants benching Eli Manning for Geno Smith is almost as crazy as not running the ball on the 1 with a Super Bowl in the line

Point taken, but character will only get you so far. Right, Chip Kelly?

Eli Manning will be enshrined in Canton at some point, whether it is in 2022 after the requisite five years or later if he decides to extend his career in Jacksonville. Which he should do. Whenever that time comes, Manning’s consecutive start streak of 210 games will be listed somewhere right below those two Super Bowl MVP trophies on his Hall of Fame bust.

But Tuesday’s decision by the Giants to “bench” Manning, while shocking and unexpected to many, was the right and logical move. For starters, let’s scrap the word “benched.” Manning was not benched. He was shut down, much like an injured player is when his team is no longer in contention. There is a vastly different connotation.

(Remember the carefully-worded statement crafted by the Eagles in 2012 regarding Andy Reid’s departure? They never used the word “fired,” opting for “it is time for the Eagles to move in a new direction,” and held a private ceremony to bid him a fond farewell.)

Following the Giants’ lackluster 20-10 loss to the Redskins on Thanksgiving night, the team was finally mathematically eliminated. The Giants have been a mess all year; they are the football equivalent of what is going on in the White House these days. The front office believed their own hype and the players on the field bought into all the bravado their embattled head coach was spinning, about “fake news” and the like.

Ben McAdoo is likely gone at season’s end, along with general manager Jerry Reese. The latter deserves the blame since he is the architect. But McAdoo’s bold and unfavorable decision to sit Manning for the rest of this Titanic ride is the sanest thing he’s done in his short tenure.

The reality is that this Giants team isn’t going to win the Super Bowl. Not now, and probably not before the Sixers hang up a banner in the Wells Fargo Center. Of course, none of this is Manning’s fault. He didn’t deal the cards. He would be up big in Vegas for eking two wins out of this sinking ship. But Manning is 36 years old, about to turn 37 in January. That is ancient for a quarterback, unless you guzzle electrolyte-infused water and bone broth on the daily.

In fact, you could argue that the Giants should have sat Manning two weeks ago. The Eagles pulled the plug on the “Great Doug Pederson Quarterback Experiment” after only nine starts back in 1999, preferring to see what a young kid out of Syracuse could do with a 2-7 record. That team still finished in last place, but went 3-4 down the stretch and identified their quarterback of the future: Donovan McNabb.

Sure, turning the keys over to Geno Smith was an interesting twist, maybe they consulted with M. Night Shyamalan. However, the 27-year-old Smith is in his prime and will be on a very short leash. I’d be surprised if he lasted more than two quarters based on his career numbers and what we already know about him. The Giants used a third-round pick on Davis Webb and he is the reason that mythical “Eli Face” has been quarantined to the sidelines, for eternity.

What many fans fail to realize is that NFL teams are businesses. The great ones (see: New England Patriots, aka The Evil Empire) care little about public perception and consider shrewdness a virtue. The bad ones (see: Cleveland Browns, aka The Team That Built The Factory of Sadness) keep waiting until next year to draft their Carson Wentz, when hopefully a better groomed and dreamier quarterback will be there. Hey, maybe he’ll even look like Bernie Kosar!

Eagles fans loved Jon Dorenbos, but spinning him for a seventh-round pick (yes, it was returned due to his health condition) was a cold-hearted business maneuver. There is no emotion in NFL front offices. There can’t be. Save that for the 700 level. Or, as a famous old Eagles coach famously said: “If you listen to the fans, you’ll be sitting up there with them.”

In the case of the New York Giants, they need to find out if the next McNabb is buried on their roster, hiding under the alias of Davis Webb. If Webb turns heads over these final five weeks, the Giants can focus on other things in the draft, like shoring up their porous offensive line or grabbing the explosive Saquon Barkley, the best pure prospect around.

If Webb is a dud … well, at least you tried. Either way, Manning’s New York story is over.

Meanwhile, the Giants have to evaluate what is currently on their roster. They are in a position to own a top-3 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, with franchise-caliber quarterbacks like Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield possibly sitting there for the taking.

What was it Johnnie Cochran used to say? If the quarterback don’t fit, you must acquit.

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