Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Giants 2014: Why Eli Manning Faces a "Prove It" Year

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“Bounce back”. “Comeback”. There are many forms of expressing the idea of a player’s return to form. Of restoring the confidence the fans, competitors and league as a whole may have previously had.

Giants fans may want this for Eli Manning — a return to the reliable quarterback that has notched two Lombardi trophies and as many Super Bowl MVPs. They want to savor their QB once again being widely considered one of the best in the league. Sure, he’s been considered top five (primarily post SB46), but the fan base needs to realize that what happened in the past is not what Giants nation needs, nor what the Giants want. What they want, and what we need, is a new Eli.

To me, Elisha Nelson Manning is the largest enigma in NFL history at quarterback. Never has there been a more confusing passer to evaluate. Mainstream analysts love to hate, constantly bringing into focus the lack of stellar consistency on par with his brother, while fans point out the “clutch gene” that is embedded in his DNA. Both parties are right and Eli has never CONSISTENTLY been an elite QB; but there is hardly a middle ground with his truly elite play in the pressure moments.

That is where I come in with this hot take regarding how the enigma stands in terms of the future: this 2014 season will be the make or break year for Eli in Giants’ blue.

Why?

Eli being an enigma only exists because of his stellar playoff resume that features more rings than guys like Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and his brother Peyton. Without those results, Eli would not even be a Giant today.

Now do not get me wrong, I am not hating on Eli. He is honestly the one quarterback I would pick if I assembled an All-Star team (imagine all the elite talent around him, combined with his clutch arm? I’ll take it). But all fans need to be honest. No franchise tolerates five 17+ interception seasons without some accompanying hardware. Manning has been inconsistent for much of his career, and last season was the second to last nail in the coffin.

He threw 27 interceptions and was sacked 39 times for a total of 281 yards lost, both of which were career highs. In terms of career lows, Eli threw his lowest amount of completions since 2009, had his lowest completion percentage since the 2007 season and had his fewest yards since 2008. A mere 18 touchdowns, his fewest since his rookie season, was the “F” stamp on a terrible statistical report card.

So the team has made a variety of changes, hoping that they will galvanize Eli into proper form. They added a new offensive coordinator with a fresh new scheme. The Giants revamped their offensive line, added two new running backs, three receivers (including first rounder Odell Beckham Jr) and stacked the defense to help balance out the offenses potential dragging woes. Solid off season strategy, if I do say so myself.

But “bounce back” does not describe what the fans, organization or team deserve.  Nor what the Giants brass wants. Eli was given these changes not just to improve the team, but to rebuild him. To challenge him. These changes were made to recreate Eli Manning into a newer, and hopefully better, quarterback than in years past.

These changes were made to tell him that things cannot not remain the same as 2013 — and he will not be there forever — without a vastly improved level of production.

Why would he admit that this new scheme has “re-energized” him? Why would he admit to a new sense of excitement and motivation? Because even he knows that enough is enough. Produce or go home.

Eli needs to rebuild his reputation. This season is a chance to do that more than he ever has before. With the talent around, he has a chance, on paper, to have the best year of his entire career Either that, or the Giants are looking elsewhere.

The most glaring reason for my proposed theory of the Giants’ possible intent to move on without said results? Where was Eli’s extension?

Number 10 did not deserve an extension at all after this past year. Big Blue’s cap situation would have benefited from such a move, however. Extending Eli would have easily opened up the cap for the Giants to seriously contend for either more free agents or at least the supposedly more talented ones (Alterraun Verner may have actually been in reach). That is not to say the Giants missed out though, as every team’s new additions are not guaranteed to be successful. But why not extend him and give some more cap space to more luxuriously handle new acquisitions and contract talks?

Instead, Jerry Reese and the rest of the administration handled their money well, turning over this roster in a major way by adding an influx of talented youth and very motivated characters to build a solid locker room for now and into the future. They left Eli with a mere two years left on his enormous contract because they wanted to send a message:

Eli… The time is now. Either you handle business now, being more cautious and restoring your confidence in your teammates… Or we start looking ahead into the future for the new face of the franchise.

Don’t get it wrong. You have done us well, kid. We are definitely not blaming you for what last season was and we love you here. You have done so much for this city and team that you are already a legend.

But even you have to admit, we needed change and the old guard had a nice run. What we are doing is giving you a shot at determining which ‘guard’ you are with. The old one that is out the door? Or the new one we feel we have started a building a solid foundation for?

The choice is yours Eli.

If you came away asking yourself “Did they really say this to Eli” then relax, no one did. But the Giants’ decision to simply let his contract remain intact without a little more time added on, especially in this current QB driven “we’ll give him any amount of money” league says plenty of where the Giants’ leadership stands.

He has been our hero and savior for years, Giants faithful. My youth is comprised mostly of rooting for and defending my favorite passer. But even I am now realizing that Eli may not be wearing #10 for New York for much longer.

A phenomenal season will surely buy him more time, but my favorite team must understand that his shelf life is slowly creeping away. Even with a decent year, they should start looking for the youthful replacement for Eli to pass the torch to, even if it means that youngin’ sits for a few seasons.

All in all, this could be the start to the end of the legendary #10’s career as a Giant.

Here’s to hoping he brings it together for the best team in the nation.

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