You have to feel for Eli Manning. If he weren’t the brother of a quarterback whose face would be on a Mount Rushmore of quarterbacks, should such a concept exist, he’d be better loved. He has 118 career wins, including playoffs, and a pair of Super Bowl MVP trophies.
No modern quarterback with that many wins isn’t in the Hall of Fame or a lock to get there (like his brother). No player with multiple Super Bowl MVP Awards isn’t in or a lock to get there (like Tom Brady).
Yet somehow, it doesn’t add up. Recently, he passed the elite 30-mile club in career passing yardage. In the modern era, that club includes Brady, Drew Brees, John Elway, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino and Ben Roethlisberger (also there this year). That’s it. More than 40 years of the modern passing rules, and he’s one of seven to throw for more than 52,800 yards (Philip Rivers might well make it eight late this season or in the playoffs, should the Chargers qualify).
We’re in the age when the definition of great quarterbacking is changing, and perhaps expectations are too high. Or perhaps there was a run of a few years when random luck produced a group of top quarterbacks. Hard to say. A few months ago, I tried to come up with a Bill James-style formula for calculating quarterbacks reaching the Hall, and Eli is borderline. Only Ken Anderson has more points in this formula of those who aren’t in or still playing (or like Peyton, not yet eligible), but the list of current players is impressive.
I think I’ve made my feelings about Ken Anderson’s qualifications well known (darn it, Canton, it’s time to fix this). But ultimately, I think Eli won’t make it because his brother will, and Brady and Brees and Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers are dead locks to make it. We’ll have quarterback fatigue.
We also have to consider quality of play. My quarterback metric is designed to analyze this across generations, and the fact is that Eli is an average-minus quarterback statistically. His career average in the metric is 49.8, a number that would and should have coaches wondering if they should draft a replacement. Only two of the Hall quarterbacks are below 56 career – Warren Moon (53.8) and Elway (52.7). And Elway is one of a handful to reach 150 wins while Moon had to prove himself in the CFL for years when he should have been in the NFL. None of the other current quarterbacks I’ve mentioned here are below 58 average for their careers (Peyton is at 61.2).
Today, New York Giants coach Ben McAdoo announced that Eli won’t be starting at quarterback the rest of this season. He offered him the opportunity to play a series or two, then come out, because Eli’s streak of 210 straight starts is second all-time among quarterbacks to Favre (though still a few years short). Manning wisely declined, understanding this kind of record is only valid when you’re playing in the fourth quarter.
Is it time for the Giants, 2-9 and mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, to consider alternatives to their 36-year-old leader? Manning’s average score in the metric is down to 44 this year, 27th among NFL starters. There’s reason to wonder if it’s time to retire. The Giants invested a third-round pick this year in Davis Webb, who is rather raw coming off his graduate-transfer year at California, but is huge and has a gifted arm. But Webb won’t start, either. That goes to Geno Smith, who has an 11-19 career record with the Jets and a 42 average in the metric. Smith is in his fifth year, and will be a free agent next spring. I’m not sure he’s worth the look if a look has to be taken. I’m not sure that’s a great decision, given that the Giants will draft high next year and really need to know all they can about Webb whereas the odds are low Smith is worth starting next year.
But decisions have a way of becoming necessary at inconvenient times, and the worry is that Webb isn’t ready or he would get the longest look. Since this is likely the end of Manning with the Giants, fans can appreciate what his long career has brought to New York, even if it’s just a little bit short of Hall quality and he has struggled along with the rest of the team this year.