Heading into the 2017 season, the New York Giants seemed to be in a good situation. After making the playoffs the year before, expectations were high as many expected them to win the NFC East. Instead, the team was ravaged by injuries, head coach Ben McAdoo was fired and Eli Manning was benched despite being healthy for the first time in more than 200 games. What started as a season with hope quickly turned into a dumpster fire.
As the Giants are now looking in a new direction for 2018 and beyond, the belief is that quarterback Eli Manning may no longer be part of the mix. Manning has been with the team since he came to the NFL in 2004, and has eclipsed over 50,000 career passing yards and 330 touchdowns in what could be his final season in the Big Apple. However the recent benching may have angered him, and he may decide that a veteran of his experience deserves to be treated like the starting QB and potential Hall of Fame player that he is. He has a no movement clause in his contract, but he may waive it for the right team.
Assuming that Manning waives his no movement clause to leave the Giants, where is he likely to go and which teams that have been rumoured to have a shot at landing Manning are being overhyped? Here’s a look at eight teams that you shouldn’t be surprised to see Eli Manning playing for in 2018, and seven that don’t have as much of a shot as you might believe.
15 Would Leave For: Minnesota Vikings
The first landing spot that would make sense for Eli Manning is the Minnesota Vikings. Obviously, Minnesota has done just fine considering that they’re on their third quarterback of the season (Case Keenum), but the Vikings find themselves in an unenviable position after the season comes to an end. All three of their quarterbacks, which include Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater, will be free agents.
Bradford has dealt with injuries, Bridgewater is returning from a severe injury that leaves a lot of uncertainty, and Keenum will likely be asking for well above market value. If the Vikings want to continue to be contenders, signing Manning could keep them toward the top of the NFC North in 2018. Of course, the ideal scenario would be to get Keenum on a team-friendly deal for next year.
14 Won't: Cleveland Browns
Oddsmakers have said that the Cleveland Browns are one of the most likely destinations for Eli Manning in 2018. However, the Browns are one of the teams that are somehow in a worse situation than the New York Giants. If you’re going into a total rebuild, you want to find a quarterback of the future, not a quarterback that’s nearing the end of his career. Sure, the Browns have the salary cap room, but he’s not going to magically turn this hapless team into contenders.
The Browns would have to make some big splashes elsewhere in the offseason to make their team appetizing for Manning. The idea of throwing to Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman isn’t a bad one, but the Browns need a lot across the board before Manning would climb aboard.
13 Would Leave For: Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins found themselves in a tough spot to begin the season when they lost quarterback Ryan Tannehill for the year, and chose to sign veteran Jay Cutler for one season and $10 million. The experiment hasn’t worked out too well, and it’s unlikely that Cutler will be back next year as he heads back into retirement. Looking ahead, the Dolphins are still scheduled for three more years of Tannehill.
However, the Dolphins have a potential out in Tannehill’s contract that would only leave $4.6 million in dead cap. That’s not too bad compared to paying an average of around $20 million over the course of the next three seasons. Manning would be a cheaper option in 2018, and many feel he would be just as capable as Tannehill to make them to the playoffs.
12 Won't: Dallas Cowboys
Dak Prescott certainly impressed for the Cowboys in his rookie season, leading the team to a 13-3 record with 3,667 passing yards, 23 touchdowns and four interceptions. This year, Prescott took a step back as he hasn’t been as efficient, and it appears that he’s also been exposed without the running game that Ezekiel Elliott presents while he sits out for his suspension.
Because of this, some of the Cowboys faithful is starting to look in a different direction at quarterback, but it’s much too early for that. As much as Eli Manning would love to have two shots per year against the Giants, it wouldn’t happen in Dallas. Prescott is still on a very team-friendly contract for the next two seasons, so it’s unlikely that they move away from the 2016 Pro Bowler.
11 Would Leave For: Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills have made it unfortunately clear that they don’t see Tyrod Taylor as their quarterback of the future. They’ve even benched Taylor in favour of rookie Nathan Peterman, who has looked absolutely terrible in his first couple of appearances. Taylor is still signed for 2018, and it would be costly to let him walk. That said, the Bills are likely going to look to shop Taylor in the offseason.
The Bills don’t have a bad roster as it is, and found themselves in the playoff hunt for much of the 2017 season. A capable quarterback like Manning might be able to get them over the hump, and could get them a playoff spot even if they still have to deal with Tom Brady and the Patriots in their division.
10 Won't: New Orleans Saints
Had the New Orleans Saints offense fallen apart in 2017, it could have been possible to see them let go of Drew Brees. Instead, the Saints are firing on all cylinders, and there’s little doubt that Brees will return to the Saints. After all, he’s said that he doesn’t want to leave New Orleans after the 2017 season. Of course, that will be up to the team, who can let him walk after the season for no dead salary cap.
Manning would present a somewhat cheaper option for the Saints, and Manning would have plenty of weapons to work with. Still, it’s hard to see the Saints not sticking with Brees for the next few seasons. That doesn’t mean Manning wouldn’t be a good fit, it would just be an unlikely one.
9 Would Leave For: Arizona Cardinals
Speaking of teams with aging quarterbacks and good options to throw to, the Arizona Cardinals fall into the same category. Bruce Arians has said that if Carson Palmer comes back in 2018 he’ll remain the starting quarterback, but it’s unlikely that he plays football again. Then again, Arians himself might not be back next season, so the point could be moot.
Manning would be a good plug-in option if Palmer were to retire, and he’d get to work with the likes of David Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, and Jaron Brown. Arizona has been a hotspot for quarterbacks looking for a late career revival, so it would make sense to keep the trend going with Eli Manning. It just all hinges on what Palmer does in the offseason.
8 Won't: Green Bay Packers
After Aaron Rodgers went down with an injury earlier in the 2017 season, there were some rumblings that he might be looking to play for another team. Reporters have said that he has an out in his contract that would allow him to leave, but that’s actually false. It’s the Packers franchise itself that has the ability to let Rodgers walk after the 2017 season for no penalty toward their salary cap.
If you’ve seen how the Packers have fared without Rodgers in the starting lineup compared to when he’s in it, you’d be crazy to think that the Packers would just let Rodgers test free agent waters. Rodgers hasn’t really slowed down much at all, and the Packers would be crazy to use that opt-out after the season. For that reason; no Eli Manning for Green Bay.
7 Would Leave For: New York Jets
We now discuss the final non-Patriots AFC East team that could possibly sign Eli Manning. This one makes a lot of sense as the younger Jets quarterbacks haven’t proven themselves, Josh McCown is going to be a free agent after the season’s over and signing Eli Manning could make it so that the Jets could draft a quarterback to be groomed. It all makes sense from a team standpoint.
As for Manning, it’s a move that would also make sense. He could play his home games in the exact same stadium that he already calls home, all while not having to move his family anywhere. That’s an ideal situation for anybody that’s looking for a new job, especially for football players. The Jets don’t have many weapons to work with, but they present an easy transition for Manning in his post-Giants career.
6 Won't: Los Angeles Chargers
Early in the 2017 season, the Chargers were constantly losing close games and Philip Rivers had made it known that he really wanted the team to stay in San Diego. These two factors combined to create rumours that Rivers would be calling it a career after the season, opening the door for Manning to finally head to the team that drafted him back in 2004 before being traded for Rivers.
It would have been a nice thought, but Rivers is more likely to return to the Chargers in 2018 which means they don’t need Manning. Looking back on it, Manning was asked in 2013 why he didn’t want to play for the Chargers in the first place. He told reporters that “I forgot” the reason, so at least the bad blood isn’t there anymore.
5 Would Leave For: Denver Broncos
After the 2011 season, the biggest news in free agency was where former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was going to land. He ended up in Denver and dominated for his first three seasons, finishing his career with a Super Bowl where he had 17,112 passing yards, 140 touchdowns and 53 interceptions over four overall seasons. Could we see the younger Manning follow in his brother’s footsteps?
Eli hasn’t really shown much interest in being compared to his brother, which could keep him away from Denver, although Peyton could give John Elway a good reference on Eli’s behalf. The Broncos current quarterback situation is horrid at the moment, and the team that has an overall solid roster seems to be a good quarterback away from getting back to the playoffs. Going the Manning route for a second time could be that path to the postseason.
4 Won't: Houston Texans
The Texans have found themselves in a quarterback conundrum once again without Deshaun Watson being present. Watson’s injury and the past couple of seasons have shown that the Texans can contend with a quarterback, so they need Watson to be healthy. Adding Eli Manning to the roster would be a good insurance policy for Watson in the future, but they remain the sixth biggest favourite to land Manning.
At this point in his career, Manning likely wouldn’t want to sit on the bench, which is where he would end up with the exciting Watson returning in 2018. It’s certainly not the worst fit, and Texans fans should be ecstatic if Manning arrives as their backup quarterback, but it simply won’t happen, even if Houston would have a lot less pressure than New York.
3 Would Leave For: Washington Redskins
Dan Snyder and the Redskins have completely fumbled the Kirk Cousins situation, and it’s starting to look more and more that Cousins will be signing elsewhere for 2018 and beyond. Snyder also has a love for aging quarterbacks that he’s seen beat the Redskins on multiple occasions, as he once traded for Donovan McNabb and was reported as being interested in Tony Romo before his retirement.
Not only would Snyder likely hand Eli Manning a bigger contract than most other teams would (especially since the Redskins would have a ton of salary cap room sans Cousins), but it would also allow Manning to play his former team at least twice per season. Obviously, this isn’t an ideal situation for Redskins fans, but it’s one that many can certainly see playing out.
2 Won't: Pittsburgh Steelers
We already talked about one quarterback from the 2004 NFL Draft class that featured Eli Manning considering retirement to suddenly have a resurgence, and now we focus on the other one. After a slow start, Ben Roethlisberger considered retiring after the season, but now the Steelers are red hot and appear to be Super Bowl contenders once again. Because of that, Roethlisberger is more likely to stick around.
If Roethlisberger does retire, rumours say that they’ll be looking for a younger quarterback that they can stick with Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell all in their primes, creating a contender for several more years. Eli Manning wouldn’t really fit that notion, so the Steelers would be more likely to look elsewhere. However, Manning would be able to blend into the Steelers quite well if he’s willing to take a smaller salary (and Roethlisberger retires).
1 Would Leave For: Jacksonville Jaguars
The landing spot that has the most potential is one that many people have been predicting ever since the Giants started running into trouble. The Jaguars are an absolute no-brainer for Eli Manning’s services, as everything about it just makes sense. The team plays in a warm climate, doesn’t have much pressure to win, is likely going to be looking for a new quarterback, has exciting young talent and a team vice president in the form of Tom Coughlin that Manning is very familiar with.
With Blake Bortles having his struggles, Manning could be the perfect quarterback to plug into the mix. This would also take the pressure off of running back Leonard Fournette as teams would be forced to actually focus on playing pass defense. The Jaguars are the odds-on-favourite to land Manning, so expect it to happen in the offseason if Manning decides to escape from New York.