And just like that, Eli Manning’s Giants have become Daniel Jones’ Giants.
The team announced on Tuesday morning that the rookie quarterback will start in place of Manning on Sunday in a Week 3 game against the Buccaneers in Tampa. It is a transition that seemed inevitable when they drafted Jones with the sixth overall pick in April, yet comes as a bit of a shock this early in the season.
But after two straight uninspiring losses, coach Pat Shurmur said he made the decision in an effort to help the team win now.
“Ultimately, this is a move that I felt was best for this team at this time,” Shurmur said through the team’s website. “This move is more about Daniel moving forward than about Eli.”
Shurmur said on Monday that he was considering a change at quarterback and did not commit to Manning as his Week 3 starter. By Tuesday morning he’d made his decision.
“Eli and I spoke [Tuesday] morning,” Shurmur said. “I told him that we are making a change and going with Daniel as the starter. I also talked to Daniel. Eli was obviously disappointed, as you would expect, but he said he would be what he has always been, a good teammate, and continue to prepare to help this team win games. Daniel understands the challenge at hand, and he will be ready to play on Sunday.”
This will be only the second time since Manning first became the starting quarterback in 2004 that he will not start a regular-season game. He was benched for one game late in 2017 in favor of Geno Smith. That move ended a streak of 210 consecutive starts, created a public uproar, and led to the firing of coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese the day after the game. Manning was quickly reinstalled to start the final four games of that season, all 16 in 2018, and the first two this season.
This change likely will be more permanent. And, if Jones lives up to what the Giants believe he can be, it may save the jobs of the coach and general manager rather than lead to their dismissal.
Jones, 22, looked more than competent in his extensive preseason action this summer. In four games, he completed 29 of 34 passes (85.3 percent) for 416 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a glittering 137.2 rating.
In three seasons at Duke, Jones started all 36 games in which he played. He completed 764 of 1,275 passes (60 percent) for 8,201 yards, 52 touchdowns and 29 interceptions. He also had 406 rushing attempts for 1,323 yards (3.3-yard average.) and 17 touchdowns.
Manning won two Super Bowl MVPs for the Giants, but he’s also guided a team that has won just eight of its last 34 games and has had just one winning record in its previous six full seasons. In his two games at quarterback this season, Manning completed 56 of 89 passes for 556 yards and threw two touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer rating of 78.7. The Giants have scored only four touchdowns, despite averaging 420 yards a game.
“I have said it since I got here, I am very fond of Eli,” Shurmur said. “His work ethic, his preparation, his football intelligence. All those attributes are as good as I have ever seen in a player. And Eli worked as hard as you could ask of anybody to get ready for this season.”
It’s unlikely that Manning will try to maneuver his way to another roster, despite a plethora of teams who could use an experienced quarterback at this juncture of the season. If Manning wanted to leave the Giants, he could have done it this offseason when the team was upfront with him and told him they’d be drafting his successor. Did he think he’d have more than two games to keep his job? Probably. But he also knew coming in that he was unlikely to get all 16. That’s the 2019 season he stuck around for.
Quarterback play was, of course, one of the lesser issues facing the Giants in their two losses. Their defense has allowed nine touchdowns and looked to be in disarray. Their top two wide receivers, Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate, have played one combined game due to injury and suspension, respectively.
So even if Jones is as dynamic as he was in the preseason, it may not be enough to turn these Giants into winners. At the very least, though, it allows them to look to their future rather than be mired in their present.
When the Giants made the move to Manning in 2004, they were a 5-4 team with a shot at the playoffs and lost six straight games with the rookie. The following year, though, they won the division, and they won two Super Bowls in the six seasons after that. This change comes at a very different time in a very different Giants season. They aren’t contenders, they are trying to salvage the season. And, perhaps more importantly, usher in a new era.
Over the past 12 months the Giants have traded three defensive starters, allowed another to walk in free agency, and traded an All-Pro wide receiver — all in an effort to rebuild the team. The one constant in this period of transition was Manning. Now he, too, has been swapped out and replaced. The final switch has been thrown, the last remnant of the old regime extinguished.
It’s Jones’ team now.
What he does with it this year and in years to come will determine how Tuesday’s decision is looked back upon.
Even if Eli Manning never takes another snap as the Giants’ quarterback, he will own all of the franchise’s major passing records and be high on the NFL’s all-time lists.