The New York Giants have had themselves quite a stellar season, their 9-7 regular season record notwithstanding.
Unlike their 2007-2008 Super Bowl run, they've found success by passing the ball, with quarterback Eli Manning now a true asset to a team that once worried he could tank their season by making foolish mistakes.
But it hasn't been fourth-year veteran receiver Mario Manningham who's had much of a hand in the passing game's success this season. Manningham was one of Manning's top targets in 2009 and 2010, with a career-high 60 catches for 944 yards and nine scores in 2010.
He was poised to remain the team's No. 2 receiver this season, but an early-season concussion combined with a knee injury to fellow receiver Hakeem Nicks saw the team toy around with Brandon Stokely and Domenik Hixon before losing both to injury and turning to the second-year receiver Victor Cruz.
Cruz was impressive from the start. His first big game, in Week 3 against the Philadelphia Eagles, saw him catch three passes for 110 yards and two scores. At that point, Manningham's roster spot was in jeopardy, and he never regained it as the season wore on.
Manningham is an asset to the Giants, to be sure, and it's his presence on the field that has allowed Nicks and Cruz to be as successful as they've been this year. But with only 39 receptions for 523 yards and four scores in the regular season, it's clear that the impending free agent isn't as much as an on-field priority as he was in the past.
Despite a year without a single 100-yard receiving day, Manningham has been useful. He had a touchdown in all three postseason games and will be a major component in his team's efforts to confound the porous New England Patriots defense in Sunday's Super Bowl.
However, even if he has a big game, and even if he catches the game-winning touchdown, there's little chance that Manningham remains with the Giants in the 2012 season.
Manningham is an unrestricted free agent when this season is over, and the Giants have a number of other receivers on their roster, plus two guaranteed studs in Nicks and Cruz. He'll be the odd man out in a year when he can command a very good payday, albeit not one the Giants are willing to give him.
It's not exactly a David Tyree situation like we saw in 2008, when the marginal receiver made a game-saving catch that allowed the Giants to defeat the Patriots in that year's Super Bowl, only to find himself cut in the offseason for being consistently ineffective.
Nonetheless, there's little that Manningham can do to convince the Giants' front office that he's worth tending an offer to or slapping the franchise tag on in this offseason.
Manningham has a great deal of talent and will find himself in very high demand once he hits free agency, and will likely have an impressive career.
But whether the Giants win or lose the Super Bowl, Manningham's fate is sealed—he won't be with the team when training camp begins.
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