After the New York Giants traded for quarterback Eli Manning in 2004, I remember literally working overtime to answer letters from distressed Inside Football readers who felt that the Giants had lost their collective mind to acquire a player who, in one reader’s words, was “the runt” of the Manning family.
Even as Manning struggled that first season and people were ready to roast then-general manager Ernie Accorsi for not hanging onto Philip Rivers (their original first-round draft pick), not trading down or not drafting Ben Roethlisberger, I urged patience.
Two Super Bowl championships later, many of those same readers who bemoaned the Giants' blockbuster trade say they can’t imagine a life without Manning at the helm of the team’s offense.
Indeed, things could be a lot worse for the Giants at quarterback. However, when I look at Manning's performance over the last two seasons, I have a little bit of concern about his play because his statistics have declined as his salary-cap figure rises.
I bring this up, not because my intention is to bash Manning, but rather to debate why I think the Giants' front office should not extend Manning’s contract, which in 2014 will be year five of his six-year $97.5 million extension.
Before you stop reading to post your comments...yes, I know about all of the things that went wrong with the Giants offense last year, from the poor play of the line to the issues with the receivers and the running game, to the play-calling.
However, I don’t think it’s fair to completely absolve Manning of the role he played in the Giants' offense finishing 28th in the NFL.
Sure, extending Manning would create more cap space. However, it doesn't make sense to do it in 2014.
In order for the Giants to gain salary cap room on Manning's contract, they would have to add additional years onto his current deal, because with an extension comes a signing bonus.
When that signing bonus is going to a franchise quarterback with Manning's credentials, we're talking about a sizable eight-figure payment. So it's important to remember that a player’s signing bonus can be prorated a maximum of five seasons over the life of a contract, regardless for how many years the player signs. Once a signing bonus is on the books, it can't be reduced unless there are some unusual circumstances related to off-field behavior in which a team can try to recoup some of that money.
In Manning’s case, when he signed his last contract extension, he received a $13 million signing bonus which, when divided by five, came to $2.6 million per year.
So why when you look at Manning’s contract breakdown, you see that his prorated bonus has been higher than $2.6 million for each of the last five years?
This is because of restructures, the most recent of which took place in March 2012, and a $12.5 million option bonus that the Giants picked up in 2010.
Now look at his numbers for 2015. That year, Manning’s prorated bonus drops to $2.25 million, a figure that represents the remaining prorated amount from his March 2012 restructuring ($9 million divided by four years). You’ll also note that in 2015, Manning’s base salary jumps up to $17 million, giving him a hefty $19.75 million cap figure.
When a team extends a player, as they did with Manning in 2009, the idea is to lower the base salary and take advantage of multiple years (again, up to five) to spread out the signing bonus.
However, when extending a player or restructuring a contract, a team needs to be certain that it doesn’t put itself into a situation where it’s going to end up having to carry an unfavorable contract that no longer matches the skill set of the player.
Because Manning’s prorated bonus for 2015 is almost half of what it is for 2014, it makes more sense from a financial perspective for the Giants to extend his contract in 2015, at which point, depending on the structure of the deal, they could potentially save several millions on his 2015 cap figure.
That kind of savings should help with re-signing guys like defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and cornerback Prince Amukamara, just to name a couple of players who will be unrestricted free agents after the 2014 season.
We’ve seen it happen before and will probably see it happen again.
The "it" I’m speaking of is a player being signed to a huge contract but not living up to that deal either due to injury, poor play or some external factors.
While there’s no reason to think that Manning wouldn’t do everything in his power to deliver favorable results if his contract was extended, it’s hard to ignore that, in the last year-and-a-half, his production has been slipping—and it's not always a result of what's happening around him.
|Eli Manning: 2012 and 2013 Performances|
|Cmp %||TD %||INT %||QB Rating|
|2012: 1st 8 Games||62.6%||4.1%||2.7%||89.1%|
|2012: Last 8 Games||56.6%||5.8%||2.9%||84.8%|
|2013: 1st 8 Games||55.7%||3.3%||4.9%||68.4%|
|2013: Last 8 Games||59.8%||3.2%||4.9%||70.5%|
|Numbers based on data from Pro Football Focus (subscription required)|
For starters, his completion percentage began to dip below 60 percent starting in the final eight games of the 2012 season. This happened despite him having a healthier offensive line, a solid running game and a slightly more consistent receiving group that really was missing only a healthy Hakeem Nicks.
Although his touchdown percentage spiked in the last eight games of 2012, the number began to decline in 2013, while his interception percentage rose.
Again, everyone knows about the issues Manning had to deal with in 2013, and there's no question those issues played a large part in his numbers being far from what he has historically produced.
However, Manning isn't blameless.
Pro Football Focus (subscription required) did a study of the quarterbacks' accuracy percentage, a statistic that takes into consideration factors that were beyond the quarterback’s control such as dropped passes, spikes and batted balls.
That analysis found that Manning’s 67.2 percent accuracy rate was still among the league's worst, and that in PFF’s analysis, there were a high number of bad decisions and/or poorly thrown balls that were solely Manning's fault.
A Change is Coming
While we don’t yet know what new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo has in store for the Giants offense, the popular opinion is that he’ll be implementing a passing game that more closely mirrors the West Coast offense run by the Green Bay Packers, with whom McAdoo had spent eight seasons before landing the Giants' OC job last month.
If that is the case, the question then is how will Manning do in McAdoo’s offense after spending the first 10 years of his career in a different system?
There’s optimism that the transition will be seamless, but some hiccups are to be expected, regardless of what McAdoo plans to run.
Although Manning recently expressed to the New York Post's Paul Schwartz his excitement and optimism about working with McAdoo, one has to wonder just how the veteran QB really feels about potentially having to start over in a new system at this point in his career.
After all, it wasn’t too long that he emphatically voiced strong support to reporters for former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, as noted by Bob Glauber of Newsday:
I definitely don't want change and think he's a terrific offensive coordinator. Kevin has been my quarterback coach from Day One and my offensive coordinator. It's been a lot of his offensive stuff from Day One.
There’s probably little reason to doubt that Manning doesn’t have several solid seasons left in his arm.
However, before the Giants can realistically think about extending his contract, Manning needs to find a comfort level in a new offensive system.
Sure, he'll always have the two very impressive Super Bowl MVP seasons—no one can take those away from him.
However, those systems were accomplished under an old system that apparently has been retired with the man who ran it.
It's time now for Manning, who will lead this new system, to show management that he's just as capable of winning under McAdoo's direction as he was under Gilbride's. And the Giants' front office needs to see this from Manning before investing in him any further.
All quotes and information obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter, @Patricia_Traina.