Conversations about benching Eli Manning are a lot like conversations about taking grandpa's driver's license away.
Wishful thinking and bittersweet memories get in the way of sound judgment. There's a lot of buck-passing among the family because no one wants to be cast as the villain, followed by decisions to put off making any decisions even though everyone knows procrastinating could be dangerous.
Then-Giants head coach Ben McAdoo benched Manning one year ago this week, and the NFL world reacted as if he sucker-punched Santa Claus. McAdoo's status as the bumbling, about-to-be-divorced brother-in-law of the football family made it easy to rip his decision, and it was even easier to pretend that he didn't have a point.
Eli Manning benching season is upon us again, and the Giants are trying to sneak up on the decision. Head coach Pat Shurmur is soft-selling the proposition, tempering the public to the idea of giving some relief opportunities not to rookie fourth-round pick Kyle Lauletta, but to Alex Tanney, a 31-year-old glorified equipment manager with a helmet.
It's a rerun of last year, when McAdoo chose Geno Smith over rookie Davis Webb to unceremoniously end Manning's consecutive-starts streak, got predictably Geno Smith-ish results and was kicked out the back door of Giants headquarters as a result.
The Giants organization is incapable of clear thought when it comes to Eli. Sure, grandpa almost ran over a tricycle on the sidewalk last week. But remember when he drove us all to the Super Bowl seven years ago?
So, here's some helpful advice from the licensed caseworkers for the New York-New Jersey Bureau of Putting Old Quarterbacks Out to Pasture with Dignity: If Manning doesn't crush it Sunday against the Bears, he should hit the bench for the rest of the year, ending his Giants tenure.
Manning can't just squeak out a win by handing off to Saquon Barkley or narrowly outperforming Bears backup Chase Daniel (who may start his second game in relief of the injured Mitchell Trubisky). He can't have one of his patented, garbage-time-inflated 300-yard passing games in which the Giants score 13 points in a loss.
Manning must prove he can handle Khalil Mack and the Bears pass rush, find Odell Beckham Jr. and others downfield more than once per afternoon, avoid turnovers and deliver a convincing win, or he needs to be benched. Not for a fourth quarter or a one-week trial balloon, but for the year.
And none of this Alex Tanney nonsense. Lauletta should start the rest of the year so Shurmur and general manager Dave Gettleman can decide whether they need to draft a quarterback in the first round or not.
That isn't so hard, is it? In fact, it's obvious and long overdue.
But when it comes to Manning and the Giants, there is so much baggage.
Manning staged a brief fake comeback in November. He threw three touchdowns to outduel one-week wonder Nick Mullens in a Monday night win over the 49ers, getting credit for a last-minute comeback which consisted mostly of two defensive penalties and a long run after a short throw to Barkley.
Manning then went 17-of-18 for 231 yards and two touchdowns against the Buccaneers, who have a lousy defense and a two-headed oscillating turnover machine at quarterback.
Just when Manning had a chance to fool true believers and the unobservant into thinking he still has it, the Giants faced the Eagles, who were reduced to starting Malcolm Jenkins and a bunch of guys from a game-generated Madden autofill roster in the secondary. Manning cruised in the first half, but he managed only 61 passing yards while getting sacked twice in the second half of the 25-22 loss.
Sure, the second-half play-calling against the Eagles was disastrous. Shurmur has a knack for making Beckham invisible and Barkley irrelevant for long stretches. But no matter how the blame is parsed, Manning only looks capable these days—not good or great, just better than someone like Mullens—when the opposing pass rush is nonexistent and the secondary is a bunch of Big 12 walk-ons. And even then, he still runs into the occasional oak tree.
Manning leads the league with 38 sacks, and while the Giants offensive line is bad, it isn't that bad. His impressive-looking passing stats—he's posting the highest completion rate of his career!—are mostly the result of Barkley tosses, the Great Defensive Surrender of 2018 and Manning and Shurmur's shared love for 3rd-and-18 screen passes.
There's no good reason not to take a look at a younger quarterback. Yet Shurmur and Gettleman, like McAdoo and then-GM Jerry Reese last year, are frustratingly reluctant to give their rookie an opportunity.
Tanney has been mopping up fourth quarters of preseason games since 2012. He has thrown only 14 regular-season passes, all of which came in a meaningless Week 17 second-half stint for a terrible Titans team in 2015. He's never been considered more than a camp arm and clipboard cozy, even by the Giants, who gave Lauletta and Webb all of the meaningful backup reps in training camp.
What film of Tanney exists shows a dump-off specialist whose handling of the pass rush is best described as "wounded possum." Starting Tanney would be like replacing Manning with the front man of an Eli Manning tribute band.
Lauletta, meanwhile, tore up the Senior Bowl and then showed improvement throughout training camp the way a rookie should. He makes a great impression in interviews. His history of dangerous driving is certainly troubling, but—checks news feed—lots of folks who have done things much, much worse get multiple opportunities if their coaches think they can play.
Maybe Lauletta isn't ready, on the field or off. And maybe Webb wasn't ready last season. But it reflects poorly on the Giants if two straight coaching staffs and front offices failed to select and develop rookie quarterbacks who are worth look-and-see starts for teams with three wins entering December.
It reflects even more poorly if two straight coaching staffs and front offices were so cowed by Manning's status as a venerable New York icon with millions of still-devoted fans and lots of old friends and teammates in the national media that they would only replace him with quarterbacks guaranteed to look worse by comparison.
Lots of us dogpiled on the Giants after Eli's beta-test benching last year. It was a desperate, flailing move by a coach about to lose his job, a lit match tossed into a recycling pail on the way out of the office.
But Shurmur and the new front office were hired to make changes. So far, they've refused to create a logical quarterback succession plan, starting with the selection of Barkley over the top-tier rookies and continuing through the either-or Webb-Lauletta battle and this sudden fixation with Tanney.
The Giants went from being too eager to replace Manning to not being eager enough.
A big loss to the Bears on Sunday could be a long-term blessing for the Giants. A multi-turnover, multi-sack meltdown against one of the best defenses left in the league that forgot defense would be the wake-up call the organization needs to do what's best. The Giants wouldn't take much heat for benching Manning after a high-profile fiasco.
Then again, Manning could shock us with a signature performance. But when was his last signature performance? When's the last time Manning had a great game against a great team? Super Bowl XLVI? No, it hasn't been quite that long, but it sure has been a while.
Last year's bungled benching had long-lasting consequences: Webb never got the chance to play as he claims he was promised, which Shurmur said hindered offseason quarterback evaluations, which may have cost Webb an opportunity or impacted the Giants' decision to draft Barkley instead of a first-round quarterback. The whole affair was the death knell for both McAdoo and Reese.
Shurmur and the Giants can't afford another far-reaching mistake like that. It's time to take the keys away from Manning before he crashes not just this season, but the next one as well.
Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier.