Yesterday afternoon it was reported that Giants quarterback Eli Manning wanted to become the highest paid player at his position (and subsequently the highest paid player in the NFL). Today Jason McIntyre at The Big Lead suggested that giving Manning such a deal wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Well, consider myself on the complete opposite side of the fence.
You’re hardly going to find a bigger Eli supporter than myself. A few years ago I argued that Eli was absolutely the Manning that you wanted leading your team when it counted, and unlike many others, I also think Eli Manning’s Hall of Fame credentials are extremely sound. But what I don’t agree with is giving Eli Manning anywhere close to the type of deal he reportedly wants.
It has nothing to do with Manning’s recent play necessarily, though the ups and downs associated with Manning are sometimes hard to ignore. No, this strictly has to do with how I believe you must build your team in this day and age, and that is specifically by going young and drafting your next franchise quarterback.
Why do I think drafting a quarterback is so important? Frankly it’s a simple matter of youth and money. A quarterback on a rookie contract can easily turn into the best bargain in football if he develops correctly. Sure, in the end he may cost you a larger deal in the long run, but generally that’s because he has earned such a pay raise. Look no further than the likes of Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, perfect examples of a quarterback — even one with growing pains like Newton — benefiting a team in the short, and likely long run.
If I’m the Giants I have no problem offering Eli Manning something along the lines of a two-year deal with a reasonable chunk of change, but I’m not making him the highest paid player in the game, and I’m not giving him a deal that is going to take him into his late 30s (Manning turns 35 in January when his current deal will be expiring).
The Giants would be much better off drafting additional quarterbacks next April/May. Take a guy in the first round perhaps, or take a couple of guys you like in the 2nd/5th. But take a quarterback or two, and groom them behind Manning if he stays, or a veteran you sign for much cheaper. Then continue the process every few years.
It may sound crazy for me to advocate taking a quarterback every few seasons — and I’m talking at least a mid-round guy here, not a late round flyer (though don’t ignore them obviously) — but stability at the position is key and developing options is important. If you need a linebacker, you can get one off the street in a pinch. Will he be anything close to an All-Pro? Of course not. He’ll probably be sub-par at best. But you can do a lot more to hide an ineffective 3rd string linebacker than you can to hide an ineffective backup quarterback. So draft and develop quarterbacks often, when you can get them for cheap, and invest in other positions during free-agency.
Of course, I’m not an NFL general manager, and most would probably disagree with this philosophy. So be it. But once you get a quarterback you can trust, you can live with him for 10 years. After that, you run the risk of paying a person for past performance rather than what is to come. While some quarterbacks are obviously the exception, I firmly believe in the theory that it’s better to part ways a year too early than a year too late. I guess we’ll see if the Giants feel the same way when it comes to Eli Manning.