By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The New York Giants organization, for reasons that totally don’t involve finishing the season with the worst record possible to ensure a top-three draft pick, has decided to bench the face of the franchise, thus sending some shock waves around the NFL.
It’s an odd situation, to say the least. Eli Manning said the team presented the option to start Sunday’s game against Oakland and play the first half, before heading to the bench at halftime so Geno Smith — Geno Smith! — could play the second half. While most highly successful, highly paid and highly competitive NFL quarterbacks would raise a ruckus if an amateur head coach presented this ultimatum, Manning isn’t much for confrontation. Manning also could have gone along with the plan, devoted himself to going something like 13-for-17 for 185 yards and two touchdowns in the first half (Oakland has the worst pass defense in the NFL), thus making the organization look like an absolute clown show by benching him at halftime. (He’s also earn some of that $21 million salary along the way, maybe.) But that’s not really Manning’s style.
Instead, a despondent Manning addressed the media Tuesday afternoon. When asked if the move made sense to him, he meekly replied, “You know, hey, I don’t have to make sense of it. This is what it is.”
And with that whimper, it seems as though Manning’s time in New York is over. After 224 games played, after 8,120 passes thrown, and after a pair of historic Super Bowl victories, all signs point to Manning spending the final month of 2017 on the bench before the Giants release him, thus allowing him to reunite with Tom Coughlin in Jacksonville and randomly win another Super Bowl.
At 36 years old, Manning surely has a few years of quarterbacking left in him. But as tends to happen any time Manning makes the news, the debate about his Hall of Fame worthiness has once again sprung up.
So let’s briefly examine Manning’s career and see how it stacks up to some other passers who are enshrined in Canton.
First, look at Manning’s all-time rankings in a number of important categories.
In passes completed, he’s sixth all time. In passing yards, he’s seventh. In passing touchdowns, he’s tied for seventh.
The names in front of him on those lists? Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Dan Marino, John Elway, Fran Tarkenton. They’re all either already in the Hall of Fame or guaranteed locks to make the Hall of Fame when they are eligible.
He has more passing yards than Tarkenton, Warren Moon, Dan Fouts, Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, Jim Kelly, Steve Young and Troy Aikman, just to name a few Hall of Fame quarterbacks.
While the different eras and rule changes can help account for some of that disparity, it’s nevertheless staggering to see that Manning has over 18,000 more passing yards than Hall of Famer and Manning’s predecessor in New York, Kurt Warner. Manning also has 126 more passing touchdowns than Warner.
Clearly, Manning’s volume numbers stack up with anyone. By those measures, he’s a no-doubt-about-it, surefire Hall of Famer.
But in terms of consistency, Manning has left a lot to be desired — hence the debate. His career completion percentage is under 60 percent. His touchdown-to-interception ratio is an unimpressive 1.5-to-1. His career passer rating is 83.8, which has him tied with Joseph Vincent Flacco as the 39th-best quarterback of all time in that department. Joe Flacco!
That 83.8 passer rating, though, is better than HOFer Roger Staubach’s, Len Dawson’s, and Sonny Jurgenson’s, though again, there’s a change in eras at play there. Troy Aikman, though, had an 81.6 passer rating, and John Elway’s was under 80. So the low passer rating won’t be a deterrent when voters cast their Hall of Fame ballots.
Manning has led the NFL in interceptions for three separate seasons. He’s posted passer ratings of 85 or lower in six of his 14 seasons.
But of course, there were those brilliant postseason runs in 2007 and 2011. In 2007, Manning led the Giants to three road wins before toppling the 18-0 Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. That postseason, he threw six touchdowns and one interception. Four years later, he once again won four playoff games, including an NFC Championship Game in San Francisco where he took an absolute beating. Despite the punishment, the quarterback did enough to win, and in that postseason as a whole, he threw nine touchdowns and one interception.
For some perspective, Tom Brady — aka the greatest postseason quarterback ever — has only thrown nine or more touchdowns in a postseason once in his career. He did it in 2014, throwing 10 touchdowns en route to a Super Bowl, but he also threw four interceptions that postseason.
What’s interesting about Manning, though, is that aside from those two Super Bowl-winning seasons, he’s never won another playoff game. He’s 0-4 as a postseason starting quarterback outside of ’07 and ’11, throwing three touchdowns and seven interceptions, completing a dreadful 54.2 percent of his passes in those four one-and-done seasons. Overall, Manning ranks tied for 21st with Matts Hasselbeck and Ryan in total playoff touchdown passes. He’s tied for 16th all time with his big brother in career postseason passer rating at 87.4, which is a lower mark than non-HOFers like Mark Sanchez (94.3), Tony Romo (93.0), Joe Theismann (91.4).
He’s had his two brilliant postseason runs, but he clearly has not been a stone-cold killer in January. And he only made the playoffs in six of his 13 seasons as the full-time starting quarterback. He’s just one player on a team, yes, but at the most important position, failing to make the postseason for more than half of one’s career is … not great. Not great at all.
But of course, Super Bowls carry a lot of weight. Joe Namath is in the Hall of Fame for his Super Bowl III win, despite a godawful 50.1 percent completion rate, an embarrassing 173-to-220 TD-to-INT mark, and a sub-.500 winning percentage as a starting quarterback.
Aikman is in the Hall of Fame for his three Super Bowl wins, despite a near 1-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio in his relatively short career. Aikman never once posted a season with a passer rating of 100 or better, and he only had two seasons with a passer rating better than 90.0. Like Manning, Aikman made zero All-Pro teams. But he had three dominant postseason runs during which he threw 17 touchdowns and four interceptions, so he’s got a bust in Canton.
And that’s what it will really come down to. Well, that and the legacy of the Manning name. Peyton will be making his Hall of Fame speech in a few years, which will leave Jim Plunkett as the only quarterback in history to win two Super Bowls without making the Hall of Fame. (Ben Roethlisberger will also earn enshrinement after his career ends.) Plunkett’s stats (52.5 percent completion rate, 164 touchdowns, 198 interceptions) were just so bad that even his two Super Bowl runs weren’t enough to earn enshrinement. It didn’t help that Plunkett’s second Super Bowl run (two touchdowns, two interceptions in three games) was thoroughly mediocre.
Manning, though, has done enough in those postseason runs to woo voters to make the call. And a great comparison could be found in Warner.
Kurt Warner, 1998-2009
65.5 percent completion rate
32,344 yards, 7.9 yards per attempt
208 TDs, 128 INTs
93.7 passer rating
9-4 playoff record
31 playoffs TDs, 14 playoff INTs
102.8 playoff passer rating
Eli Manning, 2004-17
59.8 percent completion rate
50,625 yards, 7.0 yards per attempt
334 TDs, 222 INTs
83.8 passer rating
8-4 playoff record
18 playoff TDs, 9 playoff INTs
87.4 passer rating
Warner was certainly more consistent overall, but he also started roughly 100 fewer games than Manning. Warner authored about a half-dozen seasons that could be considered duds, but he had about four seasons of excellence. He also won a Super Bowl, struggled in another Super Bowl, and performed outstanding in a losing effort in a third Super Bowl. Taken together, it was all enough for Warner to earn a trip to the Hall of Fame in his third year of eligibility. Given Manning’s vastly superior volume stats, and given that he owns a 2-1 advantage over Warner in the Super Bowl MVP department, it would be hard to envision a future where Manning doesn’t get the same call.
Former Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese is probably an even better example of a quarterback making the Hall based solely on Super Bowl wins. Griese completed 56.2 percent of his career passes and threw 192 touchdowns to 172 interceptions. He led the league in touchdowns and passer rating just once (1977), and he threw those 172 interceptions in just 161 games played; his interception rate of 5.0 makes him the 147th-best QB in NFL history in that category. Griese’s passer rating of 77.1 is tied with Drew Bledsoe and Jay Fiedler for 93rd all time, just behind Charlie Batch, Jon Kitna, and Josh Freeman.
Yet Griese won two Super Bowls, including an injury-interrupted run as the starting quarterback during the famed undefeated season of 1972. His postseason stats in the Super Bowl-winning seasons of ’72 and ’73 were not even good, as he threw for just 424 yards in five games (four as a starter) and threw three touchdowns and three interceptions. By almost all measures, Griese has no business being in the Hall of Fame. But he won two Super Bowls, so there he is.
Again, Eli will follow suit. Voters are probably smarter now than to just look at the Lombardis as the main qualifier, but Manning’s volume stats provide enough support for the cause. Plus, he and the Giants won those Super Bowl against the dynastic Patriots, with Brady and Bill Belichick. That will assuredly carry a lot of weight.
Nobody would ever confuse Eli Manning as being one of the greatest quarterbacks to have ever played the game, but he made history in 2007 and did it again in 2011. It may be overly simple, but that is almost certainly enough for Eli to get his bust in Canton.
In the words of Eli himself, you don’t have to make sense of it. It is what it is.