EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — On Wednesday, the first day of the New York Giants’ 2019 training camp, Eli Manning stood behind the podium, smiling often and shrugging plenty. This, in itself, was not unusual.
The amount of self-reflection the 38-year-old showed at the outset of his 16th training camp with the Giants — the longest tenure of any player in the organization’s history — was, however.
“I’m blessed and excited to be here today, playing for the New York Giants,” Manning told reporters. “You have more appreciation [for it].
“I think when you are younger, you assume you’re going to keep playing, you assume you’ll be back playing and you don’t think about it. Now, there is that mindset that you don’t know the future of things, which is fine. I think it makes you appreciate being here and want to take advantage and prepare more and be ready to take advantage of this opportunity.”
What exactly led to this reflective state on this balmy summer day remains up for debate. One could posit it’s his age, or maybe even the Giants’ 8-24 record the past two years.
But during a conversation with Yahoo Sports shortly after the news conference, it became clear that the team’s decision to spend the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft on his eventual replacement may have played a small role in it, as well.
“I don’t know if there was a certain thing,” Manning said, “but I think when we did select Daniel [Jones], and you see a kid that I’ve known a little bit and he’s coming in, I think you see some similarities of kinda what I was like when I was 23 years old and coming to the Giants and the whole whirlwind he’s about to go through.”
Jones’ selection prompted memories of 2004 for Manning, when the Giants traded for him to succeed Kurt Warner, a future Hall of Famer who was presumptively on the downside of his career. Manning now finds himself on the opposite end of that scenario, sharing a quarterback room with a high draft pick who some say looks like a younger version of himself and was even tutored by his old college coach at Ole Miss, current Duke coach David Cutcliffe.
“Yeah, there’s a lot of natural similarities,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday. “Physically, size-wise, smarts. A lot of natural ones.”
So in some ways, Manning recognizes that Jones’ selection was just the football version of the circle of life, one Manning has seen far too often during his career.
“I understand the business of things, I understand how football works,” Manning told Yahoo Sports. “I’ve seen my dad retire, seen my brothers retire, seen a number of teammates [retire] and how eventually, things will end at some point. So I’m OK with that, whenever that does happen. I’m still gonna do my job and he’s gotta do his job and the Giants have to do their jobs. And I appreciate what everyone is trying to do.”
When told Wednesday this is still his gig, he said “sure.” When reminded right after that this remains his show, he confidently replied “no doubt.” And Manning, to his credit, spent the offseason doing the necessary work to ensure that would remain the case.
“I thought I had a good offseason in the weight room, just getting the body feeling good, keeping it where it was or making improvements in terms of weight room, conditioning, throwing, keeping the arm strong and getting prepared,” Manning said. “Training camp is the time where your arm gets tested more than any other time, where you have four practices in a row or you might have eight practices in nine days, where you’re not really used to doing that. So you want to make sure ... you’re throwing enough to keep your arm strong enough to handle that amount.”
And yes, Manning — who completed 66 percent of his passes for 4,299 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions as the Giants went 5-11 last season — believes he has enough juice in his right arm to lead the Giants to the promised land.
“I still feel my arm’s very strong — I can make all the throws,” Manning said. “I can get it out there and make the long throws, the deep throws.”
Manning will have to do so without Odell Beckham Jr., who was traded to the Browns this offseason. The Giants signed Golden Tate to help fill the void, and Shurmur dismissed concerns that the skills of his top three passing targets – Tate, Sterling Shepard and tight end Evan Engram – is duplicable.
“Well, I think all three of those guys can certainly do well in the slot,” Shurmur said. “But they can also do well outside.”
Manning could even be primed to take a step forward in 2019, as it’s certainly not unusual for veteran quarterbacks to perform better when teams draft their replacements (see: Alex Smith in Kansas City in 2017). And while the Giants insist there isn’t a competition between Manning and Jones — “Eli’s the starter, and we’re getting Daniel ready to play,” Shurmur told Yahoo Sports — Giants safety Michael Thomas suggested that Jones’ presence has already lifted the on-field performance of all the quarterbacks, which showed during organized team activities earlier this summer.
“[Jones’] throws were oohing and ahhing even veteran players at times … it kind of brought a little juice and energy, even within the quarterbacks, between Eli, [Alex] Tanney, Daniel and Kyle Lauletta coming back,” Thomas said. “Everybody’s kind of like, on their thing. Everybody rises.
“Every other position, we get it every single year. It was refreshing to see it in the quarterback room.”
Not that Manning necessarily needed Jones’ presence to lock in for 2019. The Giants’ struggles the past two years did that for him, especially as he increasingly ponders the importance of ending a potential Hall-of-Fame career — whenever it comes — with a flourish.
“Well, the best way is to go out and win a championship,” Manning told Yahoo Sports. “That’s the goal and that’s what we’re working at. And if I didn’t think that was a possibility, I wouldn’t be doing this.”
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