Giants can extend Eli Manning’s sunset with Saquon Barkley

Dan Wetzel

The Cleveland Browns may make this easy on the New York Giants.

If the Browns take a quarterback, any quarterback, with the first overall pick in Thursday’s NFL draft, then Penn State running back Saquon Barkley falls directly into the Giants’ lap.

New York wouldn’t be wrong to call in the Barkley pick in 4.40 seconds, or the same amount of time the 6-foot, 233-pounder ran the 40-yard dash at February’s scouting combine. They could also listen to trade possibilities during their allotted time. That’s probably the smarter play.

But Barkley is Barkley and he doesn’t just give them another game-breaking offensive talent, he solves the team’s most public pressing need … what to do with Eli Manning.

Quarterback Eli Manning is entering his 15th season as the Giants’ starting quarterback. (AP)

It was 14 years ago Tuesday when Manning orchestrated a trade from San Diego to New York when the No. 1 overall selection made public his refusal to play for the Chargers organization.

Fifty-one thousand passing yards, 111 regular-season victories and, of course, two Super Bowls later and Manning is one of the most intriguing storylines heading into Thursday’s NFL draft. Namely, do the Giants draft his replacement and begin the end of the Manning era (again)?

The draft receives obsessive coverage, speculation, analysis and predictions, so much so that sometimes even the biggest storylines fade into the background due to all the white noise. In this case, here’s a future Hall of Famer and the last (at least until Archie’s grandsons come along) of the Manning Family of Quarterbacks with his career hanging in the balance.

The Giants could draft from the deep crop of quarterbacks and say they are going to groom him, say Eli will be the mentor, but those situations rarely last. Tomorrow is today in the NFL and the first struggles by Manning will be greeted with catcalls. Unless the Giants are rolling, then why prolong the rebuild? How long does any team want Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen or Josh Allen or Baker Mayfield sitting and holding a clipboard? General managers and coaches don’t have the job security to not find out what they’ve got.

Manning is 37 and wasn’t good last year, throwing just 19 touchdowns and a career low 9.9 yards per completion. That said, his 61.6 completion percentage wasn’t terrible. His 13 picks were at least acceptable. And when you consider what he was dealing with on an injured, dysfunctional, Swiss-cheese offensive line of a three-win team, it wasn’t all his fault.

And why this year might be better.

The Giants didn’t have a game-breaking receiver, but Odell Beckham Jr. will be back and the team is adamant in saying he won’t be traded. They didn’t even have a serviceable offensive line, but they added Nate Solder from New England, which at least makes it better. Then again, it can’t be much worse. Available draft picks can be spent here too.

Mostly though the Giants didn’t have a run game, 26th in total yards and averaging just 3.9 yards per carry. That’s where Barkley comes in.

The conventional wisdom in the NFL is running backs are interchangeable and aren’t worth much. Which is true. Until they are. Barkley is a different kind of talent, an all-world athlete and a powerhouse carrying and receiving the ball – 43 rushing touchdowns in three Penn State seasons, eight more receiving.

This is the best player in the draft. He changes any offense he joins.

And if he joins one that already has Beckham and a veteran quarterback who remains accurate? Eli with a run game has worked well in the past (Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs). That could be a pretty good unit for a few seasons. No, Eli may never be what he once was, but he was also never a guy who threw up incredible statistics the way his brother did or Tom Brady still does. He wins games though. He’s a steadying influence.

He’s a Giant, and maybe, even in these cutthroat days of the league, that should still count for something. Or at least more than gambling on a quarterback from a quarterback class that no one in the league seems convinced is a sure thing. That’s a lot to walk away from for a gamble.

If there were a sure-fire QB prospect in this class, then this strategy might be different. The counter is that Eli is fading fast and chances to pick No. 2 overall happen only so often (hopefully).

There isn’t that QB though. Circumstances dictate caution in the face of grabbing a quarterback for the sake of grabbing a quarterback, especially when a near can’t-miss impact player such as Barkley is sitting there.

Saquon Barkley can upgrade the Giants’ running game and provide Eli Manning a passing target. (AP)

The 2018 season was an unmitigated disaster for New York. It could also be an aberration. The Giants are one year removed from 11-5, when it had Beckham, who caught 10 of Manning’s 26 touchdown passes that season.

Bring them all together, healthy. Add a running back. Use the team’s three other top-69 selections to fill gaps, especially on the offensive line, and the Giants don’t need to face the prospect of a roll-of-the-dice quarterback leading a full rebuild.

Late last season Manning was benched, ending his streak of 210 regular-season starts. Within days, coach Bob McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese were fired, for more than just that, but still.

The end is near for Eli. That much is certain. It doesn’t need to be here now, though, not with these choices. An extension – of career opportunity, not contract – is the obvious play.

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