Manning, Giants appear headed for a split, and Jacksonville is a prime landing spot
Manning is said to have no thoughts of retiring this offseason, so he could be on the move
With Manning's consecutive game's played streak shattered and him making way for the embattled Geno Smith Sunday as the starting quarterback of the only team he has ever played for, and with the Giants entering a rebuilding mode that likely will feature a rookie passer at the helm, it's being looked at a forgone conclusion that Manning will be elsewhere in 2018. The most likely scenario: reuniting with former coach Tom Coughlin -- with whom he won two Super Bowls in New York -- in Jacksonville.
Conversations with general managers, coaches, scouts and agents -- some of whom with close ties to the Manning family -- revealed a fracture between the potential Hall of Fame quarterback and the Giants organization that is unlikely to be overcome, with the team and quarterback on divergent paths. Manning, 36, still badly wants to start and is not mulling retirement in any shape, and a change of scenery is considered the best thing for him by some close to the quarterback. The Giants are almost certain to be making sweeping coaching and front office changes; they are heavily evaluating the top quarterbacks in this draft (holding what will surely be a top five pick at 2-9 and fading), and the heavy-handed manner in which the team handled the transition from Manning will linger for quite some time with the quarterback.
Weeks of discussions went into the Giants' decision to make the quarterback change, sources said, and it was fully supported from ownership (if not entirely conveyed to Manning in the manner in which owner John Mara had hoped). The fact that Mara was not present when the decision was announced, and only head coach Ben McAdoo (a potential lame duck coach) addressed the matter initially also created friction, and Coughlin's respect and admiration for Manning is lost on no one within the Giants organization, or outside of it.
Manning has a $5 million roster bonus due on the third day of the league year -- a trade could be completed before then -- and his cash earnings in the final two years of his deal ($16M and $17M, respectively) are quite reasonable by starting QB standards. The Jaguars remain limited by quarterback Blake Bortles's failings but have a top defense and robust run game. Manning is seen as the perfect fit to potentially get Jacksonville over the top the way his brother, Peyton, did with Denver at the end of his career. While Manning has a no-trade clause, sources said he would obvious waive it to go to a desired location to continue playing.
Several GMs spoke of Manning-to-Jacksonville as a fait accompli ("It just makes too much sense not to happen," as one put it), while execs with two teams who will be in the market for a veteran quarterback this offseason told me they are essentially writing Manning off, expecting a trade to Jacksonville.
"There might be, at most, maybe 2-3 teams where he could be a fit," said one long-time NFL exec who has completed a starting quarterback trade himself. "And everyone knows Jacksonville is probably where he'll want to be. And he has the no-trade [clause]. There won't be a huge market for him. Sending him out of the NFC and back to Coughlin is a good PR move for the Giants, and they can put a little more of a happy ending on this thing. Because it's a mess right now."
There was a consensus among the execs I spoke to of "a mid-round pick" being fair trade compensation for Manning, with some suggesting a fourth-round pick in 2018, and then potentially another mid-round pick in 2019 should the Jaguars reach the AFC title game, and then possibly a second- or third-round pick if they reach or win the Super Bowl.
Meantime, the Giants will start Smith for now while working diligently on getting rookie Davis Webb prepared to take over the starting reins as soon as possible, as getting a look at both those quarterbacks in game situations could have some bearing on how they handle what is shaping up to be a pivotal 2018 draft.
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