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March 24, 2019

Leonard: If Giants replace Eli Manning, their next QB may be on this list

January 9, 2019

Sorry, Giants fans: Trevor Lawrence can’t enter the NFL Draft until 2021. So the true freshman Clemson quarterback isn’t swooping in with a cape on his back after his Tigers’ national championship to solve Big Blue’s quarterback quandary for the next 15 years.

Instead, the Giants’ QB decision for 2019 and beyond is limited at the moment to incumbent starter Eli Manning, a so-so free agent class, the unknown of the trade market, and April’s NFL Draft, which is headlined by Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins but boasts a mediocre QB crop.

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And that is why, while so many signs have pointed to this possibly being the end for Manning, there is a clear scenario developing where GM Dave Gettleman and head coach Pat Shurmur will view Manning, 38, as their best option at starting QB for 2019.

This is not what I believe the Giants should do; this my opinion on what they may do.

It depends in part, of course, on which Shurmur is the real Shurmur when it comes to Manning: the one who yelled “Why didn’t he throw it to Odell?” in Atlanta while Manning’s offense was dragging the team to a 1-7 start; or the Shurmur who said “years are connected” when they started scoring and “I believe in” Manning and “absolutely” expects him to be back.

Who will lead Big Blue next season. (Getty images/New York Daily News composite)

But remember, Shurmur is at his second head coaching stop and like any coach, he is not guaranteed another opportunity if this doesn’t work out. So he wants a QB for the future but he, Gettleman and ownership also need and want to win in 2019 after a 5-11 year.

So whoever Gettleman and Shurmur pick to start at quarterback in 2019 presumably has to be someone familiar with Shurmur’s offense, and experienced enough, to take the ball and go win games. There can be no slow rebuild, not after taking Saquon Barkley No. 2 overall last spring.

And Gettleman and Shurmur ultimately may view the final few weeks of the season as validation for why they should keep Manning and spend their resources elsewhere, even though the Giants were shut out by the Titans in Week 15 and ended their Week 16 and 17 losses on a Manning interception and a turnover on downs.

The run game, for example, was almost non-existent in those three straight losses to close the season. Removing one 68-yard run from the finale against Dallas, Barkley rushed 51 times for 115 yards in those three games, a measly 2.25 yards per carry.

But Manning, in particular in Week 16 at Indianapolis, carried the offense to 27 points and made arguably his best play and throw of the season, stepping around a pass rush to launch an eye-opening, 55-yard bomb to Sterling Shepard down the right hashes.

And Manning, whose immobility is one of his biggest weaknesses, did operate efficiently that day in Indy off frequent play-actions and naked bootlegs, perhaps in an audition for his legs.

So as long as Manning is open to reworking his contract to reduce his $23.2 million cap hit — which would probably happen with a cosmetic extension into 2020 — it’s not crazy to see Gettleman and Shurmur sticking it out one more year with Manning even if they do draft a QB.

But it will depend on how Gettleman and Shurmur evaluate all of their options.

Here is a list of some of the other quarterbacks who could be on Big Blue’s radar to start in 2019 (ages listed for how old they’ll be at the start of next season):

NICK FOLES, 30, EAGLES | Via free agency or trade

Nick Foles.
Nick Foles. (Will Newton / Getty Images)

The cream of this year’s crop. Super Bowl LII MVP. Could be the perfect bridge to the future franchise QB that also improves the Giants in the short-term. Threw 27 TDs, and two INTs for 2013 Eagles with Shurmur as his OC. Mutual 2019 option year meant he likely was headed to free agency, but if Eagles franchise tag him to trade him, it’ll make acquisition more difficult.

DEREK CARR, 28, RAIDERS | Via trade

The blockbuster option. A risk to fill both the short- and long-term QB need all at once. Carr carries anywhere between a $19.8 million and $22.5 the next four years through 2022, per overthecap.com, and isn’t a guaranteed solution. Probably would take draft picks and/or a big-time player and salary going to the other way. Gettleman sounds less inclined to trade Odell Beckham Jr. than he was last year, but would he send OBJ to Oakland a.k.a. Vegas to get his QB to pair with Barkley?

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TEDDY BRIDGEWATER, 26, SAINTS | Via free agency

New Orleans could want him back and Bridgewater’s viral celebrations indicate he clearly is a popular player with the Saints. But Bridgewater wants to play and Drew Brees, who turns 40 next week, still can. Shurmur was Minnesota’s OC in 2017 with Bridgewater coming off severe injury and appearing briefly in one game. Bridgewater politely declined in the spring when I asked him to discuss a story I was doing on Shurmur. “I’m good,” he said. Not sure it’s a fit.

CASE KEENUM, 31, BRONCOS | Via trade

Denver GM John Elway might sell Keenum for a song this offseason after a dud first year for the veteran QB in Denver. Elway, holding the No. 10 pick, could be one of the GMs looking to jump the Giants at No. 6 to get Haskins. Shurmur was NFL assistant of the year in 2017 as the Vikings’ OC with Keenum running his offense. Keenum is only a $21 million cap hit in 2019, per overthecap.com, with $7 million of his $18 million base salary guaranteed.

JACOBY BRISSETT, 26, COLTS | Via trade

The N.C. State and Patriots product is due to carry only a $915K salary cap hit in 2019 and is expendable after Andrew Luck, previously a major injury risk, led the Colts back to the playoffs this season. Brissett’s name came out of nowhere as a Giants target in reports last offseason after starting 15 games for Indy in 2017, though he threw only four passes this year. Tyrod Taylor, 30, of the Browns, is a potential free agent target, but Brissett’s low cost and one year of control would seem more attractive than signing an older QB who struggled in Cleveland to bigger money.

DWAYNE HASKINS, 22, OHIO STATE | Via draft

Even though Gettleman now knows he needs to find a quarterback, I still believe the Giants GM will use his first-round pick on a position player that improves the 2019 team rather than drafting a quarterback with only 14 college starts. Gettleman constantly says he will draft the best player available, has a track record of taking D-linemen high, and DT and DE are the most talented positions at the top of this draft class. If D.G. does go QB up high, though, it’ll be the 6-3, 220-pound Haskins.

DANIEL JONES, 22, DUKE | Via draft (**Sleeper Alert**)

The Giants like to stick with the familiar, what they know works. And nothing would say keeping it in the family like drafting the Blue Devils’ Jones in the late first round (via trade) or early second. Jones’ college coach is David Cutcliffe, who coached both Peyton Manning (Tennessee) and Eli Manning (Ole Miss) and still hosts Eli at Duke for offseason workouts. Jones (6-5, 220 pounds) can move his feet and started for three years. It’s not crazy to envision the Giants drafting Jones and retaining Manning to start but also to groom Jones, from the same quarterback family, for a an eventual takeover.

OTHERS IN DRAFT: Ryan Finley, N.C. State; Drew Lock, Missouri; Will Grier, West Virginia.

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