It was a move that shocked players around the league, with current and former teammates posting messages of support on social media.
“Surprised is not the word,” Tom Coughlin, who coached Manning in both of his Super Bowl wins, said in a radio interview. “My sentiments are totally with Eli Manning. I love the kid. He is a class act. He is a two-time Super Bowl champ. He is the finest, most humblest young man in that locker room. I haven’t followed the Giants. I know it’s a disappointing year but my thoughts are strictly with Eli. I’m very upset about when I heard that.”
In a nod to Manning’s status with the team and his long string of starts, the Giants gave Manning the opportunity to continue starting (before ceding to Smith or Webb) to maintain his streak, but he declined.
“Coach McAdoo told me I could continue to start while Geno and Davis are given an opportunity to play,” Manning told reporters. “My feeling is that if you are going to play the other guys, play them. Starting just to keep the streak going and knowing you won’t finish the game and have a chance to win it is pointless to me, and it tarnishes the streak.”
Blaming Manning for the Giants’ lost season would be a stretch. He has spent much of it without his two top wide receivers, Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall, both of whom were lost to severe injuries, and the defense has allowed the second-most yards in the N.F.L. But the Giants’ offense has been atrocious, ranking second to last in the N.F.L. in scoring and fifth from the bottom in yards per game.
Despite the team’s struggles, just a few weeks ago, after the Giants’ loss to the previously winless San Francisco 49ers, the team’s owners, John Mara and Steve Tisch, issued a vote of confidence for McAdoo.
“Ben McAdoo is our head coach and has our support,” the statement said. “We are in the midst of an extremely disappointing season. Our performance this year, particularly the past two weeks, is inexcusable and frustrating. While we appreciate that our fans are unhappy with what has occurred, nobody is more upset than we are.”
The same support did not surface for Manning, despite his rare status as a two-time Super Bowl winner. Of the other 11 quarterbacks to have two or more Super Bowl wins, seven are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, two are locks to eventually be inducted (Tom Brady and Peyton Manning), one is very likely to be inducted (Ben Roethlisberger) and one is eligible but has thus far not been elected (Jim Plunkett). Manning, whose heroics were instrumental in both of his Super Bowl wins, is likely closer to Roethlisberger than Plunkett in terms of overall reputation, but a difficult end to his tenure with the Giants certainly does not help his case.
Manning got a huge vote of confidence, in terms of career accomplishments, from one of the Giants’ two other Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, Phil Simms.
For now, the Giants’ offense will fall under the control of Smith, the team’s 27-year-old backup, who has not started a game since Oct. 23, 2016 (his second most recent start was in 2014). Smith’s career passer rating of 72.3 is considerably lower than Manning’s mark this season of 84.1, and his record as a starter was just 12-18 over a period of four seasons for the Jets. In the low point of his tenure with the Jets, Smith had his jaw broken by his own teammate, IK Enemkpali, reportedly over a dispute regarding Smith’s failure to deliver on promises to a charity Enemkpali was involved in. Smith later denied that he owed the young linebacker any money.
That it has taken the Giants this long to have a black starting quarterback is surprising, considering how long ago Briscoe debuted, but the Giants have plenty of company in terms of taking their time on that front. Nine teams had started a black player at quarterback by the end of the 1970s, but there were still five teams who had not had one as recently as 2010. The New England Patriots were the last team before the Giants to join the list when Jacoby Brissett started two games for them last year.
The Giants have five games remaining this season, with three at home and two on the road. They have already ensured a losing season, and appear headed to their worst finish since the team went 4-12 in 2003. It was that team’s poor record that gave the Giants the No. 4 pick in the 2004 draft, which, after a trade with the San Diego Chargers, landed them Manning.