Manning deserves better than messy end to Giants career
Regardless of which NFL mast you nail your colours to, it was difficult to watch Eli Manning hold back tears on Tuesday and not feel some degree of sympathy.
Manning's emotional locker room interview came after the New York Giants announced they had benched their starting quarterback for Geno Smith, ending his streak of 210 consecutive starts in regular-season games - the second-longest for a quarterback in NFL history - in the process.
That Manning has been benched is not a total stunner, there is little doubt he is in decline at the age of 36, with his poor decision-making and lack of consistent downfield accuracy limiting the potential of the Giants offense.
However, he should not be seen as the reason for the Giants' dismal 2-9 season. The offensive line has already given up four more sacks than it did throughout 2016 while the running game has continued to struggle and the defense produced stunning collapses in the successive defeats to the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers.
Injuries have also robbed him of playmaking talent at the wide receiver position, with Odell Beckham Jr and Brandon Marshall both lost for the season. Despite all these obstacles, Manning has still completed 62.5 per cent of his passes this campaign, throwing 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Yet the reason Giants fans and observers have reacted so negatively to the decision is not because it appears harsh, it is because of the way it has been handled by a typically stable Giants organisation that is seemingly falling apart.
To say head coach Ben McAdoo has managed this season poorly is putting it politely. Cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins have both served suspensions, with the latter scrutinised for a lack of effort in the 49ers defeat.
210 - Eli Manning's streak of 210 consecutive starts will come to an end this Sunday. The 210 straight starts are the second-most ever by a QB in NFL history. Sunset. pic.twitter.com/XFsNugf8ik-- OptaJerry (@OptaJerry) November 28, 2017
The Giants have looked listless for the majority of the campaign and, when asked what he said to his team at half-time against the Rams, McAdoo was unable to provide even one word as an answer.
But, in a season of utter shambles, it is the treatment of Manning, who led the Giants to two Super Bowl titles, that marks McAdoo's lowest ebb.
Benching Manning in the midst of a season for which he can take little of the blame would have been controversial enough, but doing so after offering to keep him as the starter in order to extend his streak while giving both Smith and rookie Davis Webb snaps shows little regard for his achievement of stacking such an amount of starts together.
"Coach McAdoo told me I could continue to start while Geno and Davis are given an opportunity to play," Manning said.
"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."
With McAdoo's head, and that of general manager Jerry Reese likely on the chopping block after the Giants' worst season in recent memory, there was always a strong possibility that Manning would be on his way out after a distinguished career in the Big Apple.
However, instead of being allowed to end his Giants career on his terms, his departure has effectively been brought forward and comes as a consequence of a move by a desperate coach making a vain attempt to keep his job. Manning, after all he has done for the Giants, deserves better.