NEW YORK – Lurking behind Eli Manning's battle to fend off rookie Daniel Jones this fall is an equally intriguing Giants storyline: Where will Manning play in 2020?
Manning, 38, wants to play past the 2019 season, ESPN's Sal Paolantonio reported this spring. And the two-time Super Bowl MVP reiterated to nola.com's Rod Walker just before the Fourth of July holiday that retirement is not in the quarterback's imminent plans.
"I'm not rushing into retirement, and Peyton's not telling me to rush into it," Manning told nola.com recently at the Manning Passing Academy at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La. "I still love being around the guys and the teammates and playing this game. I'm going to play it for as long as I think I can hang with these guys."
Manning, 38, is in the final year of his current contract, however, and the Giants' selection of Jones – and their enthusiasm for him – has placed the writing on the wall for Big Blue's veteran starter.
As the News wrote in April, all 18 quarterbacks drafted in the top six from 2005 on have made at least one start in their rookie season; eleven opened as the Week 1 starter, and three more were starting by Week 4.
Odds are, then, that Manning would have to go to another team to keep playing if he wishes to play in 2020. This might be difficult for Giants fans to stomach, but it's not out of the question.
Last fall, when asked if he expected to finish his career a Giant, Manning gave WFAN a tepid answer.
"Uh, yeah. Right now, that's the mindset." Manning said, stopping short of any absolutes. "I love the New York Giants, so it's hard to imagine being with another organization."
He has accomplished a lot in his career, so one would think Manning would have no problem riding off into the sunset at the end of this season. Part of the reason he seemingly wants to keep playing, though, is that Manning's body isn't broken down.
"I still feel good," he said at minicamp in June.
The decision, then, ultimately could come down to whether another team will want Manning to be its Week 1 starter in 2020.
Manning, in other words, presumably wouldn't re-sign with the Giants to be Jones' 2020 backup just to stay in the league. He wouldn't sign with another team without being its Week 1 starter.
So if it became clear that no team wanted to sign Manning as its QB1, he might decide to retire rather than endure the embarrassment of lingering on the open market without a suitor.
If Manning did play elsewhere, though, where would he go? Probably an organization that feels comfortable and gives him a chance to win again. Destinations that come to mind are his hometown of New Orleans and his brother's two career stops, Indianapolis and Denver.
The problem is Drew Brees, 40, still is leading the Saints and playing at a much higher level than Manning. Andrew Luck, 29, is resurgent and young with the Colts. And the Broncos just signed Joe Flacco, 34, and drafted Missouri's Drew Lock in the second round to be their future QB.
If Marcus Mariota, 25, and the Tennessee Titans end their marriage after 2019, Manning could land somewhere like Nashville for a spell. Ryan Tannehill, 30, is seeking new life with the Titans at the moment, too, though, and Mike Vrabel's bunch might not be too enamored with Manning after shutting his Giants out, 17-0, on his MetLife Stadium home field last season.
Regardless, Manning's focus right now is not to find a different team. His goal at the moment is to play so well in 2019 that Jones remains on the bench and the Giants have no choice but to re-sign Manning as their Week 1 starter in 2020.
You can't put something like that past Dave Gettleman, considering the GM's history of changing courses and the organization's refusal to move on from their QB.
Chances are, however, that Jones will take over in 2019, and come next offseason, if Manning still has no plans to retire, he'll be wearing a different jersey.