When Eli Manning’s $5 million roster bonus kicks in Monday at 4 p.m., it will provide financial clarity to what is already known about the 38-year-old, two-time Super Bowl MVP: He will be wearing blue as the Giants’ quarterback in 2019, for the 16th consecutive year.
Manning might not be the only quarterback who gets to play for the Giants this season. That depends on whom they might take in the NFL draft next month or whom they might acquire (Josh Rosen?). Manning returns as the starter, though, despite the team’s downward spiral since its most recent rise to greatness: winning Super Bowl XLVI in February 2012.
Since then, the Giants are on their third head coach (Tom Coughlin to Ben McAdoo to Pat Shurmur) and their second general manager (Jerry Reese to Dave Gettleman), uncommon upheaval for a franchise with ownership that prides itself on patience and stability. The Giants are 8-24 the past two seasons, and Manning is 8-23 as the starting quarterback in that span.
The new regime of Gettleman and Shurmur believes Manning can get the job done as long as he is protected by an offensive line that will be in its second year of a total rebuild and as long as the focal point of the offense shifts to running back Saquon Barkley. Last week’s stunning trade of superstar receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to the Browns sent away Manning’s most dynamic weapon — one of the most lethal targets in the league — but the Giants did not win much with Manning throwing to Beckham, and now a team searching for answers will go with more of a spread-the-ball approach.
That Manning is returning on his full salary is baffling to many. He will make $17 million in base salary and count $23.2 million on the 2019 salary cap. That cap drain puts Manning tied with Cam Newton of the Panthers for seventh-highest in the NFL. In terms of average annual salary, Manning’s $21 million is not exceptional among his quarterback peers. It puts him 14th in the NFL, behind Matt Ryan, Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo, Derek Carr, Alex Smith and Nick Foles, among others.
The Giants see their payout to Manning this season as commensurate with what their aging starting quarterback should earn. Plus, given the way Manning comports himself, on and off the field, and the way he is revered in the building, co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch had no real appetite to cut the salary of a player who helped earn the most recent two Lombardi Trophies.
Last season, Manning completed a career-high 66 percent of his passes, for 4,299 yards — the fourth-highest total of his career — with 21 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. His passer rating of 92.4 was the third-highest of his career. Offensive failures in the first half of the 2018 season led to a 1-7 start. A much more effective second half led to a surge in scoring as the Giants finished 5-11.
The Giants put together three contracts for Manning in his 16 years. His rookie deal totaled $54 million, his second deal was for $97.5 million and he is entering the final year of an $84 million extension.
Manning has earned $235.3 million from the Giants. When he gets paid his full salary in 2019, his career earnings since it all started with him getting traded to the Giants in 2004 will rise to $252.3 million. That will vault him ahead of his older brother Peyton ($248 million in career earnings) to become the highest-paid player in NFL history in terms of total earnings.
The 10 highest-paid players in league history are all quarterbacks. After the Mannings, Drew Brees is third ($221.7 million), and Tom Brady ($217.2 million) and Aaron Rodgers ($204 million) round out the top five, according to Spotrac. Two of Eli Manning’s draft classmates, Philip Rivers ($202.9 million) and Ben Roethlisberger ($187.3 million), are next. The rest of the top 10 includes Matt Ryan ($178.7 million), Matt Stafford ($178.3 million) and Carson Palmer ($174.1 million).
Longevity and the position they play ties these well-compensated quarterbacks together. Brady was a sixth-round draft pick in 2000, and thus got a late start on cashing in. Plus, Brady routinely accepts contracts at less than market value, perhaps because his famous wife, model Gisele Bundchen, is estimated to be worth $360 million.