Earlier this week Eli Manning came under fire because it was reported that he wanted to be the highest paid player in football, a report that Eli has since refuted. When news spread Eli sought to be the most paid, plenty of pundits and analysts were in a tizzy because they couldn’t believe that someone as “bad” as Eli Manning wanted to be paid as if he was the best player in the game. Just for some brief history, here are some criticisms Eli has received throughout the years:
“Eli Manning is not elite. He never has been.” –Shannon Sharpe on ESPN’s First Take w/Skip Bayless
Referring to 2013, Skip Bayless cites that “this is the 3rd time Eli Manning has lead the league in interceptions.” Bayless added, “maybe he’s starting to turn back into the second level quarterback permanently. I’ll give him second level but I won’t give him elite.”
Boomani Jones tweeted:
serious question: how long should the giants keep paying eli for what he already did? forever? help me out.
— El Flaco (@bomani_jones) August 18, 2015
I get it, statistically Eli is far from the greatest quarterback in the league. At times he’s turnover prone, he’s not a scrambler, and the Giants haven’t been to the playoffs since 2011 en route to their last Superbowl. All valid reasons to point out that Eli might not be worth elite QB money. I believe Eli when he said those words never came out of his mouth. Manning strikes me as being too laid back to ever be the one beating his chest and saying he wants to be numero uno in the league. I see nothing wrong with Eli wanting to be fairly compensated but I do take issue with everyone else proclaiming that Eli is not worth the money he is paid and will be paid when a new agreement is reached. Let’s explore.
Growing up my mother often played John P. Kee and the New Life Choir’s song Show Up!, which is basically a statement to have faith that God will show up when the time is right. James Harrison recently made headlines by stating that his sons would have to return their participation trophies. According to Harrison you have to do more than show up, you have to earn your trophies. Which is true. However, there is something to be said for being in it to win it; for showing up. How does all of this apply to Manning you ask? Eli is the current iron man streak holder in the NFL having started in 167 straight games. In football where learning a system, building a rapport with your teammates, timing, and understanding an offense, etc. are essential to success, knowing that the player at the “most important” position will be there to participate is in itself worthy of a huge payday. Part of that salary is paying that person to show up. Moreover, based on his production in the past, the Giants have faith Eli will perform as needed, in an elite way, when needed. The Giants’ success has always been a complete team effort; no one person is responsible for their victories. But what is a big part of each victory is that the right person shows up at the right time, whether that’s making a helmet catch, setting the tone of a game by forcing a safety, or making not only a spectacular pass but then connecting with the person who made yet another amazing catch. It’s about showing up and Manning has proven to do just that.
What have you done for me lately?
As Bomani stated, how long should the Giants keep paying Eli for past performance? Most athletes are paid based on past performance with expectations (or hopes) of repeat performances. That’s the whole concept of a contract year. Hell, almost everything we do is based on past performance. While Manning is criticized for his poor performance in the past, we can’t counter that by saying, “that’s in the past,” that’s an Eagles fan way of thinking. Consider this, a resume is nothing more than a summary of what you’ve done in the past. When you apply for a job, have an interview, are asked to sit on a panel, you’re questioned about your past experience and expertise. In 2011, Eli Manning threw for 4933 yards, 29 TDs, 16 interceptions, and finished with a passer rating of 92.9. In 2014 Manning threw for 4410 yards, 30 TDs, 14 interceptions, and finished with a passer rating of 92.1. 2011 was a Superbowl season and Manning’s stats last year were close to his stats in a championship season. Yes Odell Beckham, Jr. had a lot to do with last year’s success, but Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks had a lot to do with 2011’s success and Manning and the Giants feel that Beckham and Cruz together might help repeat last year’s numbers in pursuit of another championship (defensive problems notwithstanding). Finally, Eli (along with his brother Peyton) hold the single season record for the most 4th quarter comebacks in NFL history (7). That wasn’t done last season but it is a part of Manning’s complete body of work.
Basically, Manning has shown in the past that while at times his performance has been subpar, it has also been above par and yes, most franchises might be willing to take that gamble. In the 2011-12 NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers Manning was sacked 6 times and knocked down 12 times, yet each time he got right back up and went to work. Those numbers aren’t highlighted when assessing a QB’s performance in a game. Tenacity is a characteristic of Elite. Not buckling under pressure is absolutely a component of excellence. Elite doesn’t have to mean perfect performance, sometimes, the potential for excellence is a worthy investment, especially if that investment has paid off in the past. I challenge the concept that elite only pertains to a (mostly) mistake free performance. Perfection is a goal which is rarely achieved, however, its pursuit can be perfect. In those instances those participation trophies become performance trophies, and the term elite becomes more reflective of what that word really means, not flawless, but rather being committed to excellence and success in spite of your flaws.