Eli Manning conjures up a lot of mixed emotions in New York.
The 33-year-old former first overall pick has led the Giants to two Super Bowl wins in his decade with the team but in the “what have you done for me lately” league he's also the QB that's put together back-to-back subpar seasons since the team's last championship.
Subpar may be putting it lightly, especially last year. Manning produced his worst season statistically since his rookie campaign back in 2004. Completing less than 60 percent of his passes, Manning threw for just 3,818 yards and 18 touchdowns to 27 interceptions, a career-high.
And while Manning certainly hit a low point last year, it wasn't like 2013 was just a blip on the radar on an otherwise sterling career. The career Giant has had a couple really good seasons sprinkled throughout his career but otherwise has looked the part only of a middling quarterback.
Granted the stat is flawed, but Manning's career quarterback rating sits at 81.2. That's just 15th among the league's projected starters and right below Matt Hasselbeck and Jason Campbell – both now backups – on the active leaders list.
If not for the great playoff runs in 2007 and 2011, Manning wouldn't be thought of in the same high regard as he is now, he may not have received his monster contract signed four years ago, and perhaps wouldn't even still be with the Giants.
And that's the rub. The Giants have to stay loyal to the guy that led them to two Super Bowls in a four year span, but also have to be realistic and build the best roster possible for the present and future.
With two years left on his contract, the decision is partially made for the Giants but for their part, they're sticking with Manning while also acknowledging they need him to play better.
“He did not have a good year,” Giants owner John Mara told the New York Daily News ahead of training camp. “He'd be the first one to tell you that. But he had a lot of company... He's still the face of the franchise, and we need to help him. We need to give him some better tools and do a better job around him next year.”
“Obviously, there's gotta be better people around him as well,” GM Jerry Reese echoed to the Daily News. “But he's gotta own it as well.”
It's clear not all the Giants struggles the past two seasons (16-16 combined record) are Manning's to shoulder alone, but when you get all the praise – and the big money – for winning a couple Super Bowls, you have to know it can go the other way as well.
Discussing his quarterback's struggles at times, Reese also mentioned the times when the light goes on for Manning.
“You see some of the things that he does, you think ‘Wow, that's the guy that we know and love.' Sometimes, it's not exactly that.”
The Giants lost a promising young running back when David Wilson decided to retire due to concerns over his neck. Wilson had off-season neck surgery and after suffering a burner in training camp doctors recommended the 23-year-old former first rounder call it quits.
In part due to concerns over Wilson's health, the Giants grabbed running back Rashad Jennings in free agency. Jennings has never opened a season as the team's starter but impressed taking over for Darren McFadden midway through the year last year in Oakland. At worst, Jennings is a solid backup, as he was for many years in Jacksonville behind Maurice Jones-Drew.
Jennings was far from the only free agent the Giants landed this off-season. GM Jerry Reese was very busy building one of the biggest free agent pools in the league. Standing out from that group are cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond, safety Quintin Demps, and linebacker Jameel McClain.
With the loss of Hakeem Nicks to the Indianapolis Colts in free agency, the Giants made sure to get Manning another weapon in the draft, selecting Odell Beckham out of LSU 12th overall. While the pick may have been a bit of a reach, the team found value later in the draft, highlighted by their fourth-round pick Andre Williams, a running back out of Boston College.