Giants bringing Eli Manning back hurt team salary cap, rebuild

The book of Eli might officially be closed.

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The New York Giants benched veteran quarterback Eli Manning on Tuesday, a move that perhaps is only shocking because of the timing. Just two games into the season, Manning was far from the worst part of the 0-2 Giants start, but with a first-round pick at quarterback holding a clipboard on the sidelines, the decision was obviously made to go with the future.

The choice makes sense at a certain point, given that Jones is clearly the future of the franchise – a team doesn’t take a quarterback sixth overall and have him sit too long. But the Giants made the decision this spring to bring back the 39-year-old Manning for the final year of his contract.

That decision paved a path that ties the Giants to a $23.2 million hit against the salary cap this year and had a domino effect on their other offseason moves. That is a lot of money for Manning to now become the backup quarterback after just two games.

The decision to bench Manning so early in the year and essentially wave the white flag on the season is especially risky given that the quarterback’s performance was solid and he was far from a liability on the field. To also bench him after two weeks is compounded by the fact that this offseason, the Giants went into full rebuild mode and didn’t bring back several impact players including two of their young playmakers.

The Giants made a significant salary cap investment to bring back Manning for what now amounts to just two starts. Had they chosen to move on from the two-time Super Bowl MVP, they could have possibly kept one, if not two of the stars that they jettisoned this offseason.

The Giants traded away star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in March, shipping an All-Pro talent who they had just signed to a massive extension the year before. The Giants also couldn’t bring back another star in safety Landon Collins, who signed in free agency a six-year contract with division rival Washington Redskins. The Giants said he was too expensive to keep, a point Collins backed up by signing a deal with an annual contract value of $14 million.

If the Giants had decided to cut ties with Manning in the spring, then potentially they could have kept either Beckham or, more likely, Collins. It was a choice to retain Manning that has ramifications beyond this year as the quarterback’s contract tied up money that could have gone toward long-term contracts for younger parts of their core.

Manning is in the final year of his contract, which currently eats up just under 10 percent of the Giants entire salary cap.