Eli Manning is arguably the greatest quarterback in New York Giants’ history. He is a leader, a winner, and the face of the New York Football Giants. Sure, he’s prone to an occasional interception here and there, but overall the Giants would not be anywhere near as successful as they were these last 12 years if Eli wasn’t at the quarterbacking helm. So with Eli’s contract up and the end of the 2015 season, how much should the Giants invest in their aging but still elite star?
First thing’s first: Let’s make sure everyone understands that Eli Manning is an elite quarterback. His numbers last year were stellar. Eli completed 63% of his passes for 4,410 yards, 30 touchdowns against only 14 interceptions (with 5 coming in the mess that was versus the San Francisco 49ers). And Manning isn’t a one-hit wonder; he has done this before, most notably in 2011 when he passed for 4,933 yards with 29 touchdowns versus 16 interceptions. One would also count the period between 2008 and 2012 as quality years as well, with 2013 an unfortunate outlier. Manning hasn’t always had the best offensive line, hasn’t always had the best wide receiving core, and has always had to play half of his games in the quarterback-unfriendly MetLife Stadium, where hand-numbing cold, extreme wind gusts, and other adverse weather conditions often throw quarterbacks into a state of disarray. So now looking at Manning’s stats with all of those adversities, and you’ve really got a top 10 QB.
Now Manning is already being paid as a top 10 quarterback. In fact, his current contract, valued at $97,500,000 over 6 of his prime years, was actually the NFL’s richest at the time. Manning is carrying a lofty cap hit of $19.7 million for the 2015 season, one that is third best in the NFL right now, while his actual salary sits 8th. So Manning is currently earning an appropriate sum of money.
But times have changed, and Manning knows it. In a league where QB’s with worse passing stats in Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick can earn $100 million plus, Manning knows that he is worth a lofty sum. But he also doesn’t have certain things the aforementioned duo has. Manning is almost 35, while the other two are below 25. Also, Manning cannot run, while Wilson and Kaepernick earn their money with their legs as well. So it’s unfair to the Giants if Eli wants to paid more than these two. He may be a better passer, but Wilson and Kaepernick are more complete players.
So let’s find some comparables for Eli. First off is his brother, Peyton. The elder Manning received almost the same contract that Eli has now, a 5 year, $96 million pact at age 36 (Eli must needle Peyton over the fact that he made $1.5 million more). Tom Brady, another Super Bowl-winning quarterback that is undoubtedly Eli’s superior in the regular season, settled for 5 years and $70 million with the Patriots at age 36. Drew Brees makes $20 million a year on his deal, which stretches for 5 years, milking a total investment of $100 million from the Saints.
So while Eli Manning is pursuing a similar total, he isn’t these players either. An even better comparison comes from his 2004 Draft contemporaries in Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger. Both are big pocket passers with weapons around them, much like Eli Manning. And while Rivers hasn’t tasted sweet victory yet, Roethlisberger actually beats Eli with 3 championships rather than 2. So yeah, these two are a very fair comparison of how much Eli Manning is worth in 2015.
Conveniently, both of these quarterbacks just re-upped with their teams via the good old fashioned contract extension. Roethlisberger signed first, so let’s begin with him. Big Ben, fresh off of his statistically best season at age 33 (much like Manning), agreed to a contract worth $87,400,000 over 4 years for a ridiculous $21,850,000 AAV. Amazingly, only $31 million was actually guaranteed in the form of a signing bonus. Rivers was also coming off of a fine season, and agreed to a deal worth $83,250,000 over 4 years with a whopping $65 million guaranteed. The Giants’ offer for Manning will likely be somewhere in the middle in terms of both total salary and guaranteed money.
It’s important that the Giants, one of football’s highest spenders, don’t overpay or over-year for Manning. Eli will probably only start for 3-4 more years, depending on the development of his understudy. So the Giants could elect to front-load the deal, paying him quite largely in the beginning, before backing out at the end and paying him considerably less in order to lessen the AAV and possibly cut him much easier if age hits him hard. With this in mind, as well as what his comparables received, let’s structure a contract for Eli Manning.
I predict that Eli Manning will sign a 4 year, $85 million contract to remain with the New York Football Giants through 2019. The AAV of this deal is a whopping $21.25 million, a figure that places fourth in the league for QBs, barely below Roethlisberger ((21.85), Wilson (21.9), and Aaron Rodgers (22). But the kicker comes in his guaranteed money/signing bonus. The Giants should configure the deal so that Eli is only guaranteed 40% of the money, a common figure in the NFL (Roethlisberger and Rodgers are guaranteed 39% and 49%, for example). The majority of this money would come via a signing bonus and other performance-based incentives. Simply put, Eli Manning will earn his money based on how well he plays, a true example of how the world should work.
Eli Manning has said that he doesn’t want to be the highest-paid quarterback in football, and he never will be. But his on- and off-the-field production and intangibles, as well as market value, dictate that Eli Manning is worth a hefty sum. In terms of AAV, Manning would actually receive a small raise under my contract, and would take his place among the salary leaders. The Giants and Manning both need each other, and a compromise with the above criteria should keep both parties happy for a long time.