THIBODAUX — What’s it like to have your professional future play out on TV and there’s nothing you can do but watch along with everyone else?
Not easy, even when Easy is your nickname.
That uncertain feeling was what Eli Manning experienced on April 26, the first night of the NFL draft.
Manning has been the New York Giants' quarterback for 14 years and won two Super Bowls, but they cratered to 3-13 in 2017, prompting the firing of coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese before the season was even over.
With a new coach and GM and the second pick in a quarterback-rich draft, it seemed obvious to many that Manning’s days were numbered with the only team he played with since that draft day trade with San Diego back in 2004.
Quite likely, his successor was one of the four future first-rounders who had been counselors last summer here at the Manning Passing Academy.
Things looked so dim that one projection of where Manning would play in 2018 — made after McAdoo benched Eli in November, ending his streak 210 consecutive starts, second-longest in NFL history — pegged the Giants last of eight possibilities, three spots below the likelihood he’d wind up with the Saints.
Instead, the Giants' new regime drafted running back Saquon Barkley, and Eli was here Friday for his 23rd MPA (he was a freshman from Newman at the first one in 1996) smiling as usual and a member of Big Blue for at least one more year.
“I honestly didn’t know which direction they were going to go,” said the youngest Manning brother, 37, while a group of potential 2019 first-rounders were being interviewed in another part of the room. “If they’d taken a quarterback, it probably would have changed my situation.
“But I would have still been back the next day doing my job, which was getting ready to play quarterback for the New York Giants.”
Doubtless, Manning’s happy with the way things worked out, especially with the player considered the surest next big thing in his backfield.
“I’m excited we have Saquon,” Manning said. “He’s a great guy, and so far he’s as good as everyone said he was.”
Plus, Eli’s still a Giant.
“It’s great knowing the Giants the faith in me that I can still play quarterback and win games for them,” he said.
Manning knows firsthand how nothing lasts forever in the NFL.
In 2012, older brother Peyton, as sure a Hall of Famer as the league has ever seen, was released by the Indianapolis Colts after, ironically enough, 14 seasons. At least Peyton's exit came because the Colts had doubts he could recover from neck injury that had kept him out the year before.
And in 1982, a few months before Eli turned 2, dad Archie was traded from the Saints after 10 years of service.
“It’s every player’s goal to play for just one team,” said Peyton Manning. “But when you get to a certain age, you start taking one year at a time and so does the team.
“I know Eli’s excited to be back with the Giants, especially with some of the new players they’ve brought in. It says a lot about Eli that with just a short time they’d had with him, the staff has seen his commitment and have trust in the cerebral part of his game along with his conditioning and physical abilities.”
That they have.
At the Giants minicamp earlier this month, new coach Pat Shurmur praised Eli’s conditioning, saying he was the fittest 37-year-old he’d ever seen.
“I’m always surprised at how smart he is and how he has a great feel for the game," Shurmur said. “That’s backed up by a heck of a lot of work, and so when you have that combination, a guy who can really see the game and then a guy who really works at it, then I think the sky is the limit.”
Giants co-owner John Mara was even more definitive in a town-hall meeting with fans, saying, “We can win with (Eli).”
To Manning, such trust is part of the benefit of playing with one of the NFL’s model franchises, which is going into its 94th season.
“I’ve been blessed,” he said. “The Giants are known for doing things the correct way.
“I really don’t know what it would be like to be part of another franchise, but I’ve heard stories, and they’re all that it’s just different. With the Giants, there’s a commitment to the game of football and to winning games.”
Of course, much of that winning depends on Eli, who despite his longevity and those two Super Bowl titles has never been the star Peyton was.
Of the 70 players who have thrown at least 1,000 passes since Eli entered the league, he ranks 44th in completion percentage, 18th in touchdown rate, 51st in interception rate, 38th in yards per attempt, 41st in passer rating and 30th in career winning percentage, hardly Hall of Fame numbers.
In fact, aside from the two Super Bowl-winning seasons, 2007 and 2011, the Giants have only two other playoff appearances. Eli’s record as a starter in the non-Super Bowl years is 90-92.
Small wonder there are doubters.
In ESPN’s evaluation of the Giants’ offseason, No. 1 on writer Jordan Raanan’s list of “Moves I Didn’t Like,” was the team passing on a quarterback with that No. 2 pick, failing “to solidify their future in an historic quarterback draft.” The team did take Kyle Lauletta of Richmond in the fourth round, although Raanan acknowledged the team was “all in” on Eli and targeted Barkley all along.
It doesn’t help that the Giants play in the same division as the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, that Washington found a new QB in Alex Smith and Dallas, is well, the Cowboys.
The schedule is no friend, either, with the opener against Jacksonville, which played in the AFC championship game, and a Sept. 30 home game against the Saints sandwiched around games at Dallas and Houston.
A slow start in the pressure-cooker media market that is New York, especially with USC’s Sam Darnold, who went to the New York Jets with the No. 3 pick, also playing his home games in MetLife Stadium, and the second-guessers will be out in force.
At least Manning should have All-Pro wide receiver and fellow Newman grad Odell Beckham Jr. back from the serious ankle injury that curtailed his 2017 season and made a poor Giants offense even worse.
Beckham won’t be up to full speed until September. But with a contract season on the line, he’s been on his best behavior.
“Odell’s mind is where it needs to be,” Manning said. “And I feel good about everything else.
“But I know what this year means for me, and I’ve seen enough friends have to move on or retire or whatever. I’m just looking forward to earning the respect that’s been given me and winning more football games.”
Otherwise, Eli could well have been sharing the room Friday with the next Giants’ quarterback.