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Palladino: Eli Too Important For Giants To Dawdle On Contract

By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

The Giants need leaders both now and in the future, which is why it is a little absurd that they have yet to extend Eli Manning's contract.

Though free-agent needs superseded the urgency to hand over a boatload of money to a two-time Super Bowl MVP with a year remaining before he, too, hits the open market, the time has come to prevent that eventuality. The offseason training program has begun, bringing with it the initial melding of talent, chemistry, and leadership the coaching staff hopes will solidify in training camp.

It's in the leadership category where Manning has become indispensable. Despite hitting a lull in his career after the Super Bowl XLVI victory, Manning has never been less than a leader. Even now, as he looks into the current season as a potential lame-duck, the quarterback said Monday he's ready to work as hard as ever.


This is leadership. Not the Antrel Rolle kind, where one steps out from the crowd through a torrent of words. Manning's is a quiet leadership, gained through a business as usual, one foot in front of the other approach.

In other words, just the kind of leading veteran linebacker Jon Beason talked about doing on his side of the ball.

"I think leadership boils down to want-to," Beason said Monday as the offseason program opened. "People follow a guy who is really there for a purpose and a reason.

"If that reason is to be productive and win football games at all costs, then guys follow you."

Which is exactly why the offense follows Manning. He is as strong a leader as the Giants have had, and may ever will have. That doesn't equate to perfection. That descriptive has never applied to Manning, as a 27-interception, 2013 season proved. Even in the 2007 and 2011 Super Bowl years, he threw the occasional pick that had staff and followers wondering what, exactly, was going through his head.

But in other areas, Manning has shown the qualities of an exemplary leader. Last year's climb up the steep learning curve of a new, unfamiliar offense under coordinator Ben McAdoo could have turned disastrous, and few would have condemned the quarterback. Instead, he bought into the system, made adjustments, found Odell Beckham, and threw 13 fewer interceptions than the previous year.

And then he upped his goals to what others might think unrealistic proportions.

"I'd like to get that into single digits," Manning said. "I think that's kind of the goal every year, to get into that eight number. You'd obviously like to have zero, but understanding football and funny things can happen, so one every two games."

To push that along, he continued his offseason visits with his former head coach and confidante, Duke coach David Cutcliffe. He threw to Beckham and Victor Cruz, even as Cruz continued his rehab from complicated knee surgery.

The locker room becomes a second home during the season. Arrive early. Stay late. Work on off days.

And now he heads into the offseason program with the same single-mindedness that has defined his attitude since his rookie season.

Dollar signs and extra years are not part of his equation for success.

"I am comfortable," Manning said. "I have a job to do and that is to play football. That is my only concern. The way I look at it, I have one more year, and I'm going to play that one more year and go from there."

Team president John Mara said at the end of last season that he wants Manning to retire as a Giant. Tom Coughlin wants Manning around for his going-away party, whenever that happens. Jerry Reese wants him.

Small wonder. Manning has won Super Bowls for them. More than that, he has led for them.

For a franchise three years removed from its last postseason appearance, leadership is all important.

Manning fits every definition, including Beason's own self description.

"All the stuff about necessarily being vocal and 'Rah-rah' guys, at the end of the day that's not what leaders are," Beason said. "You lead by example first. That's what I've always done. I concern myself with always trying to be blameless, playing hard, and throughout the course of my career guys have followed that."

That's Manning, too.

The Giants lost Justin Tuck, a Manning kind of leader, last year. They lost a different kind of leader in Rolle this year.

They should never let even a hint of doubt seep in about their intentions to keep Manning around until he's done.

Extend him now.

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