Eli Manning may get a contract extension before Odell Beckham Jr. does.
Head coach Pat Shurmur aced Friday morning’s introductory press conference in East Rutherford, coming off as confident, comfortable, relatable, intelligent and in charge.
But what stood out most from both Shurmur’s and team president John Mara’s comments was the stark contrast in their remarks about the futures of Manning and Beckham, especially from Mara.
On the one hand, Shurmur said he believes Manning has “years left” on his career and Mara stressed how “positive” it was to hear Shurmur endorse Manning from the beginning of his interview for the job.
On the other, while Shurmur glowed about Beckham’s “tremendous” talent and said it will be “sort of a clean slate deal right now,” Mara said that he wants Beckham to meet with Shurmur and understand “how we’re gonna act” before signing him to a contract extension.
And Shurmur added on Beckham: “I need to talk to him about what it is that we’re looking for (in) a guy that plays for the New York Giants.”
This marked Mara’s most lukewarm comments on Beckham’s future with the Giants yet, and it made clear Shurmur intends to set ground rules that forbid the type of behavior Beckham often has exhibited in bad taste — from his 2015 street fight with Josh Norman and related suspension, to the infamous Boat Trip prior to the 2016 playoff dud in Green Bay, to pretending to pee on the field like a dog in Philadelphia this past fall.
“We’ll deal with that at the appropriate time, but that’s not necessarily right now,” Mara said of whether re-signing Beckham, 25, is a priority. “I’ve said before many times that we want him to be a Giant, and we’ll get something done at some point in time. But I want first (for) Pat to sit down with him and them to have a good understanding about how we’re gonna act going forward. And I have a lot of confidence that that’s gonna work out well. But we’ll see.”
Manning, meanwhile, remarkably sounds as secure as ever in the Giants’ starting quarterback job, only two months after Mara signed off on his franchise QB’s benching in a phase-out plan pitched by then-GM Jerry Reese and head coach Ben McAdoo. Mara fired Reese and McAdoo the day after Geno Smith started and played the whole game in Oakland on Dec. 4.
It’s safe to say Mara is sensitive to how, as both Mara and co-owner Steve Tisch admitted, the Manning matter was “mishandled.”
“I’ve always had that feeling (that Manning was still our quarterback),” Mara said when asked if at the time of Manning’s benching, he still felt he was the Giants’ “guy.” “But at the point our season was at, I felt like it made sense to at least see what we had in the other two guys. And I want to forget about that whole thing so stop bringing it up. It was something that was mishandled and I’ve taken responsibility for that, it falls on my shoulders. I wish we would have gotten a little more of a look at Davis Webb, but we don’t have an opportunity to do that.”
Shurmur, new to all this, is smart. Like Mara, he knows Beckham is a world-class talent. And so the new head coach stressed with a grin that “it makes sense to throw (Beckham) the football.” Shurmur will be calling the plays on offense as head coach, so he will be personally responsible for feeding OBJ the ball.
But Shurmur made sure to throw in that “when you throw all the other stuff out and you watch him on the field, he’s outstanding.” The Giants clearly are drawing a line in the sand for Beckham’s behavior.
“I think with all things Odell, we just need to start talking and find out why things happened, and if they’re not what is by our standards, then we’ve got to find a way to get him fixed,” Shurmur said.
“He’s a tremendous player. I went through the evaluation process at the time I was in Philadelphia, and he was high on our draft board,” added Shurmur, who was Philly’s offensive coordinator in 2014, when the Giants took Beckham 12th overall. “We loved him as a player and really pre-draft stuff we loved everything about him. I’ve watched him play and compete and when you throw all the other stuff out and you watch him on the field, he’s outstanding.
“So it makes sense to throw him the football. Alright?” Shurmur joked. “I’m just gonna say that right away. If I didn’t acknowledge that then you’ve definitely got the wrong guy up here. But I think what needs to happen now is I need to get to know him, I need to get to know what makes him tick, and I need to talk to him about what it is that we’re looking for (in) a guy that plays for the New York Giants. And I think those are the things that go back to relationship building that need to happen very, very soon.”
Compared to Beckham, who Shurmur has yet to meet, the new coach has a pre-existing relationship with Manning having been at the Manning Passing Academy camp last summer with his son, Kyle, the starting Vanderbilt QB.
“I watched Eli throw a little bit this summer, and I walked away saying he looked really, really good,” Shurmur said. “He looked fit. He was throwing the ball well. The ball had good velocity coming off his hand. And I think he’s got years left. How much? I don’t know. But I think he has time left, and I look forward to working with him.
“With regard to who we’re going to draft, I’m not ducking that question. I think we got to travel down the road with evaluation and see what happens,” Shurmur said of the possibility that the Giants draft a quarterback at No. 2. “I think what’s important is we have a guy here that’s helped this organization win Super Bowls, he’s an outstanding player and I really look forward to working with him.”
So where does this leave Beckham? OBJ is entering the fifth- and final option year of his rookie deal and last offseason skipped all of the Giants’ voluntary OTAs to make a point that he wanted negotiations on an extension to begin. He relented on his demand, and attended mandatory minicamp and training camp, announcing he one day wants to be the highest-paid player ever in the NFL, only to badly sprain his left ankle in the preseason before breaking it in Week 5 at MetLife Stadium.
Beckham would be justified, therefore, in holding out for a new contract if the Giants hard ball him this summer. He is severely underpaid compared to his market value based on his production: Beckham is due to make $8.4 million on his fifth-year option next fall, an amount dwarfed by the annual contract values of top receivers such as the Steelers’ Antonio Brown ($17 million), the Texans’ DeAndre Hopkins ($16.2 million), the Bengals’ A.J. Green ($15 million), the Packers’ Davante Adams ($14.5 million) and the Falcons’ Julio Jones ($14.5 million).
One would think that Beckham, as he enters the prime of his career, would be the Giants’ focus while Manning, with two years remaining on his current contract at reasonable salaries ($10.5 million and $11.5 million, respectively), would be riding off into the sunset. But clearly, the tables have turned.
“One thing about Pat was he was very positive about Eli right from the beginning of the interview, and certainly that was a positive,” Mara said.
The Giants are Eli’s team again. For how long, no one knows. But here’s another thing no one knows: how much longer Beckham will be playing for the Giants.