As Ravens’ QB transition nears, Giants’ plan still in limbo

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The last coach who had the idea to sit franchise icon Eli Manning and spend December seeing what the other quarterbacks on his roster could do got fired less than a week later. That was last year, when Ben McAdoo and then-GM Jerry Reese made Geno Smith the starter for a week with a plan to play Davis Webb in later games, but both lost their jobs almost immediately and watched from a distance as Manning finished the season.

It’s a new regime in New York now, as you certainly know, but the Giants are dealing with the same conundrum. Manning clearly isn’t what he used to be and clearly isn’t the future at the position. But with four games left and the rest of their division stubbornly refusing to eliminate them, the Giants are still struggling to figure out the right way to do this. They made fourth-round rookie Kyle Lauletta active Sunday for the first time this year, which means he could have gone into the game if they’d wanted to see him in it. Shurmur indicated Monday that he’d go with the same arrangement — Manning as starter, Lauletta as backup — this week in Washington.

But beyond that, he won’t say, and it’s entirely possible the Giants haven’t figured it out yet. And while it might be temping for frustrated fans to rip them for that, I can’t. What the Giants are trying to do isn’t easy.7

Quarterback succession plans, especially when the incumbent is a Super Bowl champion (twice, in the Giants’ case) and a supremely solid citizen-leader who never misses games or causes off-field grief for the organization, are tricky. There are a number of ways to do them, but they’re seldom neat. Kansas City seems to have pulled it off, trading Alex Smith after his big year and transitioning right into this brilliant season Patrick Mahomes is having, but the Chiefs are the exception.

The Patriots had a succession plan a year and a half ago, but they scrapped it when they sent Jimmy Garoppolo to San Francisco during Tom Brady’s age-40 season. The Chargers and Steelers, who landed their current QBs the same year Manning joined the Giants, don’t appear to have any concrete post-Philip Rivers or post-Ben Roethlisberger plans. The difference between those teams and the Giants is that they’re all winning and those quarterbacks are still playing at a high level, but at some point they’re all going to need to figure this out, and it’s seldom as easy as it was for … well, the Giants in 2004 when Kurt Warner was a placeholder and gave way to Manning at midseason.

Watching Week 13, it struck me that the Baltimore Ravens may be pulling it off, though not because of any great plan they made.

Baltimore has started first-round rookie Lamar Jackson each of the past three games and won them all. Unconventionally, sure, but 3-0 is 3-0 and this team was 4-5 and seemingly going nowhere when Jackson took over. What happened for the Ravens is that incumbent, Super Bowl-champion starter Joe Flacco got hurt, and the Ravens put in Jackson because Flacco physically couldn’t play. Now that Flacco’s on his way back, they may have a decision to make, though as long as they’re winning it’s hard to see how they can make any decision other than keeping Jackson in place.