One month ago, Eli Manning sat next me in our SiriusXM studio for a radio interview. The New York Giants quarterback causally explained how he wasn't remotely sweating about getting a new contract, with 2015 being the final year of his existing deal. The normal worries for a contract-year NFL player -- particularly a quarterback -- just didn't bother the unflappable Manning.
Eli wasn't concerned about getting injured. This cat doesn't press, doesn't feel pressure. His leadership is never questioned. Teammates never look sideways at him or his commitment to this team -- even earlier this offseason, when questions cropped up about the team's long-term commitment to him.
Manning, on this hot morning in June, was able to stay cool because of one rather important word:
Eli explained on that day how he trusts the Mara and Tisch families, how he has 100 percent faith in the Giants.
It wasn't spin or random noise during a radio interview -- I believed every second of it. In fact, I was so struck by Eli's demeanor that I asked the 34-year-old how he was able to compartmentalize everything. In an era where athletes stress about contractual dealings more than ever, Eli was completely calm -- and trustworthy.
NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported on Monday night's "Total Access" that Big Blue hopes to ink a long-term contract with Manning before -- or early on in -- training camp. This makes perfect sense for so many reasons ...
First things first: Manning is primed to have a big season in 2015.
At this time last offseason, Eli was still working back from ankle surgery. Not only that, he was learning a completely new offense under first-time coordinator Ben McAdoo. Now? He's fully healthy -- and fully comfortable in McAdoo's offense. He has a dynamic No. 1 receiver in second-year phenom Odell Beckham Jr., and former Pro Bowler Victor Cruz is coming along very nicely in his recovery from a season-ending patellar tendon tear.
Long story short: The Giants' passing attack should tick this fall. And the defense is shaky, so New York will be forced to air it out and put points on the board to keep up. Thus, Eli's in position to put up big numbers -- the kind of numbers that cause a player's price tag to shoot up in a contract year. Hence, the need to lock him up before the season even begins.
With two Lombardi Trophies -- and two Super Bowl MVPs -- Manning obviously is well-entrenched in franchise lore. Paying off past performance is always a risky proposition in professional sports. If I were penning this column after Eli's horrendous 2013 campaign -- when he led the NFL with 27 interceptions -- I'd be singing a very different tune. But the quarterback really showed us something last year. Over the final six weeks of the season, everything seemed to click, as Eli threw 12 touchdown passes against just three picks, posting a 102.7 passer rating. On the year, he recorded his highest completion rate ever (63.1 percent). Beckham and McAdoo give Manning a new lease on the future.
And here's another factor that cannot be overlooked: Eli's teammates love him.
Thanks to the Jason Pierre-Paul fireworks mishap, this month has been one of chaos and uncertainty for the franchise. Re-upping Eli right now would restore some much-needed stability -- and it'd go a long way in the locker room.
Manning and Rivers have been intrinsically linked since the day they were traded for each other during the 2004 NFL Draft. Both deserve extensions with the clubs they have been with forever.
But who deserves it more?
They've enjoyed similar production, particularly on the touchdown front: Manning has 259 career scoring strikes to Rivers' 252. Phil boasts more Pro Bowl berths (five to three) and a higher passer rating (95.7 to 82.4), but Eli has two big, fat rings.
One can argue the cost of doing business in New York -- and did I mention the championships? -- is higher.
There are two types of teams in the NFL: those that have a quarterback and those that don't.
The G-Men know what they have in Manning: someone worth paying now -- based on the past, present and future.