There’s no way of knowing what Eli Manning was thinking for beyond this season. Was the two-time Super Bowl MVP ready to retire after the final five games and end his decorated career with the Giants?
Maybe the Giants and Manning wanted a mutual breakup, or Manning was hoping to stay a Giant for another few years.
Whatever Manning was thinking didn’t matter. The Giants decided for him.
The Giants benched Manning for Sunday’s game against the Raiders, with Geno Smith getting the start at quarterback. The support for Manning immediately started to pour in from across the league.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers called the move pathetic, and former Giants great Michael Strahan said it was wrong.
Manning wasn’t having the best season, but he deserved a proper farewell for everything he had accomplished in New York.
Having Odell Beckham to throw to the past three seasons probably extended Manning’s career, so there’s no telling how much the quarterback really has left.
Will Manning just retire like Tony Romo did a year ago? Or does Manning now have a chip on his shoulder and moves on from New York to join a contender?
If he decides to return for a 15th season, here are six teams he could join in the offseason:
The Jaguars seem to be the obvious choice for Manning’s next home. He won two Super Bowls with Tom Coughlin as coach. Coughlin now runs the front office operations for the Jaguars.
Besides familiarity, the Jaguars are best suited to win now of all the quarterback-needy teams. The Jaguars have made it clear they don’t believe in Blake Bortles after turning the offense into a run-first team.
The Jaguars’ defense is one of the best in the league and continues to get better. Remember the last time a Manning joined a premier defense? That ended with a Super Bowl in Denver for big brother Peyton.
On offense, Eli Manning would join a team with a sturdy offensive line and a productive running game with Leonard Fournette. Manning hasn’t had those two things since 2011.
Manning also would have the luxury of throwing to Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee. The Jaguars are the no-brainer fit.
Peyton Manning could sell Denver to his younger brother from a personal experience. The older Manning went to two Super Bowls and took home an MVP award.
The Broncos’ defense isn’t as good as the past three seasons, but still has Von Miller to build around. Eli Manning would get the same weapons as his brother with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.
The Broncos could present an interesting case for brother Eli.
The Cardinals also have a track record of making it work with veteran quarterbacks. Arizona got to a Super Bowl with Kurt Warner and recently appeared in the NFC title game with Carson Palmer.
But do the Cardinals have enough pieces to be a Super Bowl contender or even a playoff team?
Playing with a healthy David Johnson would take a lot of pressure off Manning. But joining a team with the aging Larry Fitzgerald as the No. 1 target doesn’t seem like the ideal fit.
AFC East: Dolphins, Jets, Bills
Outside of the Patriots, the AFC East could be a potential landing spot — if Manning prefers location over winning.
Playing in South Beach for a year or two doesn’t sound bad, but look at what happened with Jay Cutler. Sometimes it’s better to retire early than to hang around too late. Ryan Tannehill is also in the picture, but is he much better than the proven Manning?
How about moving across the hall to join the New York Jets? Robby Anderson is emerging as a top wideout, and the secondary is on the rise. Not a bad option, but the Jets might be a few years from being in the playoffs.
Maybe a move to upstate New York, where the Bills mistreated Tyrod Taylor for years.