ARLINGTON, Tex. -- Dave Gettleman has been raving about Saquon Barkley privately and publicly since he first watched him on film back in March. In the end, he couldn't pass on a player he said "was touched by the hand of God." So with the second overall pick, it was an easy choice to select "the unanimous best player in our draft."
But Gettleman's choice wasn't just about the dynamic, 21-year-old Penn State running back.
It was about the Giants' 37-year-old quarterback, too.
The moment Gettleman made Barkley the No. 2 pick, he sent a loud and clear message that he was all-in with Eli Manning. No matter what his detractors believe, no matter what the stats seem to show, Gettleman just proved he is a Manning believer. And he's convinced his two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback had enough left for one more championship run.
Gettleman and new Giants coach Pat Shurmur have been indicating that for months, saying that based on Manning's durability and arm strength, they believed he had "years" remaining in his career. Even as they analyzed and debated the quarterbacks at the top of this quarterback-heavy draft, they seemed to be publicly telegraphing their intention to pass on them all.
But saying it and doing it are two different things. The reality remains that Manning has only two more years left on his contract, an unknown amount of time left in his body and arm, and the Giants still don't know who will replace him. They admittedly don't have nearly enough information on Davis Webb, last year's third-round pick, and they were facing a golden (and what they hope is a rare) opportunity to take a quarterback with a top-five pick.
When they passed, even letting a potential franchise quarterback slide right to the Jets, they announced their intention -- their priority -- is absolutely to win now.
As for the future, it can wait.
"What's the long-term plan with the quarterback? (Manning's) going to play," Gettleman said defiantly after making his first draft pick as Giants GM. "What do you want me to tell you? He's our quarterback. We believe in him. He threw the hell out of the ball for three days. He has not lost one bit of arm strength. And I'm coming back five years later, watching a quarterback in his prime, and now he's 37.
"You have to stop worrying about age. Oh, by the way, Julius Peppers played last year at 38, Mike Davis played at 37. There are some guys that are just freaks. (Tom) Brady is 41. I mean come on. He is our quarterback."
It is true that age isn't always the most important number for a quarterback, as Brady and Drew Brees (39) know. John Elway won Super Bowls at 37 and 38. Peyton Manning, Eli's older brother, went to Super Bowls at 37 and 39. Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers, Eli's 2004 draft classmates, are both 36, and no one is screaming for them to be replaced.
Of course, the difference is about the opportunity. The Giants drafted Manning in 2004 to replace a 31-year-old quarterback in Kerry Collins who had led them to a Super Bowl just three years earlier because they suddenly found themselves picking in the top five and future franchise quarterbacks were available. Maybe Gettleman really didn't love the three top quarterbacks staring him in the face -- USC's Sam Darnold, UCLA's Josh Rosen and Wyoming's Josh Allen -- but a lot of smart people around the NFL are convinced that some of them, if not all of them, have the tools to be outstanding. And it could be years -- they hope -- before the Giants are in position to draft quarterbacks like them again.
But Gettleman doesn't care. He has his quarterback. He's going to rebuild his offensive line. He has an array of dangerous weapons with Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and tight end Evan Engram.
Now he added a running back, another dangerous offensive weapon.
"When we were in here before, we were talking about quarterbacks and if they make everyone better," Gettleman said. "If you think about it, this kid makes our quarterback better, he makes our receivers better, he makes our O-line better, he makes our defense better because he has the much stronger ability to hold the ball."
In three or four years when Manning is done -- or sooner if he starts to decline -- who knows how much that will matter? As great as Barkley may become, he can't help the Giants avoid "quarterback hell."
Maybe they never land there. Maybe Webb will prove to be a star. Or maybe Gettleman will luck into a quarterback with a later pick in a future draft. That's a gamble he's willing to take because when he looked at the 3-13 mess he inherited; he saw just enough valuable pieces from the team that went 11-5 the year before. The most valuable was the quarterback, whom he was convinced was still the right one to put everything back together and lead the Giants back to the playoffs -- or maybe even farther.
So many moves he made this offseason -- giving big money to 30-year-old left tackle in Nate Solder, adding 31-year-old running back Jonathan Stewart, trading draft picks for linebacker Alec Ogletree -- suggested that was his plan. His move to take Barkley on Thursday was just the confirmation. To borrow a phrase that former Giants GM Ernie Accorsi used with the 2006 Giants, when Gettleman looks at the players he now has in his locker room, he believes there's a championship in that room.
And he believes Eli Manning is still the quarterback who can lead them to that championship, too.