When the Giants drafted running back Saquon Barkley on Thursday, it looked like they decided to punt their search for their next franchise quarterback into the future. Then they drafted a quarterback in the fourth round on Saturday, making it clear the future at that position is definitely on their minds.
No one knows, of course, if Richmond's Kyle Lauletta, the Giants' fourth-round pick, will ever develop into being worthy of being Eli Manning's successor. No one knows if he'll even turn out better than last year's third-round pick, Davis Webb. The Giants can't be sure that either of them will ever replace Manning when his effectiveness as an NFL quarterback is done.
But they know how hard it could be for them to find their next Eli Manning. That's why the Lauletta-Webb battle over the next few years is significant for the Giants, because the winner will be their best chance to avoid a post-Manning stay in "quarterback hell."
"Were we thinking long-term? Yeah, you have to," Giants GM Dave Gettleman said on Saturday after the Giants took Lauletta. "Because if you're not thinking long-term, you always give into that situation where a guy retires or you cut him and you have nobody in line to replace him. You've put yourself in a very uncomfortable situation."
That's a much nicer way to put the potential problem the Giants are facing as they stare at their unavoidable quarterback facts. Manning, 37, has only two years remaining on his contract and hasn't played particularly well over the last few seasons. Even as the Giants swear Manning has "years" left as an elite quarterback, they understand the need for the next one could be sooner than they think.
And since Gettleman didn't love any of the quarterbacks at the top of the draft, he and new head coach Pat Shurmur decided to try Lauletta, a 6-foot-3, 222-pounder from a small school who became an NFL prospect with his accuracy, his mobility and a strong performance during Senior Bowl week back in January. Shurmur liked everything about him, just as former Giants coach Ben McAdoo did with Webb last spring.
"I think he's got all the traits, all the things you're looking for in a quarterback," Shurmur said. "He's tall enough, he's got good mobility and really arm strength is about fourth on the list. You have to be a good decision-maker, you have to have a sense of timing and you have to throw an accurate ball, which he does. He does all those three things well and he uses his feet to get the ball where he needs to get it. … He's a winner, he's got moxie, he's very competitive."
Lauletta is also now Shurmur's guy -- significant because Webb is just a player the new regime inherited. Femember, back at the NFL owners meetings in March, Shurmur admitted to having an "urge" to find "a young, generational quarterback." He knows there's no guarantee he just did, but obviously he's hopeful he's found his guy.
Still, the Giants are likely to head into this two-year battle with their eyes wide open, including to the possibility that Webb, the 6-foot-5, 230-pounder from Cal who didn't play a single snap last season, could emerge as the better player. For the sake of the franchise, it really doesn't matter which one emerges as their next franchise quarterback.
As long as one of them does.
The Giants' organizational dream has been the Brett Favre-Aaron Rodgers handoff in Green Bay -- not the nastiness or the acrimony, of course; just the way the Packers remained contenders and didn't miss a beat. Manning is the unquestioned starter in 2018 and probably in 2019, too, as long as he remains as healthy and durable as he's been throughout his career. The hope is that when 2020 comes -- or whenever Manning's time in New York is over -- Lauletta or Webb will be ready to step in.
If not? Then "quarterback hell" awaits. The same is true if Manning really doesn't have "years" left in his body and arm, the Giants need a successor sooner and neither Lauletta nor Webb is ready. In that case, the Giants might regret passing on the elite quarterbacks at the top of this quarterback-rich draft, knowing they may not face such a golden opportunity again anytime soon.
Then what? While it's true that franchise quarterbacks can be found in later rounds -- see Russell Wilson (third round, 2012), Dak Prescott (fourth, 2016) and of course the patron saint of late-round quarterbacks, Tom Brady (sixth, 2000) -- the truth is those are rare. In the later rounds, for every Brady and Wilson, there are dozens and dozens more that aren't any good at all.
The teams that compete year after year, almost all of them have former first-rounders at quarterback -- or they've lucked into lower-round picks who became elite. But without elite quarterbacks, teams won't be perennial championship contenders. The NFL knows it. It's why in each draft, quarterbacks are in such incredible demand.
When a team doesn't have one, the wait for one can be agonizingly long. Just ask the Jets. That's why the hopes are so high inside the Giants that Lauletta, or maybe Webb, eventually become far better than they seem to be.
"I think this league and our game is about good quarterback play and I think it's about development of the quarterbacks," Shurmur said. "So the longer they're around you, the longer they can develop in your system."
The clock seems to be set at two years for that development, and it's already ticking. The Giants are gambling and hoping they can win with Manning while grooming his replacement. If that happens, they will have pulled off a bit of a miracle, avoiding both an untenable quarterback controversy and a future stay in "quarterback hell."