Crucify Ben McAdoo.
Lambaste Jerry Reese.
The Giants’ head coach and general manager — for now, anyway — deserve the criticism.
But the most venom for the Eli Manning debacle should be spewed at the guy who writes all of their paychecks: Giants co-owner John Mara.
He’s the one whose franchise has crumbled while overseeing football operations as team president and chief operating officer.
He’s the one who signed off on the shameful treatment of a Giants icon.
He’s the one who should have known better.
MORE: What’s next for Eli Manning?
What transpired Tuesday was even more embarrassing than New York’s 2-9 record for a team considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender entering the season. The Giants railroaded Manning into ceding his starting job when telling him backup Geno Smith would play in the second half of Sunday’s game at Oakland no matter how things unfolded in the first two quarters. New York knew someone as prideful as Manning wouldn’t accept such a cockamamie plan just to keep alive his string of 222 consecutive starts (including the postseason).
Manning bowed out as gracefully as he could under the circumstances and shifted to a second-string role.
Don’t be fooled by McAdoo’s gaga about this move being made because the Giants want “a complete evaluation of the roster top to bottom, especially at the quarterback position, moving on to next season.” This was all about putting New York in better position to lose its final five games with Smith and rookie Davis Webb under center and thus secure the highest draft pick possible to select a quarterback.
I can’t blame them. Manning turns 37 on Jan. 3. By the time New York fixes the flawed roster Reese assembled, Manning’s best days likely would be over. Some would argue they already are.
With a high 2018 pick in the offing, starting fresh at quarterback makes sense during the pending rebuild. And insuring that Manning stays healthy to net draft picks during an offseason trade rather than run the risk of injury playing behind a decrepit offensive line would accelerate that process.
MORE: Previewing busy offseason for Giants
Yet while this approach makes sense, the way Manning’s demotion was handled reflects the systemic dysfunction inside the organization that began when McAdoo became head coach after Tom Coughlin was forced out after the 2015 season.
Since then, there were the unchecked antics of Odell Beckham Jr. ranging from childish temper tantrums to a profane end-zone celebration to the mini-vacation with fellow Giants wide receivers that became a major distraction prior to last season’s playoff loss in Green Bay.
There were players anonymously ripping McAdoo to ESPN as this season fell apart.
There was second-year cornerback Eli Apple talking about how New York needing to fix its “culture” after the 2017 Giants fell to 0-5.
And there’s the Josh Brown fiasco.
Mara approved New York’s re-signing of its kicker during the 2016 offseason despite what was later uncovered as a long history of domestic violence the team either failed to research thoroughly or didn’t care about. As the scandal exploded, Mara left explanations for why this abomination happened to McAdoo.
McAdoo’s defense of Brown — “He’s a man of faith,” McAdoo actually told me when I grilled him about the topic last season — was even more pathetic than the effort put out by Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins earlier this month against San Francisco.
Mara pulled his disappearing act again Tuesday as the Manning situation unfolded. While understandably tied up at a league meeting discussing NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s pending contract extension, Mara could have found time to meet with Manning for a private discussion about such a sensitive situation, let alone avoid leaving McAdoo and Reese high-and-dry again to deliver the news and offer flimsy rationale to the media.
As he has done for 14 seasons through good and bad times, Manning stood in front of his locker at team headquarters to take questions after the news surfaced. Although demotions and business decisions are a way of life in the NFL, one couldn’t help but cringe when listening to a heartbroken Manning fight back tears while answering questions.
Asked whether he had spoken to Mara, Manning responded, “He hadn’t been in today, but he knows what’s going on. I’ll probably try to speak with him tomorrow at some time.”
That’s far too late.
The damage for this fiasco will linger long after Manning is playing elsewhere or even retiring if so inclined.
If the Giants can treat Manning — the face of the franchise, the two-time Super Bowl MVP, the guy who was universally respected by past and present teammates for his work ethic and leadership — like a nobody, why should any player believe the “family” narrative New York, like every NFL club, tries to spout in team-building?
After seeing this, why should Beckham have a good-faith understanding that a new contract is forthcoming from Giants brass and get back on the practice field in 2018 until that deal is actually signed?
And most damning of all: Why should anyone believe the Giants under Mara’s watch have what it takes internally to start winning again even if McAdoo and Reese are given the Manning treatment at season’s end?
Alex Marvez can be heard from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET Wednesday on SiriusXM NFL Radio.