The day after another losing Giants season came to an end, Eli Manning walked into the office of general manager Dave Gettleman and asked to speak with him.
“It wasn’t like he was called to the principal’s office,’’ Gettleman said Wednesday.
What followed was what Gettleman termed, “a very extensive conversation … no-holds-barred …. very honest and up-front conversation.’’
No resolution was ever going to come out of this meeting — Manning didn’t expect any — as to whether or not Manning returns in 2019 for a 16th season with the Giants.
“We had a great conversation,’’ Gettleman said. “He’s a mensch.’’
Manning said he initiated the meeting to make sure what comes next will be a transparent process between himself and the team.
“It was just let’s just have an open conversation through this process,’’ Manning said on WFAN. “I’ll be totally honest to them on what I’m thinking or what’s going on or what I can handle or can’t handle, and vice versa, I’ll expect that from them.
“I appreciate Mr. Gettleman and the Maras and coach [Pat] Shurmur, and have a great relationship with all of ’em and just want to continue that. Let’s be honest through this whole situation to figure out what’s the best thing for the Giants going forward.’’
The affinity the Giants have for Manning is undeniable, but that is not the issue that sits over the franchise like smoke over a fire. Manning turns 38 Thursday and he is 47-65 as a starting quarterback since winning Super Bowl XLVI.
Gettleman, in his state of the Giants address following his first year in charge, was a mixed bag of optimism — “We’re headed in the right direction’’ — and realism — “I’m not happy about 5-11, nobody is’’ — and he offered nuanced verbiage about the job security of the franchise quarterback.
Gettleman would not commit to Manning in 2019, saying he will begin, immediately, reviewing film of the entire season before making any decisions.
“My personal feeling is the biggest mistakes are made when you’re emotional, and when the season ends you’re emotional and you’re mentally cooked,’’ Gettleman said.
On cue, Gettleman said he will make “the best decision in the interest of the New York football Giants.’’ He will meet this week with Pat Shurmur and the coaching staff and next week with the pro personnel department. In between, he will “be watching film for the next who knows how long until my eyes bleed.’’
“My commitment is to make this team the best team it can be,’’ Gettleman said. “If that happens to have Eli playing quarterback, it does.’’
The Gettleman-Manning meeting lasted about 30 minutes and was not uncommon; Manning often goes upstairs to talk with the head coach and general manager after the season. This conversation was not at all about Manning’s contract, The Post learned.
He will cost $23.2 million on the 2019 salary cap, though the Giants might seek to rework the final year on his deal — perhaps with a cosmetic extension to lower his cap number — in order to gain financial ammunition to further enhance a roster in dire need of upgrades, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
“What we’re trying to do here is build sustained success,’’ Gettleman said. “That takes some brutal honesty and it takes some tough decisions.’’
Analyzing Gettleman’s words is like walking through a maze or attending Yiddish theater — at times confusing but always entertaining. He heaped praise on Shurmur for keeping the team together after a 1-7 start and lauded the offensive turnaround in the second half of the season.
“I almost fell down when they told me we scored more points than anybody else in the division, which kinda blew my mind,’’ he said, pointing to stabilizing the offensive line with Jamon Brown and Chad Wheeler on the right side and greater familiarity with Shurmur’s system.
“If you think about it — [Manning] was running for his life last year,’’ Gettleman said. “This year we calmed it down, once we got rolling, once everybody got comfortable with the offense, I mean, Eli had — if you’re gonna look at stats — it wasn’t too shabby what he did. You know, obviously, we want to win more games and you’ve got to continue to improve the roster.’’
Manning completed a career-best 66 percent of his passes for 4,299 yards (the fourth highest total of his career), with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions (the second lowest total of his 14 full seasons).
With older players, Gettleman stressed the need for extensive evaluation regarding how they hold up and play late in the season.
“Did they fade?’’ he said.
Asked how Manning played in December, Gettleman said, “I don’t know — we scored 36, scored 35, 27, scored 40 — how’d that look? He still can make the NFL throws. You know what I’m saying? He still can make NFL throws. He’s still got it.’’
Those point totals in December were 30 and 40 in wins over the Bears and Redskins to start the month, and 27 and 35 to end the month in losses to the Colts and Cowboys. Gettleman also failed to mention the Giants getting shut out by the Titans in Week 15.
Shurmur is on record saying he believes Manning has years left and that the refocus of the offense to feature running back Saquon Barkley played into Manning’s strengths, as far as play-action passing. The endorsement of the head coach will be taken into consideration.
“It’s part of it,’’ Gettleman said. “I’m not a dictator. These are conversations you have to have with Pat. We’re gonna get together and formulate a plan. Obviously it’s part of it. Pat’s had success with quarterbacks, so I’m certainly gonna listen.’’
It is naive to suggest Manning’s cost is not a factor, but Gettleman is steadfast in not discussing contracts in public.
“I’m not going there,’’ he said. “Obviously part of it is the salary cap. Players are not in vacuums when it comes to the salary cap. Nobody is in a vacuum, OK?’’
Shurmur on WFAN said “There is no doubt, this game isn’t forever’’ when asked about Manning’s longevity, adding, “But who’s to say when the end is.’’ As for the Giants thinking, Shurmur said, “We believe in Eli and as we move forward here I think the plans will reveal themselves.’’
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The larger question might not be if the Giants want Manning back, but who would be his replacement? The Giants have the No. 6 pick in the 2019 draft but this class is weak at quarterback, with Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins considered the best of the bunch, but only a marginal first-round prospect. The free-agent crop could feature Nick Foles and Teddy Bridgewater.
“I don’t know what the field is right now,’’ Gettleman said. “You know what I’m saying? I don’t know what the field is.’’
What Gettleman is sure of is he will not reach for a quarterback. He was adamant with this last year when he eschewed Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Josh Allen in the draft and took Barkley with the No. 2 pick.
“Let me tell you something: If you make something a priority you will make a mistake. It’s got to be within the flow of what you’re doing,’’ Gettleman said. “You can’t force it, especially at quarterback. You get in the draft, you’re taking the best player. You’re not taking ‘I need a [position], so I’m taking a [position].’ No. You do that, you’re gonna make a mistake and you’re gonna screw it up. You’re gonna screw it up.’’
Does this sound like a general manager desperate to take a quarterback in April? Stay tuned.