Is Eli Manning a Hall of Famer?
As is the case with most long tenured NFL players upon their retirement, the question of legacy comes up. Some were consistently great and dependable players, helping their teams to winning seasons and/or Super Bowl title(s). Only a few, however, warrant a debate about their potential to join the elites in the Hall of Fame.
Eli Manning’s retirement after this last season has now forced experts and analysts across the NFL world to ponder, “Does his career accomplishments merit a chance to wear the NFL Hall of Fame gold jacket?” Jon Otiker was kind enough to volunteer to argue for why Eli does belong in the Hall of Fame. All the while I take the opposite position: while his career was great, his is still short of being cemented in Canton.
Trevor Finnell (TF): I’ll get this out of the way now, but I’m not basing my anti-Hall of Fame case on Eli Manning based on his career wins and losses. Just like pitching in baseball, I feel that a W-L record is an overused stat to measure a QB’s/pitcher’s “success.” I’m basing this off from his career as a whole. Take pass completion %, for example, where he ranks 43rd in NFL history at 60.3%. I did find it ironic that his best streak of over 60% completion rate during his career was 5 at the end of his career. Technically, it’s 6 if you include 2019, but with only 4 games under his belt, I’d look past that.
Is 43rd in league history good? Yes, there’s no denying that, but the names ahead of him tell a story that I can’t look past. Of those who have 10 or more years of playing time and aren’t in the Hall of Fame, Jay Cutler, Carson Palmer, Daunte Culpepper, Brad Johnson, Tony Romo, and Matt Hasselbeck are in front of him. To me, this is just the first chink in the armor that is his Hall of Fame resume.
Jon Otiker (JO): This is an interesting argument for me personally, because I am a Dallas Cowboys fan. I grew up with my Cowboys taking on Eli and the Giants twice a year. But I never hated Eli. He was one of those players, that despite playing for a rival, I always had an immense amount of respect for. I want to start off with a disclaimer: I do not think Eli Manning is a first ballot Hall of Famer. I do think it will take a few years after he becomes eligible, but I do think that eventually he will be in the Hall.
JO: I agree with the W-L record, although there is something poetic about his 117-117 record (although he boasts an impressive 8-4 playoff record). I think it reflects the roller coaster he could be as a player. While completion percentage is a nice stat, I don’t think it’s really a fair qualifier for someone’s worthiness of being in the Hall. Chad Pennington is 3rd (!!) all time in completion percentage, and other quarterbacks like Matt Schaub, Derek Carr, and Ryan Tannehill are also currently in the top-20 all time. I think it’s fair to say that peak Eli Manning was better than these other quarterbacks. Because of that, it’s not a stat I would lose sleep over when considering Eli’s worthiness.
My argument is going to be based around a few different things, but primarily Eli’s rings. Manning lead the Giants to victory in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI. Both times, he was chosen as the game’s MVP. Only one quarterback in the history of the NFL who has won multiple Super Bowls is not in the Hall of Fame: Jim Plunkett. Plunkett led the Raiders (both in Oakland and Los Angeles) to victory in Super Bowl XV and Super Bowl XVIII, also winning the MVP in XV. However, what’s keeping him out is his 72-72 overall record as a starter (although he had an impressive 8-2 record in the playoffs) and his 164:198 TD:INT ratio. He was also never elected to the Pro Bowl or named a first or second team All-Pro. Since his retirement, his exclusion from the Hall has been a constant source of debate.
Manning certainly didn’t have the same caliber career as the other multi-time winners (his brother Peyton, Brady, Montana, Staubach, Bradshaw, Elway, Aikman, Rothelisberger, Griese, and Starr). That said, his respectable 366:244 TD:INT ratio, pair of Super Bowl MVP’s, and 210 consecutive starts (3rd among QBs), sets him clearly ahead of Plunkett.
Does Super Bowl MVP Matter for Eli?
TF: Truth be told, I expect Eli to be elected to the Hall of Fame. At the end of the day, I’d be fine with it. I whole-heartedly agree that he shouldn’t be a first ballot entry, even though I believe that the chances of that occurring are decent. The completion percentage is just my first argument, with many more in tow. I do laugh about Pennington being 3rd all-time in the category, though I tried to keep it at 10+ years of play time. I also tried to account for things like injuries (which took their toll on Pennington) and being a consistent starter.
What I do take issue with the argument about Manning’s Super Bowl MVPs as being a factor. I feel that the MVP of Super Bowl XLII was Justin Tuck, or just the entire Giants’ defensive front truthfully. That game was the only time all season that Patriots team was held under 20 points. They only scored 14 despite averaging 39.3 per game that season. Holding them to 274 total yards (second lowest total all season) with 5 sacks in this game was also impressive. Remember that those 5 accounted for almost a quarter of the sacks against 2007 MVP Tom Brady that season (21)!
A lot of attention obviously goes to the miracle pass and catch from Manning to David Tyree. Manning’s ability to escape the sack during the Patriots’ rush was incredible, there’s no denying that. The pass, to me, was nothing short of a Hail Mary that Tyree was somehow able to catch, though. Yes, the drive itself was well done, and the pass to Burress to seal the lead and win was excellent. However, it still feels like this MVP win from Manning is based off of one epic play.
I will admit that Super Bowl XVLI was a better showing for Manning. He had some amazing passes to Victor Cruz through tight coverage,. Obviously, though, the completion by Mario Manningham was the play of the game. Unlike the pass to Tyree in their previous Super Bowl, I’ll attest that the throw by Manning was pretty. That’s even though I believe that this completion goes more to Manningham keeping his feet inbounds versus the actual pass. Remember, though, that there were costly penalties, an injured Gronkowski, 2 forced fumbles by the Patriots that they were unable to recover, and Welker’s dropped pass on 2nd and 11 with just over 4 minutes left in the game. The Giants really did have Lady Luck on their side for this one. Again though, Manning performed well, and I won’t argue against him being named the MVP for the game.
By that account, I only take one of his MVPs into consideration. That may sound odd considering he does have two to his name. But as I said before, I don’t feel that he was the MVP in Super Bowl XLII.
JO: Luck definitely played a large part in those games. I’d argue luck plays a large role in every single Super Bowl victory, though. The MVP moments for Eli in each Super Bowl are among the most memorable plays in Super Bowl History! He broke multiple sacks for the Tyree helmet catch and dropped the ball in the bucket along the sideline for the toe touch to Manningham. Both came on game-winning drives, which attests to Manning’s undeniable clutch factor.
The famous pass rush of the G-Men does deserve credit. But it was ultimately Eli that lead the team to score while losing in both those games, and it’s why he earned those MVPs. Also, anytime you crush the hopes and dreams of the “evil empire” that is the Patriots and their fans, you get bonus points in my books.
The 2004 Draft Class
TF: I do have one question to ask, and I feel like this will always be tied to Eli Manning and the Hall of Fame. If Eli gets the nod into the hall, does Philip Rivers, who is drastically ahead of Manning in almost every major passing category, even after serving as a backup to future Hall of Fame member Drew Brees? Does Ben Roethlisberger, who also ranks ahead of Eli in most categories, belong in Canton as well? Personally, if Eli does get in, I feel that these two deserve a strong look as well. None of the three are first ballot nominees in my opinion, but definitely a consideration since they came from the same draft class.
JO: The answer to your question is easy, all three are going in the Hall of Fame. I think Big Ben (looking only at on the field results, and not diving into off field issues) and his 2 Super Bowl rings and ranking in the all-time record books will get some 1st ballot consideration. Whether it’s deserving or not is another conversation. Unless Philip Rivers can lead the Indianapolis Colts, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, or whatever other team he might sign with this March to a Super Bowl in the next couple years, he might go down as one of the best quarterbacks to never win the big one.
All in all I’d see Big Ben getting elected in first, then Eli, and lastly Rivers sometime later, due to the lack of rings. The 2004 quarterback class certainly is benefiting from the fact that they all entered their primes right as the modern passing attack swept the NFL. It’s inflated stats compared to their historical counterparts. That said, I think all three have had a tremendous impact on the game, and helped define this era of quarterback play.
That kind of plays into my next point about Eli and why he deserves a spot. I think the combination of his name “Manning” and being part of some of the most exciting and defining moments of the past 16 years he’s been in the league will endear him to voters. The Manning name is pro football royalty. From Eli’s dad Archie with the Saints to the greatness of Peyton to Eli himself, they’ve cemented their legacy. Archie is often joked about being the “shadow” commissioner of the NFL. Peyton was the face of the NFL for his entire career. Eli had enough moments to kind of ride that wave as well.
Combine this with his amazing contributions as a person off the field and his always professional and selfless attitude. I think overall, voters will look at Eli’s career with rose-colored glasses. They will remember the splash plays, the rings, and the person, which will be enough to get him in. I know this is a very subjective argument, based more on emotion than logic. But I do think it is how voters will truly remember Eli in the years to come.
TF: Memorable? Most definitely! Though I’ll continue to argue that one or two plays during a game shouldn’t warrant an award as the MVP for the entire game. That’s especially true considering the catch by Tyree is more memorable than Eli escaping sacks from the Patriots’ defense. Yes, those game winning drives did occur on the biggest stage in football. But if we’re going to include these into a Hall of Fame resume, then we should also examine Eli’s place in the record books. Eli is 10th in NFL history with 37 game winning drives. Sitting in 8th, and tied with the great Johnny Unitas, is Matt Ryan. Interestingly enough, Ryan also has 47 less games played than Eli.
Does this mean that I’m suggesting that Matt Ryan should be in the Hall of Fame? Not at all. All I’m saying is that most people’s arguments for Eli in the Hall of Fame comes down to the two Super Bowl wins. I’ll always continue to repeat myself: an elite defensive performance handed one of them to him. I do believe that all three have a great shot at the Hall of Fame, and I think that Rivers will find his way in even without a Super Bowl win (a la Dan Marino and Jim Kelly). That’s simply due to his overall numbers and performances throughout his career.
The pass first offense that we see today has definitely inflated the stats quite a bit for today’s QBs. I also feel that it’s a testament to their ability to play that a team can adopt a ‘pass first’ mentality with either of the three as their QBs, knowing that the chance to win is just as good, if not better, than sticking with the traditional ground and pound offense of the past.
TF: I agree that the off the field issues could hinder Roethlisberger. I feel that he’ll find his way in, though. The name “Manning” is the modern royalty for the NFL today as you alluded too. In a sense, though, I feel that this serves as a “free-pass” for Eli, simply because of his last name. I have a very hard time believing that there aren’t people out there who would vouch for his inclusion into the Hall of Fame based off of his last name. Consider his career, as mild as it may be when compared to his older brother. Peyton was a 5x NFL MVP, 14x Pro Bowler, 7x All-Pro, and 2x Super Bowl Champion. The only place they match up is the rings.
If we do want to consider off the field character for a Hall of Fame resume, then I 100% agree that Eli deserves more than a second look for this. (An aside: we absolutely should consider this for any player.) His 2016 Walter Payton Man of the Year award speaks volumes to his character. It could end up being a deciding factor when the votes are due, especially if he’s still eligible when Roethlisberger comes up.
I will say that I do believe that Eli will be in the Hall of Fame one day. I’ll also be one of the first to suggest that I always found his to be highly overrated. That said, I grew up near San Diego, and even though I’ve been a Chiefs fan for as long as I can recall, him spurning the Chargers prior to the 2004 NFL draft left a VERY sour taste. It’s something I could (and probably do) still hold against him to this day.
Now, since I kicked things off for this, I’ll let you finish it out, and I’ll provide a final question. The 2004 QB class of Manning, Rivers, and Roethlisberger has drawn many comparisons to the elite 1983 QB class of Elway, Marino, and Kelly. Now, with the careers of the 2004 class starting to come to a close, the question must be asked. Which one produced the best players?
JO: Perhaps the greatest conundrum with Eli is the regular season production and accolades compared to his postseason success. It’s a fair point. His accolades, numbers, and all-time rankings all pale in comparison with the likes of his brother and other multiple time Super Bowl winning quarterbacks. He’s probably the 11th best of the 12 quarterbacks with multiple rings.
That seems to be what makes the debate so divisive. In many ways, he could be viewed as the “worst of the best”. The rings give him the extra bump in that regard. But consider how small that elite group is, and the fact he was good enough to be in the same conversation as multiple 1st ballot Hall of Famers. That pushes the needle just enough for me. I agree the name recognition will play a large part, for better or for worse. It’s an interesting spin that doesn’t have much precedent.
I wasn’t alive to watch the careers of the 1983 class. I’ve mostly just seen their highlights and reruns of some old games on NFL Network. Even so, I think they are easily the superior trio. Most people considered Elway a near perfect prospect entering the draft. He lived up to the hype, securing two rings late in his career. Marino was a unstoppable force and MVP caliber player who regularly lead the league in passing. Kelly helped revolutionize offenses with the “K-gun” no-huddle offense. He would’ve had a few rings of his own if he didn’t keep running into the 90’s Dallas Cowboys, one of the best dynasties of all time.
Big Ben and Rivers are outstanding quarterbacks in their own right. Ironically, Manning’s up and down play lowers the value of the 2004 group to me. Maybe Roethlisberger or Rivers can add one more Lombardi trophy to the 2004 class. Then it becomes a harder debate, but to me the 1983 class still reigns supreme.
Who do you agree with? Is Eli hall worthy? Has the ’83 QB class been usurped? Let us know!
Trevor Finnell – @ThatBankaiLife
Jon Otiker – @j_otiker