Published September 16, 2017

There are three Manning NFL quarterbacks and for two of them, if you were to give them a profile status of their careers, you’d use “It’s complicated.”

There’s no questioning the Hall of Fame credentials of Peyton Manning. His bust destined for Canton is probably being worked on as we speak.

But for father Archie and second son Eli, it’s more complicated.

I’m thinking of the Mannings now because the Lions are getting ready to travel to New York to face the Giants and Eli Manning, who’s been spending the week fending off the Big Media in the Big Apple about his team’s offensive woes in the Giants’ opening week loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

Eli is 36 years old now, which might come as a surprise because he still looks a lot like the disappointed 23 year-old who stood in front of the masses on Draft Day in 2004 bearing a sour puss at being picked by the San Diego Chargers, a team for which he maintained he would never suit up.

Eli is 36 so it’s time to start figuring out his legacy in the NFL. Heck, if he was 26 it wouldn’t be too early to do so.

How good is Eli Manning? How good was he ever? He has won two Super Bowls—both as an underdog—but was he any better than his dad, who played for nothing but sad sack teams?

Is Eli going to follow big brother Peyton into the Hall of Fame?

Archie Manning and the black cloud of losing

While you chew on that, let’s talk about the old man.

Losing followed Archie Manning. It’s as if the football gods had a voodoo doll of the kid from Ole Miss and kept poking at it throughout Archie’s NFL career.

Archie was the New Orleans Saints’ first pick in the 1971 draft. He was the number two overall pick, chosen right after Stanford’s Jim Plunkett. It was one of the rare occasions where quarterbacks went 1-2 overall in the draft.

The Saints were still new, about to start their fifth NFL season. They hadn’t won much of anything before Archie came to the Big Easy.

Archie Manning was going to change all that. The Saints had found their franchise quarterback.

This is where it gets complicated.

The Saints continued to be awful after Archie blew into town. But NFL historians have been kind to no. 8. They knew that the team’s travails weren’t solely pinned on the QB.

Archie had some offensive weapons in his years with the Saints, however.

As a rookie, Manning slung passes to Danny Abramowicz, a talented receiver whose own legacy is complicated because of his years with the Saints. Later on there was Wes Chandler and Chuck Muncie and Tony Galbreath. The Saints had some skill players of note.

But the offensive line was horsepucky. The defense had more holes than Swiss cheese. The Saints burned through coaches and philosophies like a teenager and his allowance.

Even after Archie left the Saints, the losing followed him like a black cloud.

The elder Manning played for the Houston Oilers and the Minnesota Vikings late in his career, when both teams—who had varying degrees of legitimate success prior to Archie—were terrible. Leave it to Archie to find those years of failure.

Archie Manning played 14 seasons as a quarterback in the NFL without sniffing a playoff game. That’s not easy to do, especially given some of the tomato cans who’ve won Super Bowls under center, let alone just making the playoffs. Manning was the best “bad team” quarterback in league history.

So where does that put his legacy?

It’s complicated.

If a quarterback’s job is to win football games, then Archie Manning, with his overall record of 35-101-3, was a colossal failure. That winning percentage is in Matt Millen/GM territory.

But Old Man Manning wasn’t a bum. He spent more time running for his life in the Saints’ backfield than he did running an offense, so you have to grade him on a curve. He wasn’t surrounded by Hall of Famers. Put Archie on the Pittsburgh Steelers and I think those teams of the 1970s still win all four Super Bowls—taking nothing away from Terry Bradshaw.

Eli: Super Bowls, interceptions and mixed reviews

Eli Manning is winding down his career, it would seem. When the age gets to 36, you’re into AARP territory as a pro quarterback. Every year beyond age 36 is a blessing. George Blanda is dead.

He has his two Super Bowls—both over heavily favored Patriots teams—but one was spurred by maybe the freakiest reception in the big game’s history. But, Eli has two rings, fair and square.

Eli has thrown for over 48,000 yards, has tossed 320 touchdown passes and his overall record is 108-92. That’s the good.

The bad? The 216 interceptions, including three seasons of 20 or more. The perception that he’s been nothing more than a glorified game manager. He’s never truly been considered an elite NFL quarterback. To some, Eli Manning is the Accidental Champion. Twice.

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Archie and Peyton have their defined place in NFL history. Eli’s legacy isn’t so easily categorized.

This isn’t just a national perception. The Giants faithful seems to be this huge jury that’s still out on Eli. The Giants either won their two championships because of Eli, or despite him. Pick one.

Lions safety Glover Quin, a skilled veteran who is among the highest-paid at his trade, talked about Eli’s history earlier this week and it perfectly captures the legacy of the Giants’ no. 10.

“But Eli’s mind, from what I’ve always seen from the outside, is he gives his guys chances to make plays. And when they make them, he looks great. When they don’t make them, he throws 25 interceptions. But you live with it and you die with it. And he’s won two Super Bowls, two Super Bowl MVPs and he’s been doing it a long time.”

There’s a lot of good, bad and ugly in Quin’s assessment. That’s because Eli’s career has been filled with such. He threw three picks in the loss to the Cowboys.

Eli doesn’t have the great Odell Beckham Jr. at the moment, due to injury. He does have newcomer Brandon Marshall, a sort of poor man’s OBJ. In fending off the NY press, Eli pleaded for calm after the Cowboys game.

“First game. Guys were playing fast, got some new guys out there, some new bodies, so we’ll bounce back. We’ll be fine,” Manning said. “We just have to slow down, everybody take a breath and just run the plays the way we’ve been running them all spring and all summer.”

NFL historians judged Archie Manning based on a curve, though he’ll never make the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They won’t do the same thing with Eli Manning, who’s played with some big time players on both sides of the ball with the Giants.

Peyton is destined for the Hall.

Eli is destined for a ton of bar room debates.

It’s complicated.