Eli Manning perfectly set up for final act that he deserves

Eli Manning deserves this Last Hurrah, deserves Saquon Barkley running everywhere and catching everything, deserves Nate Solder as a professional blindside protector, deserves Pat Shurmur trying to do for him what he did for Case Keenum in Minnesota.

It was painful to everyone who had watched Manning deliver two Super Bowls to New York and handle himself with class every step of the way across 14 seasons bite his lip on the ghastly day he learned that his precious Ironman streak was over because it was time to see Geno Smith.

If anyone deserved better, it was him.

And even when John Mara fired Ben McAdoo and Jerry Reese and offered Manning a mea culpa and his team back after one sad Sunday on the sidelines in Oakland, the cold, cruel December at the end of a 3-13 season was filled with questions about whether the new regime would want him back as badly as Mara did.

New regimes usually want their own young franchise quarterback, usually utter compliments and hosannas to the 37-year-old quarterback they delicately show the door. Wellington Mara couldn’t save Phil Simms when George Young and Dan Reeves salary-kneecapped him, and no one could be certain whether Son of Mara’s wish that Manning be a Giant For Life would go unheeded.

Eli Manning is still standing.

Dave Gettleman and Pat Shurmur didn’t throw him a lifeline out of sentimentality.

They think they can win with him today and worry about the franchise quarterback position tomorrow.

It is now up to Manning to prove them right.

And prove the naysayers wrong.

He has no excuses.

In Barkley, he will have the best player in the draft, a 233-pound Marshall Faulk.

He will have a healthy Odell Beckham Jr.

That means he has the kind of back that Ben Roethlisberger has in Le’Veon Bell and the kind of receiver he has in Antonio Brown.

Except that Manning will also have weapons named Evan Engram, the 2017 first-round pick, and Sterling Shepard.

“That No. 1 draft choice that they got last year from Ole Miss — he’s a pretty darned good football player,” Gil Brandt said. “He’s a nightmare matchup.”

There isn’t a quarterback in the league with a better arsenal than that.

Then there is Shurmur as a playcaller.

“I don’t sit and rank them,” Simms said, “but I thought last year without question he was one of the top five offensive coordinators in the NFL.”

There is more cavalry coming. Another hog molly or two coming. Manning won’t be setting up in the pocket behind Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart. He won’t be handing off to Orleans Darkwa, Wayne Gallman and Paul Perkins. He won’t be throwing to Roger Lewis Jr., Tavarres King and Travis Rudolph.

None of it means he is blameless. He needs to play better. It is fact that he hasn’t won a playoff game since Super Bowl XLVI.

But since Super Bowl XLVI, he has never been surrounded by a supporting cast like this. Gettleman raves about his arm. Shurmur raves about his fitness. Remember when he told us that Manning had “years left”?

The Giants passing on Sam Darnold and gifting him to the Jets spoke volumes about Barkley. It spoke volumes about what the Giants thought of Darnold and the rest of the quarterbacks. And it spoke volumes about the urgency to find the heir to the Manning throne.

He has two years left on his contract, and if anyone is prideful enough to reach down deep and summon anything and everything he has left in his right arm, and reward the new regime for its faith in him, and bring the Giants back, it is him. And hopefully he will be able to leave on his own terms, whenever they may be, and ride off into the sunset, a Giant For Life.

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