What Josh Freeman's signing says about Eli Manning, Ryan Nassib and the Giants

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Freeman is now with the Giants. Is he simply another warm body, or is there real worry in New York that Eli is in decline?

Josh Freeman joined the New York Giants on Wednesday, agreeing to terms on a one-year deal that will allow him to earn a spot on the roster as a backup quarterback. Freeman had his rockiest professional season in 2013, something the Giants know quite well. He started one game after being traded to the Minnesota Vikings, incidentally against the Giants on a Monday night, and went 20 for 52 passing for 190 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. Freeman didn't attempt another pass the rest of the season.

Yet it was the Giants who came calling this offseason for the beleaguered quarterback, despite his falling out in Tampa Bay and non-starting renaissance in Minnesota. New York needs roster depth, with Eli Manning potentially limited for the start of the offseason program because of ankle surgery, but could there be greater significance to the signing than the simple need for a warm body? What does Freeman say about the Giants' quarterbacks? Let's address the elephant first.

This is about Eli Manning

Manning, 33, is coming off arguably the worst season of his professional career. He threw just 18 touchdown passes (his fewest since his rookie season) to 27 interceptions (his most ever). He completed 57.5 percent of his passes at 6.93 yards per attempt for a 69.4 passer rating, which, again, betters only his rookie year. There's talk that Manning is in irreversible decline. And now his ankle is iffy.

That doesn't mean the Giants are shifting course away from the man who helped win them two Super Bowls, but perhaps they have an eye to the future. According to Ed Valentine at Giants blog Big Blue View, the front office would be foolish not to discuss what Manning will be capable of in the coming seasons:

The 2014 season is a critical one for the relationship between Manning and the Giants. A big year and the Giants will likely extend him and plan for four of five more years with him at the helm. Another inconsistent season and you can bet that full-fledged planning for a future without Manning will begin.

Former Giant offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride called the idea the "ludicrous" that Manning is in decline, and the veteran quarterback deserves additional consideration for playing behind a shaky offensive line. That said, Manning hardly played up to his usual self last season, or even much of the season prior.

This is about Ryan Nassib

Leading up the 2013 NFL Draft, Nassib was projected to go anywhere from the first round to late on Day 3. He ended up falling to the Giants in the fourth round in what was seemingly a strong value pick for a player many thought had the ability to become an NFL starter.

The pick caused a minor stir when it happened because it suggested that the Giants were thinking about life after Manning, but since talk about Nassib has been relatively quiet. He didn't attempt a pass last season as the team's No. 3 quarterback despite the struggles of Manning and Curtis Painter. When the playoffs were out of reach, the Giants could have taken the tarp off Nassib and they didn't.

None of this is proof that Nassib underperformed, or is anything other than a young prospect who needs grooming, a fact that the Giants likely understood when they drafted him. But while we're speculating, let's point out that Freeman is also young, still just 26 years old to Nassib's 24, and has already proven himself in the NFL. The Giants could use 2014 to let the young backups compete, then decide which one is truly the future of the franchise.

This is about Josh Freeman

And what about Freeman? He fell from grace last season, though that may not be entirely his fault. Freeman entered 2013 off a 4,000-yard season, but was seemingly in Greg Schiano's doghouse from the start. The two had a poorly-concealed feud that included an apparent attempt at character assassination by Schiano. Then Freeman was cut and signed with Minnesota, where he was given the starting reins after two weeks with the team. He struggled against the Giants and was shelved the rest of the season.

There was reason to be optimistic about Freeman heading into last season. He wasn't a superstar at his position, but he had proven he was a viable starter by throwing 27 touchdowns to 17 interceptions in 2012. Freeman completed just 54.8 percent of his passes, but did so at a respectable 7.29 yards per attempt. He may not be a Pro Bowler, but outside of a discombobulated 2013, there's evidence that he's a good quarterback with the potential to get better.

That the Giants signed Freeman, despite seeing him implode firsthand, could be a sign that they view him as more than a warm body. He certainly isn't the safe option coming off a year during which his character and his talent were questioned. As the Giants try to shake off the stink of a 7-9 season, however, a gamble on Freeman may be well worth the risk.

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