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The search for the next Giants quarterback begins

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It may be this year. It may be next. All that is known at this point is that the New York Giants are on the lookout for a quarterback.

They've begun the process of finding Eli Manning’s successor.

“We always think about every position. But Eli is 36, and we have started to think about who is the next quarterback, and who is in line,” general manager Jerry Reese said Monday, a day after the Giants’ season ended with a 38-13 wild-card loss to the Green Bay Packers. “So we will look into that as we move into the offseason."

It's not necessarily how Manning played Sunday against the Packers (pretty well) or this season (up-and-down at best). It's more the circle of football life.

Manning turned 36 earlier this month and has three seasons remaining on his contract. The Giants could realistically get out of the deal after next season, if they so choose.

That’s unlikely to happen. Manning still is a capable quarterback. He threw for 26 touchdowns with 16 interceptions this season. He threw for 4,027 yards and completed 63 percent of his passes. Even though he struggled at times and the offense never really got it together as a unit, there's no reason to sound the alarm just yet.

The two-time Super Bowl winner completed his 13th season and has never missed a start. But even the indestructible meet their demise in the NFL. Manning's career, like that of every star quarterback before him, will reach an expiration date.

It’s the Giants’ job to prepare for that moment. The cupboard is currently bare, with no other quarterback under contract for next season. Josh Johnson and 2013 fourth-round pick Ryan Nassib are free agents. Nassib had elbow surgery last month and is coming off an awful year in which he struggled badly in the preseason.

So the Giants scoured the college landscape for quarterbacks this fall. It will be interesting to see if they find anyone who fits their mold. They will draft 23rd overall in the first round, and this isn’t expected to be an especially strong quarterback class.

ESPN’s Todd McShay doesn’t have a single quarterback listed among his most recent list of the top 32 players in the draft. Mel Kiper lists one QB -- UNC’s Mitch Trubisky -- among the best 25 players on his latest Big Board.

Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Washington State’s Luke Falk are some of the top quarterbacks in the draft. One of them may be Manning’s eventual successor.

The luxury the Giants have is that they’re not desperate or in a rush. They have a quarterback and don’t necessarily need to find another this year. The team was impressed enough with Johnson this season and he may return as the backup. Johnson said Monday he would welcome coming back for another year.

Manning also still has the confidence of his team, despite being among the league leaders with 20 turnovers. The Giants won 11 games in the regular season and reached the postseason with him as their quarterback, constantly directing traffic at the line of scrimmage.

“Eli, to me, was moving better in the pocket than he has since I got here,” coach Ben McAdoo said. “He threw with tremendous zip all season.”

The Giants’ search for Manning’s successor isn’t about his physical skills. It’s more about the inevitability that comes with his age. There may be a few more years left in that arm. But realistically, how many?

“Thirty-six, I don’t think that is ancient for a quarterback,” Reese said. “I think he is probably on the back nine, but I don’t think that is ancient for a quarterback, and he is taking care of himself really well, and I thought he finished the season strong.”

Manning undoubtedly is the Giants’ quarterback, and will be for at least another season and likely longer. But the day when someone else starts a game at quarterback for the Giants is inching closer. And that’s why the Giants are on the lookout for their next franchise signal-caller. Better to have him too early than too late.