As the National Football League is preparing to say farewell to one of the game's most accomplished quarterbacks, one of the questions making the rounds at the 2020 Pro Bowl centered on Eli Manning's status as a bona fide Hall of Famer.
The two-time Super Bowl champion will officially step away on Friday, ending his 16-year career with the New York Giants. Manning, 39, only started four games last year, as the Giants made an official move themselves, beginning a new era with rookie quarterback Daniel Jones.
After the season concluded, Manning, who was scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, decided it was time to call it a career, notifying the Giants of his decision earlier this week.
"For 16 seasons, Eli Manning defined what it is to be a New York Giant both on and off the field," Giants president and CEO John Mara said. "Eli is our only two-time Super Bowl MVP and one of the very best players in our franchise's history."
The thing is, will Manning emulate his brother, Peyton, and be remembered as one of the best players ever to play the game? And did he do so at such a high level that his spot in Canton, Ohio, the site of the Pro Football Hall Fame, is solidified?
If you allow past and present pro bowlers to have their say, the answer is yes.
"Men lie, women lie," Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Fletcher Cox told CNBC. "Numbers don't."
If you glance at Manning's career numbers, Cox does have a point.
Manning finishes his career with 57,023 passing yards (seventh-most in NFL history), 366 touchdown pass (seventh), and 4,895 passes completed (seventh). And who can forget the 37 game-winning drives, including Super Bowl XLVI and Super Bowl XLII, which prevented the New England Patriots from finishing a perfect 19-0.
"That incredible pass," said Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, "that game-winning drive, and that sick catch David Tyree made. Eli Manning is going to be a future Hall of Famer. He won two Super Bowls – you've got to give him credit."
When discussing Manning's career with CNBC at the Pro Bowl practices on Thursday, ESPN's Monday Night Football Analyst Booger McFarland pointed out that without Manning, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady could have eight Super Bowl rings.
But the knock-on Manning stems from his demeanor, the fact that he didn't match the elite play his brother displayed year after year during his career. Those doubting his Hall of Fame argument could look at his career 84.1 passer rating and 244 interceptions (12th most in NFL history).
Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick said he judges quarterbacks by "production" and considered Manning's two rings as enough to earn him a spot as one of the greatest quarterbacks to play, and a Hall of Famer when Manning's time arrives.
"He played his best when his best was required in the biggest games on the biggest stage," Vick said. "He certainly was a guy who made his mark at the quarterback position. He's got two pieces of hardware, and that can never be taken away from him."
"Can you tell the story of the NFL without Eli Manning?" McFarland asked.
"No, you can't," New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "He was a part of some pretty remarkable moments. He kept the Patriots from winning 19 games in a row. You can't write the NFL story without Eli Manning."
Brees, who is still deciding on his future for the next season, said Manning's "longevity" and "toughness" are traits he'll remember most about Manning. And his time in one of the most robust sports media markets in the country can't be ignored, either.
"Sixteen years in New York," Brees said, "that's pretty amazing. He's got so much to be proud of; two Super Bowl championships with two clutch drives at the end of games to win those. So, he deserves a ton of credit for their success during that time and just a ton of respect from all of us for the career he was able to have."