The 2023 NFL season could not have gone worse for Daniel Jones. Now the New York Giants find themselves at yet another crossroads with the controversial quarterback, a decision that very well could impact the fate of team management, the coaching staff, and the future competitiveness of the team.
The Giants first bet on Jones by selecting him sixth overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. Jones was the second quarterback taken in that draft, behind Kyler Murray, who was selected first overall by the Arizona Cardinals. The only other quarterback drafted in the first round that year was Dwayne Haskins by the Washington Football Team with the 15th overall selection. While both Murray and Jones have flashed, both have been disappointments given where they were drafted. Haskins not only flopped in Washington, but he was killed last year. Needless to say, it was not a good draft for quarterbacks.
Jones’ initial season was promising. He started 12 games, threw for over 3,000 yards, and completed 24 touchdown passes on team largely devoid of surrounding offensive talent. His biggest negative was a ridiculous number of fumbles. Eleven of his 18 fumbles were recovered by opposing teams, and combined with 12 interceptions, Jones was personally responsible for 23 turnovers. The other issue, which would grow with time, was that Jones missed two games due to an ankle injury. The Giants finished 4-12 on the season with Jones being 3-9 in games that he started.
2020 was a huge disappointment for Jones. Head Coach Pat Shurmur was fired in January and replaced by Joe Judge. The new offensive coordinator was Jason Garrett. The team marginally improved its record to 6-10. But Jones missed two more games due to injury (hamstring and ankle). Worse, despite starting more games (14), Jones threw for fewer yards and far fewer (11) touchdowns. And turnovers remained an issue with 11 fumbles (6 lost) and 10 interceptions. Rather than building on his rookie season, Jones got worse.
2021 was train wreck for the entire franchise. Garrett was fired in November. Judge began to melt down in post-game press conferences and was fired after the season. General Manager Dave Gettleman, who drafted Jones, was “retired.” The team finished 4-13, losing its final six games in progressively more embarrassing fashion. As for Jones, he missed those final six games with a neck injury that landed him on Injured Reserve, fueling speculation at the time that his career might be in jeopardy. In the 11 games that he did start, he threw for just 2,400 yards and 10 touchdowns. His turnovers fell to 10 (seven interceptions and three lost fumbles). Rumors circulated that Judge had everyone playing scared, including Jones, who seemed to stop taking chances down the field.
January 2022 was the first low point for Daniel Jones. The promise of his rookie season had been wiped out due to his poor 2020 and 2021 seasons. He had yet to stay healthy in any of his three seasons, and there was concern about his future due to the neck issue. The national media had never accepted him as a legitimate quarterback and unprofessionally openly mocked him. The New York fanbase had now turned on him as well. It was widely believed that new General Manager Joe Schoen and Head Coach Brian Daboll would not exercise the 5th-year option on Jones’ contract. In a vote of no-confidence, they did not, rejecting the option on the first day of the 2022 NFL Draft.
So Jones entered 2022 in the fourth and final year of his rookie contract. While the team had not selected his replacement in the draft, it was expected by many that Jones would leave in free agency after the season. Some even speculated that newly-signed Tyrod Taylor would likely supplant Jones during the year either due to poor play or injury. Most believed his replacement would be drafted in April 2023 as the team was entering yet another complete rebuilding cycle and had shed $40 million against the salary cap.
This is where things started to turn around for Jones. Doctors said his neck was structurally sound enough to return to the playing field. Daboll and new Offensive Coordinator Mike Kafka were clearly an upgrade over Judge and Garrett when it came to handling Jones. The offense still had its issues. The line was shaky. The starting tight end was a rookie. And the four wideouts who were supposed to form the heart of the receiving corps – Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, Sterling Shepard, Wan’Dale Robinson – either flamed out or got hurt. The coaches continually had to adjust on the fly, finally finding a run-centric RPO style that seemed to suit Jones well and make reads simpler for him.
The team started off surprisingly strong, winning nail-biter after nail-biter against favored teams, en route to a 7-2 start. The Giants were not scoring a lot of points, but they were keeping games close and finding a way to win in the 4th quarter. As injuries mounted on both offense and defense, the team fell back to earth, losing four games in a row. The season was saved with a defensive struggle in Washington followed by a 38-10 beatdown of the lowly Indianapolis Colts two weeks later, securing a playoff spot. Since the last game was now meaningless, the starters did not play in Week 17.
The 2022 regular-season was arguably Jones’ best. He had improved his completion percentage to over 67 percent. He had reached a career-high QBR of 92.5. He had a career low in turnovers with eight (5 interceptions and three fumbles). For the first time in his pro career, he did not miss a game due to injury. Most importantly, he was 9-6-1 as a starter and the Giants were headed to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. The downside? His career high 3,205 passing yards was pedestrian and his 15 passing touchdowns were very low by contemporary standards. That was partially offset, however, by 708 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns (single-season franchise records).
The high point for Jones came on January 15, 2023 against the 13-4 Minnesota Vikings. Jones was spectacular in that game, completing 24-of-35 passes for 301 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions (114.1 quarterback rating). He also ran the ball 17 times for 78 yards, including two 4th-and-1 conversions. New York’s Cinderella ride ended against the Philadelphia Eagles the following week, as the Giants were hammered 38-7. Jones barely completed half his passes for just 135 yards and threw a pick.
The Daniel Jones’ redemption story in 2022 was a complete surprise. Jones went from an object of mockery and derision to a hero receiving a standing ovation exiting a late-season game at MetLife. Fans who once wanted him gone were now complaining that the team had not exercised the 5th-year option. Very few were now calling for the Giants to move on. The questions became what was his true upside, and therefore, how much valuable salary cap space should the Giants use in an attempt to retain him as an upcoming unrestricted free agent?
As free agency approached in early March, the team had three options: (1) designate him a Franchise player (1-year, $29.7 million contract), (2) sign him to a long-term extension, or (3) let him test the free agent waters. No one was arguing for option #3 as there were a number of quarterback-hungry teams that might break the bank for Jones. Complicating matters was the team was having a hard time re-signing running back Saquon Barkley, who was seeking a bigger and possibly longer contract than the team was willing to give him. The Giants could only use the Franchise tag on one player and the clock was ticking. Right before the deadline, the Giants and Jones agreed to a new deal. The team then slapped the tag on Barkley, who was not happy about this turn of events.
The initial numbers surprised many. It wasn’t the the length of contract, four years, but the overall value, $160 million. $81 million of that contract was initially fully guaranteed. (It is largely forgotten that the contract was tweaked in September in an effort to create more salary cap space for the team, with an additional $8.42 million in salary converted into signing bonus).
What pundits and fans noticed was that the contract made it virtually impossible to part ways with Jones in 2023 and 2024 with $81.5 million and $69.3 million in dead money, respectively. However, it would be easier to cut or trade him in 2025 ($22.2 million) and 2026 ($11.1 million). “It’s really just a 2-year deal,” was the rose-colored glasses argument. “He’s an ascending player and this contract will look like a bargain in a couple of years.”
By all accounts, the 2023 training camp was Jones’ best. He played one series in the preseason and the starting offense looked like a well-oiled machine on that single drive. While the Eagles still might be too good to unseat, the Giants were ready to challenge the Cowboys for second-place in the NFC East.
THE 2023 DISASTER
The 2023 NFL season could not have gone worse for Daniel Jones. And it is easy to pick the exact moment that it all fell apart. On the initial drive of the home opener against the Cowboys, the Giants reached the 8-yard line. On 3rd-and-2, Andrew Thomas was penalized for a false start. A bad snap led to a fumble that lost 14 yards. Graham Gano’s 45-yard field goal was blocked for a touchdown, with Thomas suffering a pulled hamstring that would cause him to miss seven games. The Giants and Jones never really recovered.
Jones would start the first five games of the season. He was forced to leave the game early in the 4th quarter of the Week 5 contest against the Miami Dolphins with yet another neck injury. Understandably, the alarm bells started going off again with this being his second neck injury in three years, the first having ended his season. The “good news” was that he only missed the next three games. But that was short-lived with Jones tearing the ACL of his right knee on the last play of the 1st quarter in his first game back. Season over.
The final numbers for Jones in 2023? 1-5 record as a starter. Two touchdown passes and one rushing touchdown. All three scores came in the second half of his only win. He didn’t score in the other five losses. Six interceptions and one fumble. 909 passing yards and 206 rushing yards. Sacked 30 times. Career-low 70.6 QBR. The team never scored an offensive touchdown in the first half of any game that Daniel Jones started.
When Jones went down with the neck injury, Tyrod Taylor filled in until he suffered a rib injury in the first half of the Week 8 game against the New York Jets. Then undrafted rookie free agent Tommy DeVito was pressed into service. Taylor went 1-2 as a starter, with two touchdowns, no interceptions, and a 92.1 QBR. DeVito has gone 2-1 as a starter, with seven touchdowns, three interceptions, and a 92.4 QBR.
With the schedule softening, the Giants improved their overall record from the 1-5 start to 4-8, with two games they should have also won against the Bills and Jets. Shockingly, the Giants were “this close” to being 6-6. Nevertheless, a 30-6 loss to the Raiders and 49-17 loss to the Cowboys were still rude doses of reality. Aside from a 24-point offensive “explosion” against the Commanders, the Giants are still struggling to score more than a touchdown per game.
THE NEVER-ENDING DEBATE
In the 28 years of this website, no subject has been debated more than Daniel Jones. When you consider the individual teams and personalities associated with this franchise since 1995, that’s quite an accomplishment. There are those who made up their mind on Daniel Jones from the moment he was drafted and will never like him. There are those who will make every excuse in the book for why he hasn’t been more than a losing quarterback. And there are those who hope for the best, root for the guy, but are still waiting for him to deliver the goods. Many remain on the fence, but after five years, their patience is running out.
“We’ve done everything possible to screw this kid up since he’s been here.” Let’s call this the John Mara defense. It is without question that the New York Giants have been a mess since Daniel Jones was drafted in April 2019. Since that time, they’ve changed general managers twice, head coaches three times, and offensive coordinators four times. Jones has never enjoyed even an average offensive line, having been sacked an astounding 179 times. He’s had starting receivers who were barely worthy of being practice squad-caliber. Jones hasn’t benefitted from being on a team with strong defensive or special teams units either, compounding the pressure placed on talent-deficient offenses. Jones proved in the Minnesota playoff game and others that he can get the job done when provided with enough support. Don’t just look at what he brings to the field as a passer, but also as a runner. Jones has the right “Eli Manning” personality for the city.
“He just stinks.” Let’s call this the Go Terps critique. It’s been five years. If you are still trying to decide if your quarterback is good after 61 starts, then he’s not. Jones is 23-37-1 (regular and post-season). Since his rookie season when he threw 24 touchdown passes, he has thrown just 38 touchdown passes in four seasons (less than 10 per year). He does not elevate the team around him. He has no special traits. Jones was at his best when running a remedial offense in 2022, but teams who are disciplined enough to guard against the backside quarterback run have shut that down and Jones has been unable to adapt. He doesn’t challenge defenses enough vertically down the field. He’s at his best when running, but now he is now coming off two neck injuries and an ACL. Three of his five seasons have just been awful. Perhaps most damning of all, there was no noticeable difference in the offense when Taylor and DeVito played, providing a direct, in-season comparison.
Barring some miraculous Daniel Jones renaissance in 2024, it’s clear the team screwed up in offering Jones the 4-year, $160 million deal. “But, but, but…” No buts. Don’t give me this “it’s only a 2-year deal” crap. It’s not. It gets easier to cut him after two years but we’re still talking about $22 million in dead cap space in 2025. It would have been better to franchise him for 1-year, $30 million and re-visit the contract this offseason. The situation with Barkley? You either give him what he wanted or let him test free agency. You can’t let Barkley force your hand with Jones.
The issue here is Daniel Jones was not some unknown commodity to Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll. They had Jones up close and personal for more than a year before they signed him to the new deal. They should have known his strengths and limitations, especially given the way they constantly had to fiddle with the offensive schemes in 2022. The offense the Giants ran at the end of that season was not the one they intended to operate in September.
There are a number of possibilities here, but none of them are a good look for the team. Schoen and Daboll could have decided, based on the way Jones played in the simplified scheme, he could handle more responsibility and complexity in 2023. They may have felt if teams wanted to take away the RPO, Jones can be just as effective as a drop back passer. Did they overrate the Minnesota playoff game while underrating the Philadelphia playoff game? Some claim it’s “conspiracy theory’ but it is not out of the question that ownership exerted pressure to keep Jones. They love the kid.
TRIPLING DOWN ON JONES?
Entering his sixth year with the team, the endless debate continues. The ACL should take 8-10 months to recover from, meaning Jones would be cleared for contact sometime in July, August, or September 2024. Some players recover sooner, some take longer. No one can claim that timeline is ideal. Jones will likely miss OTAs and mini-camps. He may start training camp on the PUP and miss most or all of the summer practices and preseason. Even Schoen publicly admits Jones may not be able to play early in the regular season.
Relatedly, Jones’ injury history is worrisome. In his five seasons, he has only been able to stay healthy once. He has suffered two neck injuries, one serious enough to end his season. He has now suffered a serious knee tear, with the team refusing to state whether or not it is more involved than just the ACL. “I’m not getting into specifics of the surgery,” said Schoen when asked. None of this is good for a quarterback who is at his best when running the football. Washington’s Robert Griffin III, another running quarterback, was never the same after his tore his ACL.
Beyond the injuries, is he good enough? Is he the guy you envision going into Philadelphia on Sunday night and outshining Jalen Hurts? Can he beat Pat Mahomes in a Super Bowl and hoist the Lombardi Trophy? With the game on the line, with everything at stake, will he raise the play of those around him and get the job done?
Lurking in the background is the opportunity to simply move on. The Giants are likely to be picking in the top 10 once again, perhaps in the top 5, in a draft with at least three possible franchise quarterbacks. The Giants also have an extra 2nd-round pick if they choose to move up in either the top or bottom of the 1st round.
So do the Giants triple down on Jones? They drafted him. They re-signed him. Do they pass on the franchise quarterback and stick with him for yet another go around? It’s not hyperbole to state that the fate of the franchise for the next five years hangs in the balance.
SCHOEN’S PRESS CONFERENCE
Predictably, the press conference did not provide conclusive evidence of the team’s thinking. Schoen was never going to throw Jones under the bus. And he obviously chose his words carefully. Most likely, fans heard what they wanted to hear. However, there was enough to make both sides be happy or worry.
Evidence they are sticking with Jones: “The expectation is when Daniel’s healthy that he will be our starting quarterback… that’s the expectation moving forward… The quarterback position is important, but it’s ultimately a team game and it’s not all on Daniel by any means.”
Evidence they may be moving on: “It doesn’t (mean we won’t draft a quarterback). I think we’re going to have to do something on the quarterback, whether it’s free agency or the Draft… We’re still going to have to address the position at some point because there’s no guarantee he’s going to be back Week 1.”
The most notable and possibly troublesome quotes (depending on your view of Jones) were these:
If the team would use a #1 pick on quarterback: “We’ll take the best player available. If the best player available for our team is at a certain position, we’ll take it. I mean, we won’t shy away from it.”
If the team still believes in Jones: “I mean, I’ve seen it. You guys all saw last season. The guy won 10 games. He won a road playoff game for the Giants. You guys saw the preseason. I just think we got punched in the nose early on and we dug ourselves a hole and we weren’t able to get out of it. We’re trying to right now, but we still believe in Daniel and the person… Who can we bring in that can maybe help us win a couple of games while Daniel gets healthy, or maybe Daniel will be ready Week 1.”
On one hand, it seems pretty clear Schoen is saying that Jones is still their guy. On the other hand, no team would even consider drafting a quarterback in the first round if they are happy with their starter and that guy is still in his prime. And the general manager did not close the door on that possibility. One can argue that Schoen is simply providing the usual best-player-available talking point and we should not read too much into it? Perhaps. At the same time, do you expect a team in the Giants situation to state before the draft that they are moving on from their starter and are definitely in the market for a quarterback in the first round? I don’t. That is not only an unnecessary insult to Jones at this time, but it doesn’t help the team hide their intentions. Furthermore, the team’s “intention” to have Jones start the 2024 season does not necessarily mean they won’t draft his replacement. Kurt Warner went 5-4 for the Giants before Eli Manning finished 2004 by going 1-6.
Would Schoen parse his words like a lawyer? I don’t know. As I said, fans will read into the press conference what they want to read. Only time will tell.
WRAPPING THIS UP… THE RISK
Did you make it this far? Thanks for sticking with me.
Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll are fools if they don’t recognize the risk here. John Mara will react to empty seats. He did so in 2016, 2018, 2020, and 2022. When fans stop showing up, he starts firing people. He’s done it over and over again. Those claiming otherwise are not living in the real world. Twelve years of mostly shitty football has taken its toll on this fanbase. America of the 2020’s is not America of the 1960’s-1970’s. Demographics, entertainment options, attention spans, and patience levels are vastly different. I think I have a a decent feel for the pulse of the fanbase. They are tired. This isn’t fun anymore. It’s one thing to lose for a decade, but it’s another to constantly get embarrassed, especially by the Cowboys and Eagles.
I made this claim in The Forum and I’ll make it again here, I’m not sure the fanbase will accept heading into 2024 with Daniel Jones as the projected year-long starter at quarterback. If the team somehow starts off 3-1, opinions and support levels can change rapidly, but the odds on that happening are not great. It’s far more likely that the League schedules a Giants-Cowboys Sunday or Monday night game to start the season, with a rusty Jones getting shellacked 35-10. You could see the bottom drop out in Week 1 or 2. And would anyone be shocked to hear these words in Week 6? “Daniel Jones is questionable to return with a neck injury.”
Whether they know it or not, Schoen and Daboll will be on thin ice in 2024. Unless something strange happens to all three teams, the Eagles and Cowboys will still be vastly superior to the Giants next year. I’m not sure Schoen and Daboll can survive another 5-12 type season with no hope at quarterback. The stands will be empty. On the other hand, some young exciting player at the position buys them time because the fans have hope. They will come out to watch a losing product if they have hope in the future and there is someone entertaining to watch, be that Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, or Jayden Daniels.
There is also the possibility the team trades up into the late first round, and take one of the lesser regarded prospects. Jones then serves as the bridge quarterback until this guy is ready. The risk there is this, do the Giants want to look back on 2024 as they year they passed up on Williams, May, or Daniels for someone like Bo Nix, J.J. McCarthy, or Michael Penix?
So do Schoen and Daboll want to continue to tie their fate to Jones? There is no guarantee that even if the Giants fix the offensive line and add more weapons that Jones will win. His injury history suggests he will have trouble even finishing the season healthy. But won’t Schoen and Daboll also be tying their fate to the new quarterback? Yes. But maybe they would feel better sinking or swimming with the guy they drafted, who isn’t already damaged goods.
Meanwhile, there are those still clinging to the belief that Jones’ injuries won’t be an issue. That if you just give him an offensive line and a #1 receiver, everything will be fine and Jones can lead the Giants past the Eagles and Cowboys. Jones will triple his TD throw average of the past four years. It’s not impossible. It would be a really nice story for the young man. But it’s starting to sound more like a prayer than accepting reality at this point.
If ownership did not have any deciding role in retaining Daniel Jones, they should be asking uncomfortable questions as to why they were asked to write a $160 million check for someone who the team is already possibly seeking to replace. On the other hand, if ownership did have a role in bringing back Jones because of some emotional connection, this is further evidence they should keep out of personnel matters. This is a time for tough decisions, not misplaced loyalty.
Your move Joe and Brian.