EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., — Daniel Jones was the last player to step off the field at an October practice at the Giants’ facility, walking side-by-side with his offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.
On that chilly, windy day, he entered a tent to conduct his weekly news conference. Then, he walked over to a separate interview with a television broadcaster where the two sat on stools overlooking nearby MetLife Stadium.
In his third season as a pro, Jones excels at those routine duties of an N.F.L. quarterback and has proved just as skillful at another: saying nothing revelatory. Asked if he feels he has done enough to be the leader of the franchise for the future, he evaded the question as he would a defender in the pocket.
“I’m really not focused on that right now,” Jones said in an interview. “I’m focused on each week one at a time and how I can play my best.”
He can deflect, but the Giants’ brass cannot. The organization must decide if the player it drafted at No. 6 overall in 2019 is in its long-term plans. In his first two seasons as the starter, 2019 and 2020, Jones did not carry the Giants to the playoffs and posted more turnovers (39) than touchdowns (38).
Now in his third year, it has been hard to decipher whether Jones’s flaws are definitive or if they are the result of other factors. That complicates the issue for the Giants (3-6), who must decide by early May whether to pick up Jones’s fifth-year option for 2023.
“He’s our quarterback,” Coach Joe Judge said in an interview. “I want him out there every Sunday with us.”
2021 N.F.L. Season News and Analysis
This season was supposed to offer a clear window to evaluate Jones. The team’s co-owner, John Mara, and general manager, Dave Gettleman, both expressed optimism this off-season. Gettleman, who was not made available for comment, doled out over $45 million in guaranteed contracts during free agency to remodel the roster at skill positions to give Jones targets. The team signed receivers Kenny Golladay and John Ross and tight end Kyle Rudolph, and selected receiver Kadarius Toney in the first round of the 2021 draft.
All but Rudolph have missed at least one game this season because of injury, as have the team’s veteran receivers. Running back Saquon Barkley, after playing in just two games in the 2020 season, has missed four games this year with injuries. Without them, the Giants have failed to establish any offensive consistency under Jones, who has not missed a start despite having gotten a concussion in Week 5.
“Has he had a good and fair evaluation? No,” said Dan Orlovsky, an N.F.L. analyst for ESPN and a former quarterback for four teams. “Life in the N.F.L. for quarterbacks isn’t fair, but he hasn’t had one.”
The Cardinals’ Kyler Murray, drafted first overall in 2019, has played to expectations, while Jones has outperformed the quarterbacks selected after him in a particularly weak class for the position. He is more frequently compared to the franchise quarterbacks taken the year before — the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson, the Browns’ Baker Mayfield and the Bills’ Josh Allen — because the Giants held the No. 2 overall pick in 2018, and selected Barkley instead of a replacement for Eli Manning.
Baltimore and Buffalo showed patience with their young passers, tailoring offensive schemes and personnel toward their skill sets. Jackson won the Most Valuable Player Award in his second season. Allen showed holistic improvement in his third year and finished second in M.V.P. voting for the 2020 season. Mayfield has shown drastic improvement in decision-making, cutting down his interceptions from 21 in 2019 to 8 in 2020, the year the team hired Alex Van Pelt as offensive coordinator.
Both Orlovsky and Shaun O’Hara, who played seven seasons at center for the Giants and won the Super Bowl in the 2007 season, said it would be unfair to compare Jones to Jackson and Allen’s production. Both have had the same offensive coordinator for their careers. Jones is in his second season under Garrett, who installed the system during the pandemic in 2020. The two also have physical traits — Jackson is a better runner with a quicker throwing release and Allen is 16 pounds heavier with a stronger arm — that Jones does not.
“Those guys have just raised the bottom level of their play while also reaching the top level of their play on a more consistent basis,” Orlovsky said. “Daniel is not even in the same conversation talent-wise, and that’s not a knock on him.”
With all those variables clouding the team’s look at Jones, the better barometer of his development has been the statistic most firmly in his control: turnovers. In his first two seasons, he posted 22 interceptions and 17 lost fumbles. While his interception numbers are high, they are actually better than Murray’s, who has thrown four more interceptions than Jones, in four more games, over their careers.
In conversations with Judge, Gettleman and Garrett this off-season, Jones said he wanted to focus on getting the ball out quicker and being more decisive. It has translated to his statistics: Though nine games, he has eight turnovers (three lost fumbles, five interceptions).
While Orlovsky said he’s seen “marked improvement” from previous years, Jones still makes dangerous choices, like the interception he threw in a narrow loss to Kansas City in Week 8, when Jones tried to force a pass to Darius Slayton in double coverage.
“I was disappointed,” Orlovsky said. “You’re so past making that dumb, stupid decision.”
But there have also been impressive moments, like the 30-yard touchdown pass to tight end Evan Engram that he placed perfectly just over a defender in a Week 9 win over the Raiders.
“That’s a throw where you say, ‘Wow, OK,” said O’Hara, now an analyst at NFL Network. “Those are throws he’s getting more comfortable making.”
By other objective measurements, Jones has been average. Entering Sunday, he ranked 21st in yards (2,059), had tossed eight touchdowns and completed 64.8 percent of his passes, just under the league average of 65.4.
Jones’s performance is emblematic of the Giants’ problems overall. Injuries, penalties and game management issues have contributed to putting the team at risk for its fourth consecutive losing season since Gettleman arrived in 2018.
If the Giants continue to swim in place, a new general manager could be making the call on whether to extend Jones. Should the team pick up his fifth-year option, the projected value of his contract is around $21.4 million, according to Overthecap.com. That is far less than what Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers would command if they tested the market, though it is unlikely the Giants would be a realistic suitor for either.
Even if the Giants turn over the front office and coaching staff after another losing season, Jones’s average nature could be his biggest value to the franchise or any other.
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