The Futures Past of Daniel Jones

Just when we thought that the New York Giants’ season couldn’t get more dreary, Daniel Jones has once again come to the rescue. No, no. He’s not throwing dimes. He’s not Hail Mary-ing all over the field. He’s actually not doing anything as of this week. Because Daniel Jones is hurt.

In a way, Daniel Jones has saved the Giants’ season, because he’s spawned the dramatic return of Eli Manning, who is projected to start against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football this week.

High ankle sprains in the NFL typically take four to six weeks to heal, but what does coach Pat Shurmur know (and I mean, other than how to throw a season)? He wants Jones back as soon as possible and says that the job will be Jones’ again as soon as he is ready to take the field. Until then, Giants fans are privy to the Manning Farewell Festival™, as we welcome back the veteran quarterback for what will presumably be the final drives of his career.

Jones had an impressive welcome to the NFL—two back-to-back wins early in the season that featured the rookie dancing his way out of the pocket to score his own touchdowns, and finding talented pass-catchers like Evan Engram, Sterling Shepard, and Wayne Gallman before each suffered their own injuries. Jones is hardly to blame for this season’s heartbreak. His positive first impressions had the likes of, well, me, for one, pained to the gut with regret for disdainful editorials and tweets inspired by his selection in the 2019 NFL Draft. It’s the lack of luster in Big Blue’s roster depth that is liable. In the last two weeks, particularly, it’s started to seem that Dwayne Haskins was no longer the rookie quarterback to pity. But how might Daniel Jones have fared this season had he been selected later? Or, by one of the other teams for which a new signal-caller was a necessity?

Daniel Jones Out of Jersey: An Exploration of Futures Past

A Young Eli Manning

Early on, Daniel Jones was prescribed as a younger version of his predecessor. One of the greatest tweets to emerge post-draft suggested that Jones “looks like the guy who could play Eli Manning in a movie about Peyton Manning’s life;” a horrifyingly accurate observation. But while the visual resemblance is strong, Jones’ resume just as well renders him Manning material.

At Duke, Jones was coached under David Cutcliffe, who served as the offensive coordinator when Peyton was in college at Tennessee, and then as the head coach at Ole Miss when Eli led the former Rebels. Jones also attended the Manning Passing Academy camps in Louisiana, working with the brothers on a deep level. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to assume that, come draft time, Eli might have even been pushing for the selection of Jones behind the scenes.

In my colleague John Bava’s draft profile of Jones, he suggests a resemblance to Josh Allen, who is currently leading the Buffalo Bills to the top of the AFC East. Allen missed most of his rookie season due to injury. Now that Jones is hurt, the resemblance is a little more cut and clear. Comparatively, Iron Man Eli has played in 234 NFL games, never missing a single one due to injury.

When it became apparent that the Giants needed to draft a quarterback, a definite goal was a player with more mobile instincts than Eli. But with mobility comes a bleak reality—one that the Baltimore Ravens, for instance, will likely have to face in the near future. Danny Dimes has reverted in the past weeks to some of the same issues that he faced at Duke—an over-zealousness that prompts dicey throws into double coverage, and depth issues that result in turnovers. Issues that, while serious, might not be so with a more durable offensive fence and an agile army of receivers.

Jones was the second quarterback drafted this year after Kyler Murray went first overall to the Arizona Cardinals. Plenty of other teams had the same need, and Jones was ranked the fourth most appealing prospect at the position, behind Murray, Haskins, and Drew Lock. With the Giants so desperate in so many areas, the sixth overall pick definitely could have been used on a different kind of capital (*cough* Kentucky’s Josh Allen *cough*), leaving the 17th pick for a quarterback. Lock wasn’t even drafted until almost mid-way through the second round, and that certainly supports the idea that Jones could have ended up elsewhere, and on a team that might better cater to mini-Manning. After all, in disagreement with my colleague’s regard, Jones looked like a second-round pick at best.

Daniel Jones the Buccaneer

Jameis Winston was selected first overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2015 NFL Draft, but his tenure hasn’t been a walk in the park. His personal conduct has been a hindrance, rendering him an erratic wild card. Behind him on the depth chart stands only Ryan Griffin, who is 30 years old and… wait for it… has never played in an NFL game. Needless to say, the Bucs needed a rookie at the beginning of the season, and still need one now.

Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones are no joke, sharing the running back role. Jones doesn’t have a whole lot to show for it in his two-year career, but despite missing a blitz last week that resulted in the team’s only turnover against the Jacksonville Jaguars, he has never fumbled, and Bruce Arians plans to continue utilizing him in their fight for the playoffs. Barber, on the other hand, is having a stellar fourth NFL season and is the first player this year to have two touchdowns and a two-point conversion in one game.

Deeper down the field, Chris Godwin is having a breakout year and is tied for most touchdown receptions with Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay. His counterpart Mike Evans isn’t looking too shabby himself. With weaponry like that, Daniel Jones would have little difficulty getting the ball where it needs to be, and his out-of-pocket tendencies would be less reckless. With the fifth overall draft pick, the Buccaneers might have selected Daniel Jones to ensure their future. Yeah, Devin White is a studly beast in his rookie year, but as we all know, you have to score points to win games, and if Winston were to go down, it’s difficult to see that happening for Tampa Bay.

Daniel Jones the Jaguar

Before Nick Foles was signed to the Jaguars, the jungle cats were headlined by Blake Bortles, who had the third-most starts in the franchise’s history. It was no secret that the chemistry between Bortles and the Jags was depleted as last year progressed, as he was benched in favor of Cody Kessler in Week 7. Kessler ultimately started four games last year, and Bortles was released the same day that Foles was signed, leaving Kessler as the backup until his own release in May.

The Jaguars drafted Gardner Minshew in the sixth round of this April’s draft, and in him, they found their probable franchise cannon of the future. After Minshew’s mostly-impressive stint earlier this season filling in for re-injured Foles, the Jaguars announced that the former Super Bowl champion would be benched in favor of the rookie this week.

It shouldn’t be so surprising that Foles, who will be 31 in January, couldn’t get the job done in Jacksonville. But the shameful waste of $88 million on the newest benchwarmer is the real bummer. Minshew has better chemistry with the offense, is obviously younger, and displays leadership qualities that Foles, who spent the last two years as a backup, only earning his first ring because of Carson Wentz’s injury, doesn’t display as conspicuously. His signing seemed impulsive and probably shouldn’t have happened.

Daniel Jones would face similar challenges on the Jaguars offense that he has with the Giants. While Leonard Fournette is a force, the Jaguars lack depth at the wideout position. Chris Conley seemed like a bright spot for a while, but he and his fellow starters Dede Westbrook and D.J. Chark are all questionable heading into Week 14. While the Jags could have swept up Jones had the Giants not, they made a stellar selection in Josh Allen, who’s proven himself to be an invaluable asset to their 4-3 defense. And they found swamp-town Freddy Mercury in the process. Suffice it to say, Jones wouldn’t have been any different in Jacksonville than he is in East Rutherford.

Daniel Jones the Redskin

Dwayne Haskins got screwed as the second-best quarterback prospect in this year’s draft. He made it out in the first round; the Washington Redskins selected him 15th overall. But Simba was projected to go far sooner, and by many, to the Giants, the team he’d supported through his entire upbringing. He only started for one year at Ohio State but filled some big shoes in his accurate and agile performances. Maybe he wasn’t mobile enough for the Giants, or maybe Dave Gettleman sat through OSU’s inexplicable loss to Purdue. But to the Redskins Haskins begrudgingly went. Less than thrilled with the outcome was the former Buckeye, and less than enthusiastic were the Redskins about their draftee.

Haskins had a rough start to his rookie year, stepping in for Case Keenum when he was benched in Week 4, but was named the starter in Week 9 after Keenum sustained a concussion. He leads the squad ahead of Keenum and Colt McCoy. Haskins’ stats don’t exalt him yet, but Pro Football Focus ranked the rookie the second-best passer of Week 13, only behind Deshaun Watson. He’s quickly getting his groove as the Redskins climb up the rickety ladder of the NFC Least (see what I did there?) and contend for the playoffs.

Please hold while I throw up.

Okay, I’m back. Look, the Redskins may be deplorably bad in comparison to the rest of the league, but they’re officially ahead of the Giants in the division. Haskins has assisted the team to a two-game winning streak, and that has to account for something. Derrius Guice is having a solid sophomore season, alternating at running back with veteran Adrian Peterson. Similarly to the Denver Broncos’ outlook with rookie Drew Lock new at the helm, the Redskins are lacking the receivers and tight ends to really break out and score points.

If the Redskins had drafted Daniel Jones, he probably wouldn’t have seen the field this year. The team put Haskins in as a burner, having prepared to keep him on the bench until he was “ready,” but played him in favor of McCoy because of outside pressure. If Daniel Jones was starting games, why couldn’t Haskins get a shot? Had the quarterbacks been on alternate teams, that pressure would not exist simply because of Jones’ draft-period reputation, and McCoy would be keeping the offense afloat while Jones was trained to Jay Gruden’s standards. And in which case, it’s also fair to assume that Gruden wouldn’t have been fired.

Maybe this scenario would have better suited Jones. Sure, he wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn beneath a championship-winning veteran like Manning. But he also wouldn’t be hurt right now and would be in on the ground floor of what’s likely going to be a very young team in the coming year or two, while the Giants have seemingly been in rebuild for the last half of the decade, with no end in sight.

Daniel Jones as a Patriot

Tom Brady did not fall off a cliff, and he won’t. His decline this year is more of a stumble and tumble down a steep, bumpy hill riddled with boulders and crabgrass. There’s no denying that FINALLY, after years of speculation and retaliatory chants of “We’re still here!” it seems the prince of football’s reign is coming to a close. Behind him stand Jarrett Stidham and Cody Kessler, underwhelming gun-slingers with “backup” likely to precede their names for the next eight to 10 years. The New England Patriots, the prize franchise of the NFL, are hanging up their helmets; their Lombardi Trophies aging in their display case, preparing to accumulate layers of dust.

Honestly, it’s upsetting to see, regardless of one’s fandoms and affiliations. It didn’t have to be this way. The team has had multiple opportunities to acquire a suitable heir to Brady after trading Jimmy Garoppolo a couple of years back. Their first-round selection of N’Keal Harry in this year’s draft hasn’t shown fruit yet, and he’s just one of the receivers that have matriculated through the locker room at Gillette Stadium over the year so far. Harry, the youngest, missed the first half of the season on injured reserve while Josh Gordon (now on IR himself), Phillip Dorsett, Julian Edelman, and even Antonio Brown caught passes from Brady. The recent acquisition of Mohamed Sanu was just another move that begs the question: Are the Patriots thinking about their future at all?

They lost Rob Gronkowski, and have yet to find a suitable tight end to replace him. Sony Michel and James White have collectively left much to be desired from the run game. But why, with names like these on the roster, is the Patriots’ offense in such disarray? At least three of these six current players have future Hall of Fame potential. It’s got to be Brady. There is no longer an argument that favors him being the driving force of this offense. Maybe what the team needed this year was a breath of fresh air to inspire some creativity. Maybe that breath of fresh air could have been Daniel Jones.

Jones’ strength on his feet and capability of a broad array of throws would rekindle the spark of an aging but still capable offensive corps like the Patriots. He has a Brady-like air of leadership—passionate, but wholesome. And like Brady, who would thrive as a mentor to a young quarterback, he’s had to overcome a large amount of adversity in the beginnings of his career. Imagine the dimes he could throw to Edelman and the big plays he could make with Sanu or Harry running deep corner and post routes. And over the coming years, as some of the more seasoned players gradually begin to hang up their cleats, he’d make new connections with the first-class pool of receiving talent coming up. It’s a far reach, but hard not to, admittedly, kind of love.

Back to Reality

But alas, here we are in Week 14, and holding strong the last-place ranking in the NFC East. And Jones is hurt. And Manning is playing against the Eagles this week. And like it or not, it’s hard to see a light at the end of this long, concrete MetLife Stadium tunnel. The offensive line, permeable. The run game, meh. The receiving corps, riddled with injury. How do we fix it? Well, we can’t this year. Fresh out of time and resources, we stand, staring down the barrel of Pat Shurmur’s gun. Loyal fans will paint the coming week (potentially weeks) with optimism, rolling out the floats and striking up the band for the Eli Manning goodbye parade.

Manning would, could, and should play out the rest of the regular season, but Shurmur won’t have that. He’ll continue to put pressure on the “future of the franchise” Jones, and senselessly. After all, the likelihood that Sterling Shepard will return next year is slim with his head injuries being rightfully taken so seriously. And the offensive line will need to be rebuilt once more, so there’s not a whole lot to accomplish by way of practice. The Eagles sometimes-ferocious defense will be faced twice in the four weeks remaining of the regular season, and between those two matchups are the Miami Dolphins and the Redskins. At this point, there is little to be gained from putting Jones in the hot seat.

In his first press conference in weeks, Manning asserted his readiness to perform. He’s still practicing, working out, and conspiring with Jones to make the most of the playbook. But while it will be nice to see Eli shoot his shot for one more round, and despite his enthusiasm to get back on the field, it’s not going to be pretty. Let’s make a realistic comparison, shall we? [Click tweet for full thread.]

The best-case scenario is that Manning doesn’t get hurt in his final bow and that the few guys who are healthy stay in such condition. These final weeks are, in a way, a gift. They allow time to consider what moves need to be made in preparation for 2020. At least, come next year’s draft, there’s one thing we won’t have to worry about. I’ll give you a hint: he could easily play Eli Manning in a movie about Peyton Manning’s life.

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