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Is Daniel Jones the future?
The New York Giants examined the autopsy and made the right changes. GM Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll have them one win from the playoffs. Now, about that quarterback...
This is a head coach who will out-scheme the defense. He’s innovative, creative and there’s a jazz-like flow to his X’s and O’s.
A coach who can develop quarterbacks. Remember the days when Josh Allen was mocked relentlessly? His practice clips were once catnip for a legion of doubters.
Brian Daboll clearly possesses the brass balls needed to finish games. Head coaches can wander aimlessly through 2-minute drills for decades. He’s going for it on fourth down — with conviction.
But the more you chat with the players who work with Daboll every day, the more one theme rises above all else. They genuinely love to play for the New York Giants head man. Nothing is fake or forced. He has a feel for people. The praise is effusive, loud, yet still… vague. OK, Daboll knows this game is not won on a play sheet alone. Human beings decide outcomes.
How exactly does a head coach go about building a team around “tough-minded” individuals, as he likes to say?
Start at the position that will decide the fate of any team until the end of time. Into this 2022 season, the new regime stuck with Daniel Jones on a one-year trial basis. They declined his fifth-year option for 2023, but believed Jones was talented enough to be the starter in Year 1 of a rebuild. Veteran Tyrod Taylor was added for insurance. The Giants were obviously choosing to punt this franchise-defining decision down the road, a fiscally smart maneuver considering fired GM Dave Gettleman left the roster in financial ruins. There was no need to anoint anyone. Not yet. But Daboll also knew this: He needed to test Jones’ mental toughness.
So, when training camp began, he devised a plan. As one source close to the coach explained, Daboll purposely structured practice for Jones to fail and Taylor to succeed.
“He wanted Daniel Jones to deal with the adversity,” this source explained. “He wanted to see how he dealt with it on a daily basis. And he passed it with flying colors. So, I know he loves Daniel Jones.
“He loves Daniel Jones. He loves him.”
Practices are always scripted. Daboll would tell defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale which plays he’d be running when Jones was in the game, this source explains, and had Martindale call defensive plays that’d intentionally work. And when Taylor entered? Exact opposite. Plays were scripted on both sides to set him up for success.
Jones did not flinch. Daboll was thrilled.
“Daboll’s got great X’s and O’s,” said this source. “We know that. But that’s where Daboll is different than the rest of the New England coaches. He’s got a better feel for people. He’s more of a man’s man than the other coaches we’ve seen come out of there.”
The best marriages in sports often have the most unconventional beginnings. The two parties don’t always swipe right simultaneously. Here was Daboll, one of the true architects in Buffalo. A coach largely responsible for the quarterback’s stunning improvement. After grinding as an assistant for two-plus decades, you’d assume Daboll is dying to handpick his own quarterback. To stake his reputation to his guy. He cut his teeth with the likes of Bill Belichick and Nick Saban. Finally, Daboll got his shot. And here was Jones, perceived residue from the Gettleman Era. Damaged goods.
Exactly one year ago, we examined the demise of the Giants with “The Autopsy,” a three-part series.
The scenes behind these walls were far uglier than most expected.
New York needed outsiders to usher in general competence and reinstitute pride. Not family members. Not suck-ups. Not trusted allies with Assholes need not apply signs sitting on their desk when, as ex-scouts noted, that particular GM is the biggest asshole in the room. And certainly not coaches who call quarterback sneaks on third and 9. Enter: GM Joe Schoen and Daboll. Both men played pivotal roles in the Buffalo Bills’ turnaround. Both brought fresh ideas to an organization perpetually stuck in its ways and the product on the field quickly reflected their vision. Whereas the 2021 Giants were effectively on life support this point last season, the 2022 outfit keeps fighting like a bunch of rabid dogs. The Giants are fresh off a 27-24 loss to the 12-3 Vikings. Most weeks, the discrepancy in talent is gaping. Yet a Giants roster with precisely zero business registering a pulse in late December is 8-6-1.
Beat the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday and they’re in the playoffs for the time since 2016 and just the second time since 2011.
Firing buffoons and hiring pros is the first step. Owner John Mara was not pleased with our series at Go Long but then proceeded as if, once and for all, studying an actual autopsy of this failing franchise. Like Minnesota, the Giants ditched a wretched culture for a healthy one. That gives you a chance. They bid farewell to those who rendered MetLife Stadium a torture chamber for any fans willing to waste a perfectly good Sunday. It would’ve be impossible for the Giants to do anything with the roster before addressing this all. Now, it’s about accruing talent. The next decision for this organization may be the biggest.
Make the wrong call and nothing else matters. Look no further than the other team in New Jersey. GM Joe Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh have done a bang-up job with the Jets’ roster. A defense that finished dead-last in yards and points for the first time since 1975 is one of the NFL’s best in 2022. They drafted legit playmakers in wide receiver Garrett Wilson and running back Breece Hall. But Zach Wilson has been such an abomination — an all-time bust of a No. 2 overall pick — that the Jets could hand him the ’07 Patriots supporting cast and lose. This pick, of course, comes a mere two years after the team whiffed on Sam Darnold at No. 3 overall.
No pressure, fellas.
This spring, Daniel Jones will be an unrestricted free agent and there’s a compelling case to be made on both sides. We talked to those who like Jones and those who do not. Where former NFL MVP Rich Gannon has flashbacks to his own career, another longtime NFC exec sees a team running in place. Either, Jones has proven enough to be The Guy in 2023. Or, this is a classic case of a team needing to challenge itself to be better. To start anew. Even if it means taking one step back to take three steps forward. There’s a good chance Jones has played himself into sticking around at least next season. His mental and physical toughness is not up for debate. As adversity hit New York throughout this season — injuries essentially evacuating the wide receiver room — Jones reacted the same way he did at camp.
With stoicism. With zero excuses. With a hard right shoulder along the sideline. He gives the Giants a chance to win.
Is that enough to warrant being the future?
In truth, that decision is still in Jones’ hands.
“He’s already been kicked in the face”
This midgame demeanor is strikingly similar to the quarterback who last delivered Super Bowl titles to the New York Giants. It’s uncanny. Take Daniel Jones’ sterling performance against the Vikings. After throwing a crushing interception with 11 minutes and 42 seconds to go, he calmly unbuckled his chinstrap — with zero emotion — as cornerback Patrick Peterson and the entire Vikings’ defense raced to the end zone for a choreographed World Cup-style celebration.
Down 24-16, with 3 minutes to go, he then authored a Peak Eli drive capped by Peak Eli emotion that’d only surface for special occasions. Eight yards to Richie James. Thirty-two yards to Darius Slayton. Eight yards with his own legs. All along, he resembled a substitute teacher more than an NFL starting quarterback. And after Saquon Barkley knifed upfield for a touchdown, Jones hit tight end Daniel Bellinger in the back of the end zone for the two-pointer to tie. He let out one emphatic, “Let’s go!” which, on a sliding scale, is the equivalent of 10 F-bombs from anyone else.
The argument for Jones being the starter beyond this season starts with the indisputable fact that — like Eli Manning — this is a mentally tough quarterback in a city that demands it.
Former NFL QB Chris Simms was born when his father, Phil, was in his second pro season. He vividly remembers life for Dad in this market. A vibrancy that only intensified the next three decades… through the Manning’s roller-coaster career… right up to Jones being the sixth overall pick in 2019. “Brutal!” he says.
This pressure will devour the weak. Jones isn’t weak.
“He’s unflappable,” says Simms. “He’s perfect for the New York media market. He’s got that Phil Simms, Eli Manning, I can’t tell if he just threw a touchdown or an interception. It’s the same f--king look on his face all the time. … You’ve got to be like that. One day, you wake up, you play good, and you’re on the cover of The Post. Everyone’s going, ‘This is the f--king best guy in New York sports history!’ Two weeks later, you play bad and it says you f--king suck on the back of the paper. That’s where a personality like him comes in very handy in New York. He doesn’t get caught up in that. He can block it out.”
These last four seasons have been packed with a career’s worth of turmoil, too.
Adds Simms: “It can’t get any worse than some of the shit he’s had to deal with.”
If Jalen Hurts and Dak Prescott were treated like kings within the division — supplied every possible resource imaginable — Jones was a peasant.
It’s hard to imagine the general manager of a team proceeding any worse than Dave Gettleman did after falling in “full bloom love” with Jones at the Senior Bowl. He drafted and signed busts on the offensive line. He gave Kenny Golladay a $72 million contract. He whiffed on playmakers in the draft. The current regime inherited a mess that required nothing but salary-shedding in Offseason No. 1. Instead of shopping for talent, Schoen had zero choice but to hold an Everything Must Go yard sale. Even Pro Bowl-level players, like corner James Bradberry, were released when no trade partners were found. The good news? Jones finally had a head coach who understood the position. The bad news? The team couldn’t afford any new weapons. Richie James, a seventh-rounder from Middle Tennessee State waived by San Francisco, has logged at least 70 percent of the offensive snaps in six games. The team’s saving grace at wide receiver is someone who was buried on the Bills depth chart for three seasons, Isaiah Hodgins, who we chatted with for this Q&A. And the team’s de facto No. 1, Darius Slayton, has spent parts of this season injured and in the doghouse.
Simms fully expects Jones to be the Giants’ quarterback in 2023. The key is finding a sweet spot financially. He likes his leadership. He loves his work ethic. He does not believe criticism of Jones has been fair. When Simms studies tape — and as a former colleague, I can promise it’s an insane amount — he saw an offensive line that was not merely bad before 2022.
“It was the worst offensive line in football,” Simms says. “It was not even f--king close the last two years. They couldn’t run for three inches and he couldn’t look at the first read most games his first three years because he was getting hit or had to avoid somebody before he could even look at the first read.”
Better coaching has helped. Bobby Johnson joined Daboll from Buffalo to coach the line and has helped instill toughness. But this personnel is not dominant.
Jones plows through it all.
Forget the final stat line. In the win that could wind up being the difference in the NFC playoff picture — a 27-22 victory over the Packers in London — Jones showed guts. Jones played through a throbbing ankle and a hand oozing blood to deliver the sort of third-and-13 and third-and-9 lasers the four-time MVP on the other sideline could not. Behind the scenes, Jones has earned his team’s respect. They see him in the weight room all the time slamming the medicine ball, doing QB-centric work and Jones is always sneaking another 30 minutes of film in with his no-name receivers. “He cares about the game,” Hodgins says, “and he’s trying to take that extra step and trying to excel. You can tell he really cares and stuff like that is contagious. It makes other people want to catch on and rally and do the same thing.”
Rich Gannon has watched nearly every snap of Jones’ career.
He knows serving as a virtual punching bag can pay off.
“He’s already been kicked in the face,” Gannon says. “And some of these guys haven’t been through that. He’s been through it. You’re in that New York market. He’s had to overcome adversity several times in his career. He’s been through different coaches, different coordinator changes, system changes and this kid’s come through it in one piece. To me, that’s attractive. At that position, the physical and mental toughness is really important. This kid has plenty of it.”
Through 15 games, Jones has completed 66.5 percent of his passes for 3,028 yards with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. Turnovers plagued Jones before, but not with Daboll. He owns the best interception percentage (1.1) in football and seems to always know when to hit the gas. Jones has another 617 rushing yards with five scores. Simms views this running ability as a truly special trait and labels Jones one of the top 5 running quarterback in the NFL. He often refers to the Giants as a “five-legged monster” because this offense is essentially Jones’ two legs, Barkley’s two legs and kicker Graham Gano.
Thus, there are two very different interpretations for Jones’ solid season. Two prisms in which to view his game. Either, Daboll has completely maxed out his abilities in 2022 and… time’s up. This is as good as it gets. Or, hey, it’s damn impressive that Jones has guided the Giants to an 8-6-1 record with this supporting cast and he now warrants a real shot with real playmakers under this real coaching staff. Count both Simms and Gannon in this latter group.
Tis the season for many fan bases clamoring for a new quarterback. Often, they get their wish. The Las Vegas Raiders jumped the gun in benching Derek Carr.
As judgment day closes in for all teams, Gannon’s question is always the same: What’s the plan?
“We’re not going to get rid of a car or donate until we know for sure we have another car,” Gannon says. “You want to move on from Daniel Jones? No problem. Let’s do it. But what’s the alternative? But before you even get to that question, I would simply suggest, ‘Be careful.’ This kid, in my opinion, has done some really impressive things this year. You may look at the numbers but so much of what happens at that position is impacted by what’s going on around him.”
He rattles off the same ailments as Simms. Mediocre line. “Bottom third” receiving corps. Rookie tight end. When Gannon studies the All-22 of Giants games, he doesn’t see receivers getting any separation whatsoever. “Go ahead and circle where he should throw it,” he says. “Good luck with that.” He is encouraged by the turnover number dropping, cites “big-time throws” in New York’s recent win at Washington and fully expects Jones back in Big Blue.
There’s value in continuity. To him, the shining example is Philadelphia. The Eagles nabbed DeVonta Smith (not Kadarius Toney) in the draft, added veteran A.J. Brown (not Golladay) and meticulously built a powerhouse of an offensive line (the diametric opposite of Gettleman’s hog-molly sieve). Head coach Nick Sirianni was open-minded enough to swap out his plans on offense for a system that worked for Hurts and — through their two years together — the game started slowing down for the QB. The playbook opened up. He’s now an MVP candidate.
This is the dream scenario for Daniel Jones in 2023. A pipe dream perhaps.
But Gannon doesn’t think it’s necessarily that far off.
“He’s been through a lot of shit his first four years,” Gannon says. “Are we going to run him off or are we going to build on what he did this year?”
If anyone knows, it’s him. It’s Gannon. It’s one of the NFL’s most extreme cases himself. He spent six ordinary seasons in Minnesota, one in Washington and four in Kansas City before setting records ablaze for the Oakland Raiders in his late 30s.
Never, not once, could he remember a head coach or an offensive coordinator telling him point-blank, “You’re my guy.” Until Jon Gruden.
“Didn’t have it in Minnesota. Never had it in Kansas City. I went to Oakland, and Jon Gruden was the first guy,” says Gannon. “He put his arm around me and, before I even signed the contract, he said, ‘Let me tell you something: You and me are going to do this together. Either we’re going to sink or swim but we’re going to do this together.’ Honestly, that’s all I needed to hear. Somebody finally gave me the keys to the car. I think Brian Daboll has put his arm around this guy and said, ‘You’re my guy. Let’s go.’”
Gannon responded by making four straight Pro Bowls and winning MVP in 2002… at age 37. He completed 67.6 percent of his passes for an NFL-high 4,689 yards with 26 touchdowns in what was obviously a game far less kind to quarterbacks than today. Oakland went 11-5 and reached the Super Bowl before falling to Gruden’s Bucs.
Watching Mike McDaniel phone Tua Tagovailoa from the airplane as he traveled across the country brought Gannon back to his days. Playing quarterback can be a “lonely business,” he says. It’s nice when you’re not looking over your shoulder. By no means is he declaring Jones a perennial Pro Bowler but — with Daboll — Gannon believes the quarterback may be “trending that direction.” Further, he includes Daboll and McDaniel with Kyle Shanahan on the short list of offensive minds who build gameplans that sincerely accentuate a quarterback’s strengths and hide weaknesses. As he puts, these are the coaches concerned first and foremost with “What does this guy do well?” and “What does he like?” and, honestly, this is exactly what Daboll proclaimed as a goal during his introductory press conference.
Gannon likens what Jones has experience to a high-schooler taking Spanish, then French, then German. That’s what happens with three coordinators in three years. There’s no carryover.
“So you’re constantly having to go back to the beginning and learn,” Gannon says. “The great quarterbacks have been in one system for most of their career and they’re constantly building on what they already learned.”
His mind races back to his own career again. At age 39, in his 17th pro season, Gannon needed to learn Norv Turner’s system. The playbook, terminology, verbiage. Everything was new. Even after studying like a madman all offseason, all training camp and all preseason, Gannon was “scared to death” Week 1 at Pittsburgh because he didn’t know the offense. He’d ask Turner questions — “What happens if this happens?” — and Turner would say to throw the 9-stopper on the backside. Gannon was clueless.
“You’re not out there reacting,” he recalls. “You’re thinking. Because you don’t have the history in the system. You don’t have the tools in your toolbox.”
Jones is finally acquiring such tools. A second-year jump in Daboll’s offense could reap far greater rewards than anything awaiting in the NFL Draft.
Even if you are infatuated with, say, Ohio State’s CJ Stroud or Alabama’s Bryce Young, how exactly do you chase that player? Yes, Schoen and Daboll were both in Buffalo for the ultra-risky, ultra-polarizing Allen pick. Yes, the parallels are obvious. Those Bills also won more games than they ever expected in Year 1. Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane ended the team’s 17-year playoff drought in 2017 by going 9-7 with Tyrod Taylor. Yet, they were only able to maneuver up to No. 7 to take Allen and No. 16 to take linebacker Tremaine Edmunds in 2018 because of the extra first-rounder acquired the year prior when McDermott, Doug Whaley and (Go Long Podcast co-host) Jim Monos were running the show. They missed Patrick Mahomes — McDermott didn’t want to roll with a rookie QB in his first season — but the extra ammo led to one hell of a consolation prize.
It's hard to envision a trade that’d propel New York into range.
Free agency is typically reserved for thrifting at QB. Stars don’t hit the open market.
“Show me who you’re going to get that’s better than Daniel Jones,” Simms says. “I know we’re all looking for an upgrade, an upgrade, an upgrade. But Daniel Jones — if you put a supporting cast around him and he continues on this trend with Daboll? — I look at him as a guy who can be a Top 10 quarterback in the NFL. That’s where I would be careful about trying to replace quarterbacks. There’s only a few of them who are really special that can really make it happen no matter what. The rest need some sort of formula or help to help them succeed. Other than Mahomes, Allen, Burrow, Herbert, Lamar Jackson, the rest of football needs schematic help with their team.”
A strong point. But we also should not forget that this is a head coach who’s inherently unafraid and isn’t the goal… Super Bowls? Not 10-6-1. Not sneaking into the playoffs.
This road warrants consideration.
When one longtime NFC personnel executive hears this praise of Daniel Jones, he cannot help but chuckle.
He limits turnovers. He can run. He works hard.
To him, this is rationalizing. Liking, not loving, your girlfriend.
“That’s not a ringing endorsement,” the exec says, “to say this guy can take you to the Super Bowl. That’s the standard for him. When you really watch him, when they really need him, they lose. It’s not a formula. You’ll be .500. He’ll be like he was in college. He’ll be .500 and beat some teams — if everything goes right. But if he has to step it up, that’s just not in him.”
It’s the same line of criticism we heard last season. From high school to college to the pros, it’s objectively true that Jones has never been a bonafide star. After committing to play at Princeton University, he walked on at Duke. He was OK for two seasons as a starter and then threw for 2,674 yards with 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions as a senior. The Blue Devils went 8-5 and were shellacked by Clemson (35-6) and Wake Forest (59-7) in the QB’s final two ACC contests.
Maybe it took the stars aligning for Hurts to break onto the scene in 2022… but Hurts has been destined for greatness since he could tie his shoes.
“He exudes greatness,” this longtime exec says. “That’s all he expects. Whereas somebody like Daniel Jones, they don’t know what that is. So how do you know if he’s going to get to that level? I don’t know guys that work great and all of a sudden turn out to be great.”
Parallels are hard to find. Even the most overlooked quarterback of all-time had moments of sheer greatness. Tom Brady might’ve been a sixth-round pick but Brady was also a phenomenal high school quarterback who was far better at Michigan than the fables go. Brady took down Alabama in a 35-34 Orange Bowl classic to cap his collegiate career. The exec even points to Mr. Irrelevant currently quarterbacking the San Francisco 49ers. The 6-foot-1 Brock Purdy, taken No. 262 overall last April, shattered the records for wins (30), passing yards (12,170) and touchdowns (81) at Iowa State. He played in a Big 12 Championship. He won a Fiesta Bowl.
How Purdy looked in college, he now looks in the pros.
With Jones, to him, it’s always a game of “If this…” and “If that…” projection. This exec even agrees with Simms and Gannon in his assessment of the roster. He takes it to a whole other level. When asked which players he’d consider foundational pieces to build around, he paused and stammered and said maybe tackle Andrew Thomas.
“But when you strip away everything and just watch certain things that quarterbacks do, you can really see how they perform,” he says. “Independent of anything going on around him, just watch. Or Herbert vs. Tua. If you just watched that game, that dude was getting rushed every single play, and the play’s just starting for him. It’s just starting for Justin Herbert. You can see the brilliance. Where, with Tua, it’s ‘Oh yeah. As soon as he gets a little something, the play’s over with.’ That’s the thing with Daniel. Yeah, OK. He doesn’t have receivers. But what is he doing on his own to create offense and make plays and raise the level? He’s really not. That’s the problem.”
Multiple personnel men around the NFL view the Giants as a team reliant on a broken formula in that they’re still built around… cover your ears, kids… a running back. We’ve seen how far this carries teams. The Tennessee Titans have been fueled by a Marvel character of a back — the 6-foot-3, 247-pound Derrick Henry — yet have lost to Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and Joe Burrow in three straight postseasons. Now, the Titans are in danger of missing the playoffs altogether and a total rebuild is likely looming.
If Saquon’s Saquon… if the line’s better… if a wide receiver is signed. It’s not hard for anyone to talk themselves into Jones but every January’s proof that the quarterback still needs to be the reason your team wins. Let’s say the Giants do want to go for it. This exec isn’t sure where they’ll turn.
“Where are they going to get the quarterback? Can they draft a guy? There’s no free agents at all. They’re stuck.”
This is all why Daboll was the unanimous coach of the year through New York’s 6-1 start. People in the scouting community couldn’t believe he was winning with this roster, with players their teams discarded. Then Barkley’s numbers started to decline — as one personnel man says, “the juice is gone”— and that late-game magic began to wear off.
“You’re not going to out-hustle and out-coach people,” the NFC exec says. “You need talent.”
The Bills out-hustled teams in ’17 but needed Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs to elevate.
Finding a quarterback whose play is only starting when that pressure strikes isn’t easy. Andy Reid and the Chiefs identified Texas Tech’s Mahomes as such a force and were willing to part with a future first-round pick to get him. It paid off. Shanahan mortgaged three first-rounders for Trey Lance two years after San Francisco was in the Super Bowl. He knew Jimmy Garoppolo would only take his team so far. Lance has played four games. There’s always a chance the Giants choose to mind for gold and hit the jackpot in April. Again, there are smarter football people in the building these days.
This may be the offseason that decides whether the Giants zig toward Super Bowl contention or zag back to .500 purgatory. Barkley is a free agent, too. While it’s hard to let such a talent on a talent-needy roster exit the building, we’ve also seen another round of teams instantly regret their decision to pay backs. The bar now is Philly. And Hurts. And everything GM Howie Roseman and Sirianni have built in short order. Only two years ago, Joe Judge publicly scolded the Eagles for not trying to win in the finale, which prevented them from, uh, winning the division at 6-10. Losing that game allowed the Eagles to poach the Heisman Trophy-winning Smith from New York. Hurts developed. Roseman traded for Brown. Fortunes turn quickly in the NFL.
Hall-of-Famer Kurt Warner — a stickler, as our readers know — insists Hurts is playing better than any quarterback in the NFL.
While Hurts always exemplified that air of greatness, it was usually due to his raw athletic gifts. Now, he’s also decimating defenses with his brain. In two years, Hurts’ completion percentage skyrocketed from 52 percent to 67.3 percent. The first month of this season, Warner watched Hurts as if the QB was “Cinderella” and the slipper was bound to fall off. Initially, he thought this 2022 success was a case of the coach scheming things up. Eventually, it became clear to him that Hurts was seeing a totally different game. Hurts was processing from 1… to 2…. to 3… with surgical ease.
“He has been better at that stuff all year long than any other player in the league,” Warner says. “I fight to say it hasn’t even been close.”
Improvement is possible. Gannon lived it. Gannon slipped into the right system and had the Raiders as close to a Super Bowl title as they’ve been since winning it last in 1983. Look closely and there are other gleams of hope in quarterbacks past. Alex Smith was dismissed as a milquetoast bust. To the point where the quarterback drafted after him — Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers — would relentlessly mock his head coach, Mike McCarthy, for drafting Smith No. 1 as the 49ers OC in 2005. If the Packers saw Smith check the ball down on film, Rodgers would start shouting, “Pew! Pew! Pew! Pew!” and pretend to shoot a toy gun. QBs joined in. Then, linemen. Other times, one ex-Packer told me he’d flat out say to McCarthy: “Why don’t you call, Checkdown Alex!?” and flatly “You wanted him over me.” Another round of “Pew!” peashooters wasn’t far behind.
The 49ers obviously made a big mistake, yet it’s also true that Smith endured seven different offensive coordinators in San Francisco. He later opened up to Graham Bensinger about the general toxicity those years. “Unhealthy,” he said. “Completely dysfunctional. Different people on different wavelengths, not a clear communication, not a clear goal of the entire building. Very separated. And I think that trickled into the locker room.” And from 2011- ’20, with three different teams, Smith turned it on. Smith went 80-36-1 as a starter, reached the playoffs five times and threw 148 touchdowns to only 51 interceptions.
There’s a lane for Jones to become Smith. It may be narrow. But there’s a lane.
If we believe in Daboll, maybe we also need to believe Jones’ arrow will continue to point upward. The more Simms watches the Giants — and sees how Daboll calls a game — the more he sees genuine belief.
The next step is actually quite obvious.
“Build a f--king team”
Chris Simms is an analyst for NBC Sports. Kurt Warner is at NFL Network. Rich Gannon calls games for CBS Sports.
All played the game. All watch film to religious proportions. And that’s what makes these conversations with the experts so much fun. Even though three excellent minds like these are all watching the same exact quarterbacks, all three can draw different conclusions. Simms has drawn the fury of Eagles fans for criticism of Hurts. Most recently, Eagles fans essentially treated him like Santa Claus at Veterans Stadium for saying Philly would still be “damn good” with No. 2 Gardner Minshew at QB.
Told here that Warner believes Hurts is playing better than any QB in the NFL, Simms sighs.
“Could the game be any easier for him? C’mon,” he says. “It’s the best defense in football. It’s the best O-Line in football. It’s maybe the best dual receivers in football. It’s a top 5’ish tight end in football. If you put Mahomes or Josh Allen or Burrow in the Eagles, the season’s over. We don’t even need to play a down. They’re going to win the Super Bowl. It’s over.
“Tua and Hurts, we didn’t think they could play quarterback. Now they have all-star teams around them and we’re thinking, ‘Oh, they’re MVPs.’ Which I think is ridiculous. But, no. You’ve got to help your guys out. There’s only a few in football who can make it happen no matter what.”
And, a-ha! There’s the point. There’s a solution for these New York Giants.
Who cares how we rank quarterbacks? The Eagles are Super Bowl contenders and scoring more points than any team in the NFL and they got here by aggressively accumulating talent. The draft. Free agency. Trades. Roseman missed terribly at wide receiver in choosing JJ Arcega-Whiteside over DK Metcalf (2019) and Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson (2020) but didn’t let those mistakes stop him from adding Smith and Brown the next two years. Brown received a shiny new four-year, $100 million contract, too. The Eagles rehauled the defense — swiftly—and never stopped signing stud defensive linemen. Fun fact: Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh play for the Eagles.
Says Simms: “We’ve gotten too obsessed with quarterback-quarterback-quarterback. There’s only a few to go around. How about we build a f--king team? That’s what the Eagles do. Now, the quarterback who couldn’t run the offense they wanted him to run — let’s just remind everybody — and they went two offseasons trying to get a quarterback in there. Now, they invent a new offense because they’re like, ‘He can’t run the offense we want to run.’ Now, you’re there. Same with Tua. The game couldn’t be made any easier for them. That’s why I would never vote for either one of those guys to be the MVP. That’s my thinking. I think that’s where people get a little lost sometimes. They take the team and fuse it into ‘This guy should get all the credit.’ I’m going to go, ‘He’s not even the best player on his own offense in my opinion.’”
Even here at Go Long we’ve vacillated. Right when Jones appeared primed for a leap — Golladay! Fastest MPH for a QB! — he regressed. Right when it seemed Jones was nothing more than a bridge quarterback for a new regime, he has played himself into this discussion. I suppose that’s why we love football. The unpredictability. Four years in and the career of Daniel Jones can still trend any direction.
Gannon sees a needle to thread. He believes Jones warrants an extension but that the Giants should stay in the quarterback market.
Maybe it’s not a Lance-sized trade. Daboll will be hunting.
“I’m not suggesting, all of a sudden in Daniel Jones, they go, ‘Oh, we found our franchise, perennial Pro Bowl quarterback,’” Gannon says. “What I’m saying is, it’s not like they’re a dime a dozen. It’s not like you’re going to get into free agency and see three Pro Bowlers available. That ain’t happening. OK, move forward to the draft. Where are we picking in the draft? In the Top 10? Nah, that’s not happening. OK. Now, who’s available at that position and how is that going to be an upgrade for us. There’s not going to be many options. So you better continue to coach this kid up and you better continue to get better around him until you look to improve in that area.”
If a quarterback with promise falls to the Giants in the second, third, fourth round? And Daboll sees glimpses of greatness? Go for it. Hurts was the 52nd overall pick, after all.
In the meantime, build a team. Unlike last spring, the Giants should have cash.
As Spotrac’s Michael Ginnitti aptly wrote, “there’s still a deep dividing line” between those who believe Jones should walk in free agency and those who believe he’s worth a second contract. He posits the projected $32 million franchise tag as a potential compromise. A market-adjusted equivalent to Blake Bortles’ three-year, $54 million deal in 2018 — remember Bortles took the Jags to the AFC title game in ‘17 — would be three years, $66 million. Someone’s going to pay Jones. He most certainly has created a market for himself. But this number could be feasible for all parties involved. New York will still be able to sign other players and Jones, we’d think, will crave continuity. Will want to build with Daboll.
It took dark days, but the right coach is finally leading New York. The way players speak about Daboll is similar to Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh.
He’s player-friendly, and not in a coddling fashion.
“He’s real. That’s why players love him so much,” says Hodgins, who also played for Daboll in Buffalo. “He’s not one of those coaches who’s going to sugarcoat you, and tell you one thing to your face and stuff’s not happening and you’re like, “Why?” Daboll is going to tell you: “Hey. We need more from you on that play.” Or, “Hey, you missed this play. This was a game-changing play.” Sometimes, it hurts. But it’s the truth and you respect it. And then when you do good, he doesn’t leave that out. He’ll say, “This is great.” He’ll give you the truth and he never changes. From Buffalo to here, I tell everybody, “Dabes hasn’t changed one bit. He’s fiery, passionate and he loves what he does.”
This blends with a rare level of football acumen. Daboll will often make up plays on the spot. A couple hours after the Giants install a gameplan, the head coach may pop into a meeting to change up a play and call it something else.
“It’s like, ‘Bro, where did you just think of this? We just finished this install and you’re already adding more,’” Hodgins adds. “He’s got that creative brain, that coaching brain. He sees what the defense is trying to do and he knows how to text it up perfectly.
“He does stuff like that on the fly. He sees the game in a different way.”
An ideal environment for a quarterback who’s been bloodied quite a bit.
Ownership concerns linger. After last season’s calamity, John Mara clearly took issue with our series. The owner blamed the media for creating a narrative that family has football influence — a ridiculous retort, of course. His brother, Chris, is part of the team’s ownership group and is still listed as a senior player personnel executive. He joined John and Steve Tisch for interviews with GM candidates. Schoen included. Meanwhile, John’s nephew Tim McDonnell is the first name you’ll see under the Giants’ “Player Personnel” and, hey, there he is seated next to Schoen in the suite and popping up in the Brian Flores lawsuit. While he is respected, as we wrote in The Autopsy, the worst-kept secret in the building is that it pays to be McDonnell’s friend.
Don’t forget that the Giants were dangerously close to reshuffling chairs on the Titanic. Into December, the team leaked the notion that Joe Judge would be back in 2022 and in came the report that Kevin Abrams, who’s been with the team for a quarter-century, was a leading GM candidate. The setup would’ve presumably given Judge more authority.
Instead, the Giants’ discovered a new rock bottom those final few games and averted disaster. John Mara had zero choice but to finally think outside of his own organization.
There’s hope in Daboll and Schoen.
Soon, we’ll see how much hope they have in Daniel Jones.
The beauty of this all is that nobody needs to make a decision today. As 2022 turns to 2023, Jones has a chance to start writing his own story. Beat the lowly Colts on New Year’s Day and the Giants are in the playoffs.
Keep winning? Ask Eli Manning what that can do for your future in New York.
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