There are 32 NFL teams, and at any given time, there are about only a dozen carve-their-names-in-stone quarterbacks starting in the league. So what do you do if you’re a team without one of those lucky dozen? There’s a lot of hope and prayer involved. You hope the incoming quarterback draft class is deep. You pray that your scouts can unearth a hidden gem. You cycle through backup and free-agent quarterbacks, looking for treasure among other teams’ castoffs.
Or, if you’re the New York Giants, you keep pumping quarters into your same slot machine, hoping it’ll finally pay off on one of these pulls.
The Giants’ payoff for four years’ worth of waiting on Daniel Jones hit Sunday, as New York clinched its first playoff berth in six seasons with a 38-10 whomping of the hapless Colts. Jones delivered in the most crucial game of his career, throwing for two touchdowns and running for two more, and as head coach Brian Daboll pulled him from the game for a curtain call, the MetLife Field crowd chanted “Dan-iel Jones!” and “MVP!”
“It beats the alternative, for sure,” Jones said after the game.
Quite the turnaround from June 2019, when a Yankee Stadium crowd booed Jones before he’d even taken a professional snap, and from most of the MetLife games since then, when the surly Giants fans booed him loud enough to be heard all across the tri-state area.
“Every single day he comes in to work,” teammate Saquon Barkley said on the field after the game. “And it’s about time he starts getting some damn respect, for real.”
Jones has led the Giants back to the postseason. Now the Giants have to decide whether he’s the man to lead them going forward. Giants owner John Mara appears primed to give Jones that respect, in the form of a multi-year deal. NFL Network reported Sunday that the Giants are preparing to offer both Jones and Barkley multi-year deals, though the franchise tag is out there as a possibility for one of them.
“To draft [Jones] as high as we drafted him, we got a lot of criticism,” Mara told the New York Post. “He took a lot of criticism. To see him come into his own is very gratifying.”
To be fair, though, the criticism of both team and quarterback wasn’t unjustified. The Giants have wallowed in a grim no man’s land for Jones’ entire career — not good enough to make the postseason, but not bad enough to justify blowing it all up and starting from dirt either. New York hasn’t won a playoff game since the 2011-season Super Bowl, and haven’t even reached the postseason since the 2016 season, three full-time head coaches ago.
New York selected Jones sixth overall in 2019 with the obvious (and, as it unfolded, heavily botched) endgame of replacing franchise legend Eli Manning. It’s easy to play after-the-fact draft expert, but if New York had stuck with Manning for one more year, the Giants would have been picking in a draft that included Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts. Or, if the Giants had gone QB with the No. 2 pick they spent on Barkley in 2018, they could have had their choice of Josh Allen or Lamar Jackson (great picks) or Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen (eh, not so much).
Jones produced a few highlights, like a five-touchdown performance against Washington his rookie season and a massive 80-yard run against the Eagles in 2020. But just as often, his miscues turned him into social media meat — he stumbled and ended up falling on the 8-yard line on that monster run, for instance — and the Giants as a team won a grand total of 14 games in his first three seasons.
So the Giants and Jones were stuck with each other, and for the first few years of Jones’ career, that’s exactly what it felt like: the Giants holding on to Jones like he was the interception-throwing devil they knew rather than potentially falling into a catastrophic Jets-style abyss.
The image of Jones as an overwhelmed, interception-slinging stopgap has persisted — fueled, in part, by New York’s April decision not to pick up his fifth-year option — but he’s spent 2022 rewriting his own narrative. He leads the league with a 1.1 percent interception percentage. He’s eighth in the league in completion percentage. He ranks 13th — which, you’ll note, is just outside the top dozen — in quarterback rating, and 15th in total yardage. He can win games with his feet, having rushed for 708 yards (fifth-best among quarterbacks) and seven touchdowns on the season.
Most notably, he’s led five game-winning drives, tied with Herbert and Tom Brady and behind only Kirk Cousins’ eight in that category. That’s the kind of impression that sticks with New York fans, the kind of bravura performance that lets you leave the field riding cheers rather than boos.
“The whole season, like there's so many critical plays, so many moments where he stepped up and was big for us and gave us the opportunity,” Barkley said. “And you know what, we're going to need it. We're going to need a couple more of that down the stretch.”
The question now is whether Jones has produced the best contract-year performance in New York sports since … well, since Aaron Judge’s 62 home runs last year. If the Giants decide his recent play warrants a longer-term deal, they’ll spend the offseason hoping that his recent statistical upswing is a trend, not the apex of a bounce.
“I get here pretty early and every single time I get here early, there's a car that is going to be here before me and it's Daniel Jones. He's the first one in and last one to leave,” Barkley said. “He's a heck of a player, a heck of a guy, a heck of a teammate and he's our captain, our leader. When you have that guy at the quarterback position, you believe you can win any game.”
Jones doesn’t have the overwhelming presence of Allen, the artistry of Patrick Mahomes, the Swiss-Army-knife utility of Hurts, or even the swagger of Burrow. But he’s managed to get his teammates, his team execs and his fans on his side, a trifecta that’s tough to achieve in New York. Jones might never be great, but he’s good enough — and for the Giants, “good enough” will work just fine for now.
Contact Jay Busbee at email@example.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.