Daniel Jones has more than enough on his plate before his first career NFL start to worry about what might happen if he fails. The rookie was in a tough spot on Wednesday afternoon but said all the right things, so in one important way, Eli Manning’s replacement has demonstrated that he is ready for this job.
“I understand the responsibility. I understand the challenge,” Jones said at his press conference. “But I’m certainly looking forward to it.”
Who knows? He might go down to Tampa, beat the Buccaneers and get this Giants team on a roll. He needs to at least prove that he is worthy of that No. 6 overall pick over the next 14 games, because if he doesn’t look the part, the men who put him in this position will have nowhere to hide when it is time to assess blame for this team’s latest lost season.
I do not for a minute buy this narrative that starting a rookie quarterback should absolve the current Giants leadership if this team bottoms out again. If Jones struggles and the supporting cast around him fails to show improvement over these next three months, then co-owner John Mara should admit his latest mistake and clean house.
A team can win and build at the same time. I know this because general manager Dave Gettleman said so after declaring that his team had a “really good offseason.” Gettleman was not available to address the Manning news, so we were left to sort through his old quotes — called them Gettle-gems — and wonder what he might be thinking.
“I have my beliefs on how we’re going to build a roster and that’s what we’re doing,” Gettleman said at the owner’s meetings. “I laugh at ‘I have no plan.’ My wife every once in a while texts me, ‘You working on your plan yet?’ It’s pretty funny stuff.”
So how, exactly, was this the plan: Bring back the 38-year-old quarterback with $23 million left on his contract to bench him after two games? How does that make sense, from either a business or a football standpoint?
A full 20 percent of the team’s salary-cap space is now going to two players, Manning ($23.2 million) and Odell Beckham Jr. ($16 million), who will not be on the field this weekend in Tampa. The Giants lead the NFL with more than $35 million in dead money — cash that could have been used to improve the roster. This is an epic level of mismanagement.
This team wasn’t terrible in the first two games solely because of Manning. It stinks because Gettleman jettisoned defensive veterans without adequately replacing them. It stinks because the receiving corps looks like the bottom of your fantasy football league’s waiver wire and the head coach can’t find a way to build his offense around the league’s best running back.
To be clear: I do not expect, and never did expect, this team to make the playoffs. But if this season spirals out of control and to the bottom of the NFL, is Mara really going to trust Gettleman to make that high draft choice again?
At least the Dolphins, the league’s undisputed worst team, are trying to lose. The Giants look like a close second — I know, I know, the Jets are demanding that we hold their beer as I make that statement — despite Gettleman’s baffling collection of win-now moves.
Gettleman is the one who, on draft night this spring, puffed out his chest and floated the idea of using “the Green Bay model where (Aaron) Rodgers sat for three years.” Jones didn’t sit for three games! Gettleman, Shurmur and Mara seemed insulted at an insinuation that Manning wasn’t capable of playing at a high level any more.
“False narrative,” is what the GM called it.
Now, two weeks into the season, he will head to the bench. Manning handled the decision with dignity and class as usual, but when we asked if he felt like he was misled about how this transition season was going to play out during the offseason, his answer was telling: “I’m not getting into all that.”
Jones can change the narrative on his own, of course. This move isn’t just about the long-term future. The rookie is more mobile and, based on his performance in training camp and the preseason, more accurate on deep throws. He can make an immediate impact — if he’s the player the Giants expected when they took him sixth overall.
We’ll begin to find out in Tampa. Finding a franchise quarterback is the most difficult and important job for a general manager, and if Jones really is the guy, Gettleman will see his rock-bottom favorability rating in this fan base start to rise.
If Jones doesn’t look the part and this team heads to another 3-13 type disaster? Then Mara shouldn’t wait until 2020 or beyond to push the eject button.