They are the two words that define Daniel Jones’ time with the Giants, two words that every fan has experienced in watching his career unfold since Jones was drafted with the sixth overall pick in 2019:
Hope and heartbreak.
Dave Gettleman staked his reputation on Jones, believing he had the talent and the grit to survive and thrive in the toughest market in pro football. Yet, for all the conviction the Giants’ erstwhile general manager had in the Duke quarterback, Jones hasn’t transformed the flashes of excellence into sustained success.
There was hope from the very first start of his career, when he led the Giants to a spectacular comeback win over the Buccaneers in his NFL debut at Tampa in Week 3 of the 2019 season. But there has been mostly heartbreak since, as evidenced by a 12-25 career record and his inability to stay on the field like his predecessor. Eli Manning’s successor has simply not lived up to all that Gettleman saw in him, a big reason Gettleman is no longer with the team.
The 25-year-old quarterback is now on his second GM and third head coach, and he can only hope that Brian Daboll can help bring out the best in him and finally keep the hope and lose the heartbreak.
He likes what the coach has to offer.
“I think [Daboll’s system] gives us the ability to put a lot of different guys in different spots that kind of cater to their skill sets and allow them to do what they’re best at,” Jones said Tuesday after his first mini-camp practice in this, the Giants’ final week of workouts before training camp opens in late July. “I think it’s pretty versatile that way, and there’s tons of different concepts, there are a lot of moving parts trying to keep the defense on their heels, so yeah, I think all that stuff is great.”
Daboll earned his way to the Giants by doing fine work in developing Josh Allen in Buffalo, and the fifth-year quarterback is now among the NFL elite and has the Bills in position to compete for a Super Bowl. But Jones doesn’t have the physical skills of Allen, so it’s completely unrealistic to expect that kind of success in 2022. Especially with a depleted roster left behind by Gettleman. And the injuries don’t help; on Tuesday, Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney and Sterling Shepard were all on the sidelines recovering from their ailments in advance of training camp.
The better way to evaluate Jones is against what he has done in the past. He had a promising rookie season with 24 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions, but he combined for just 21 touchdown throws the previous two seasons under offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. The hope now is that Daboll, a noted quarterback whisperer whose best work came with Allen, can put Jones in a better environment.
But no amount of coaching can transform a player who simply doesn’t have the upside of a big-time quarterback, and it remains to be seen whether Jones can be much better than he has already shown. He simply might not have what it takes to get to the next level, in which case the Giants will move on to a different quarterback in 2023.
For now, Daboll remains optimistic.
“He’s made progress,” Daboll said of Jones’ off-season work. “He's done a good job. He's really studied. You know, it's different. He's opened up I would say a good amount here. When you're installing a new system, usually players, particularly quarterbacks, they're going to do whatever you ask them to do. It's really important for our coaches on the offensive side and the defensive side, but with the quarterback to get input and to figure out some of the stuff they like.”
Jones continues to study Daboll’s offense in Buffalo, where Allen went from talented, yet raw rookie to a polished veteran whose name can now be mentioned in the same breath as Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson.
“I think we'll continue to watch their stuff, continue to watch their plays,” Jones said of the Bills. “It comes up when we’re installing plays, when we're looking back at plays you’ve already installed.”
But Jones can’t look at the Bills’ offense and try to do his best imitation of Allen.
“Daniel just has got to be Daniel,” said guard Jon Feliciano, who played with Allen in Buffalo from 2019-21. “He has to have time to be Daniel. I think that’s our job up front is to give him his time. That dude can put the ball wherever he wants to put it. He just needs time. No one is ever going to be Josh Allen. I think Daniel just needs to be himself.”
Now the question is whether Jones’ best version of himself is good enough.
Or if there is more heartbreak than hope in the months ahead.