There is nothing quite like this moment in the life of an NFL franchise.
The mix of emotions is exhilarating. There is hope. There is anticipation. And yes, there is fear — fear that for all the trust placed in this move, it will end in disappointment.
This is the moment for Daniel Jones.
For Giants fans.
And for a Giants organization that needs to find its way back to respectability.
This moment came much sooner than anyone reasonably could have expected, especially after the assurances given Eli Manning that he would get ample opportunity to try to shape the offense. But a mere eight quarters of football convinced Pat Shurmur that it was time to make the move to the young man on whom the team has staked its future.
Much like Manning’s moment in 2004, when he took over for Kurt Warner after nine games and began a career that soon would become a potential Hall of Fame run, Jones now takes his first steps as the Giants’ quarterback. He can only hope to achieve a run similar to that of Manning, who never missed a game because of injury and delivered two Super Bowl titles.
It is a lot to ask of a player who was a walk-on at Duke, threw only 52 touchdown passes in three seasons with the Blue Devils and became one of the most polarizing figures coming into the draft because of the wide disparity of opinions about the trajectory his NFL career would take.
To many, he didn’t have the arm strength and resourcefulness to make it at the next level. To others, he was too robotic for the position and would be swallowed up by complicated NFL defenses.
But to the Giants, he was exactly what they were looking for. Smart. Athletic. Tough. Patient. Composed.
The same qualities they saw in Manning more than 15 years ago.
Unlike Manning, who had a pedigree that made him a consensus choice at No. 1 overall in 2004, Jones enjoyed no such advantage. He thus stepped forward on draft night to a cascade of boos and derision after being introduced as the sixth overall pick.
Jones has done a commendable job in quieting that criticism, partly by not lashing out at it but more by showing an adaptability to Shurmur’s offense that was underscored with a mostly excellent preseason performance as Manning’s backup.
The stakes now are much, much higher, and the training wheels are off. Jones is about to face live defenses, starting with the Bucs, whose defensive coordinator, former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, can be expected to throw an array of blitzes at the rookie.
It will be a most challenging welcome for Jones. It also will be one he relishes despite the awkward backdrop to his first NFL start.
“I’m excited for the opportunity,” Jones said. “Obviously, it’s a unique circumstance, but I’m excited for the opportunity. I certainly feel good about how far I have come in my preparation and my progress since I got here in the spring, through camp and through these first couple weeks. I feel ready and I’m certainly looking forward to the opportunity.”
Changing quarterbacks is always a big deal in the NFL, but changing to the quarterback you believe is going to carry your franchise for more than a decade . . . well, that’s as meaningful as it gets.
But for all the optimism surrounding Jones’ insertion into the lineup, the cold, hard reality is that he takes over a team that is floundering and faces circumstances beyond one player’s control.
The defense is woeful, no matter how much defensive coordinator James Bettcher tries to explain it away.
Jones inherits an offense that is bereft of genuine talent at wide receiver. Sterling Shepard is back this week after missing the Buffalo game with a concussion, but Golden Tate still is serving a four-game PED suspension and the rest of the receivers are mediocre.
Perhaps rookie Darius Slayton, who might return from a hamstring injury, could change that narrative, but the absence of Odell Beckham Jr. can’t be swept aside. Plenty of Giants fans are happy to be rid of Beckham’s me-first antics, but you can’t dispute his talent. That much was plain to see when Beckham singlehandedly dominated the Jets in the Browns’ Monday night beatdown of the Giants’ MetLife Stadium co-occupants.
The Giants’ problems run deep, but Jones will get the chance to put his stamp on the team despite the adverse circumstances that led to his promotion in the first place.
“He’s a unique guy,” offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. “His demeanor doesn’t change much. He’s been really good, he’s on top of things. He’s been really good throughout, and very consistent throughout all of our practices.”
Jones has done everything possible to prepare for the moment, but there are sure to be problems ahead. That’s just the way it is with rookie quarterbacks . . . and even many veteran passers, for that matter. It’s a complicated game, the burden of expectation often is unrealistic and the pressure to succeed immediately can be smothering.
But Jones has a good temperament for dealing with the inevitable ups and downs that lie ahead, and his even-keeled personality certainly will help.
“I feel like I’m ready to embrace it,” Jones said. “I think focusing on what we’re doing here, focusing on what we’re doing in the building and our preparation with my teammates, with my coaches. I feel like I can embrace that, and I am looking forward to the opportunity.”
The moment is here, the one that the Giants hope will begin to transform the franchise.
It’s Daniel Jones’ team now . . . for better or worse.