Barely four months after he was welcomed to the Giants amidst a hail of boos and a barrage of second-guesses, Daniel Jones now finds himself in the middle of yet another contentious debate: Whether he should replace Eli Manning as the starting quarterback.
As in, replace him now.
It’s a stunning turnabout for a player who was the subject of so much criticism as he walked onto a makeshift stage in Nashville in April to accept the requisite handshake and bear hug from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. General manager Dave Gettleman was torched back then for taking the Duke quarterback that early with the No. 6 pick in the first round, especially when he had the 17th overall pick in as a result of the Odell Beckham Jr. trade.
But now a sizeable portion of the fan base — and more than a few in the media — that directed so much invective at Gettleman for taking Jones is suddenly in favor of pulling the plug on Manning and going with Jones from Day 1 of the regular season.
Sorry, too soon. Now is not the time.
Coach Pat Shurmur is sticking to his plan of keeping Manning as his starter, and while he won’t say the actual words “Eli Manning will be in the starting lineup in Dallas on Sept. 8,” he continues to say that Manning is his starter. The coach’s actions are consistent with that statement; Manning won’t play in Thursday’s preseason finale against the Patriots in Foxborough, and Jones will. Which means that Manning, like virtually every other key starter around the league, is being held out to be ready for the regular season.
As the starter.
As it should be.
Look, it’s great that Jones has progressed to the point that this is even a conversation. Had he struggled with the offense, as is often the case with rookie quarterbacks, there wouldn’t have been even a hint of debate about whether Jones should take over from Manning this soon.
But Jones has looked quite good and has progressed as well as can be expected. He has made great strides since his first rookie minicamp and has played well — very well — in game action. He is 25 of 30 with two touchdown passes, no interceptions and a 140.1 rating. He did have two fumbles against the Bears’ second-team defense. And there was another fumble against the Bengals, although that was hardly his fault after getting blasted from behind because of a missed block by Nate Solder.
But is it a large enough body of work to convince Shurmur that Jones is ready? No, it is not.
And if Shurmur must endure some criticism for not going with the quarterback of the future in the here-and-now, so be it. He’s doing the right thing by keeping Manning as his starter.
Which is fine by Jones, who understands this is a work in progress.
“I think I realized there would be good days, bad days and a lot of learning,” he said of his early NFL experience. “This is a big step for anyone, just adjusting to playing in the NFL, so it’s been good, but I think I realized there would be a lot to learn and there are a lot of things still to learn. It’s been a good process so far.”
Jones willingly acknowledges the fact that Manning is the starter. Only until the evidence presents itself that the 38-year-old is fully incapable of handling the job should Jones take over the offense.
Gettleman has mentioned the Kansas City model as the preferred path, likening the Giants’ situation to Alex Smith giving way in Year 2 to Patrick Mahomes, who blossomed into the NFL’s MVP in 2018. That seemed to work out fine, and there’s no telling whether Mahomes would have been as far along had he been the starter as a rookie.
It’s a moot point now, because the Chiefs have emerged as a Super Bowl contender. The Giants don’t have the kind of talent around Jones that the Chiefs have around Mahomes, so expecting an instant turnaround isn’t a reasonable outcome.
But having Jones begin his career behind Manning and learning from a true professional will offer rewards down the road. Which is why Shurmur is making the right call by going with Manning until he sees it’s time for a change.