Joe Judge went months without so much as referring to his starting quarterback by name, choosing instead to see with his own eyes what kind of player he had. But if the Giants’ first-year coach didn’t mention Daniel Jones after getting the job in January, Judge appears firmly committed to Jones as his guy moving forward.
And not just for the team’s final two games against Baltimore and Dallas.
Asked Wednesday if Jones is his guy next year, Judge replied, "Daniel Jones is our quarterback."
It was as definitive a statement as you’ll get from a coach who plays things close to the vest. And, while there is certainly some wiggle room there in the event Judge and the rest of the organization change their minds in the coming months and decide to go in another direction, it sure doesn’t sound as though that is likely.
"Watching Daniel work, watching the respect he has in the locker room, watching him improve throughout this season, I think he’s demonstrated a level of toughness and leadership and knowledge on the field that gives us confidence to put him out there and build with Daniel," Judge said.
There may not have been the kind of "a-ha moment" that convinced Judge he can win with Daniel. But there has been enough for the coach to believe that Jones can grow into the job moving forward.
"I’m not going to point to one moment, but I can talk about this entire season of this guy has definitely earned my respect," Judge said. "I kind of made it very hard on him from the beginning in a lot of ways and he hasn’t blinked."
Jones is hoping to return to the lineup on Sunday against the Ravens in a virtual must-win game for the Giants, who are a game behind the Washington Football Team in the NFC East. And, while his primary focus is dealing with Baltimore’s defense, Jones was appreciative of his coach’s vote of confidence.
"I’ve learned a ton from coach Judge and enjoyed working with him," Jones said. "My job is to earn it every day, and that’s the approach that you have to take in this league. Come in every single day, earn your job, work hard, do what you’re asked to do, improve as a player every day, and that’s what I’m focused on. I’ll continue to do that."
But if Jones is to be considered the Giants quarterback of the present and future, then he will have to become a more vibrant quarterback who is good enough to produce points at a rate more in keeping with the league’s top teams. And that is simply not happening now; even before Jones suffered hamstring and ankle injuries that kept him out of Sunday night’s 20-6 loss to the Browns.
Jones has just eight touchdown passes in 12 starts. Of this year’s starters, only New England’s Cam Newton (five) has fewer. That is simply not a sustainable total in a league in which it has never been easier to throw the football. This is not your father’s NFL, where great defense and a strong running game could overcome average quarterback play. This is a passing league, and the quarterback must be able to solve defenses with regularity – certainly greater regularity than Jones has shown.
Mitigating circumstances? Absolutely. Jones has been without Pro Bowl running back Saquon Barkley for most of the season. The offensive line play, while improved in many areas, is still not as good as it needs to be. And Jones doesn’t have the kind of All-Pro receiver that many other great quarterbacks have – like Patrick Mahomes with Tyreek Hill in Kansas City, Aaron Rodgers with Davante Adams in Green Bay, and Russell Wilson with DK Metcalf in Seattle.
But those are all elite quarterbacks who can survive even with lesser talent at receiver; Jones still hasn’t convinced us that he has the capability to dominate even with a full complement of skill players and a quality offensive line. Maybe Judge can project Jones’ future and see someone who can develop over time and be a championship-caliber performer.
For now, though, this is all about the possibilities for what lies ahead, because there hasn’t been enough definitive proof that Jones can get himself to the next level and get the Giants into contender status. Judge likes what Jones has done behind the scenes, but at some point, Jones has to show in the scene – on game day – that he can be the guy.
And unless and until that day comes, Jones will be something less than the Giants had envisioned when they picked him sixth overall in 2019. No matter how committed Judge feels for now.