There is an inevitable changing of the guard with the Giants, a seismic quarterback shift that is only a matter of time from taking place. It may not be this month, or even this season. But it’s coming. Of that, there is no doubt.
There is a quarterback maturation process with the Jets, with Sam Darnold transforming from uncertain rookie starter to self-assured leader of a team that is suddenly filled with expectation. That may not mean a stratospheric improvement from last year’s 4-12 season to a playoff run just yet, but there is legitimate hope around here for the first time in years.
Welcome to the 2019 NFL season in New York, where both teams are undergoing fundamental and consequential changes the likes of which we have rarely seen occurring simultaneously.
With Eli Manning’s heir apparent, Daniel Jones, already flashing signs that he can one day take over the offense and flourish the way a No. 6 overall pick is expected, the Giants are at a flashpoint similar to the one that Manning was at the center of 15 years ago. That’s when he took his first uncertain steps as the team’s starter on the way to developing into a two-time Super Bowl MVP.
That is an awful lot to ask of any quarterback, but Jones understands the burden of expectation now that he is in position to eventually take over for Manning. In fact, he welcomes it.
“It’s part of the position, part of the role here,” Jones said about playing in the crucible that is the New York market. “I’m certainly accepting of that and willing to take that on.”
It is a daunting scenario for any athlete, but particularly one who must eventually follow in the footsteps of a potential Hall of Fame player whose place in franchise history is secure. Manning experienced a different pressure when he arrived here in 2004, although being the No. 1 pick and coming to the Giants after a blockbuster draft-day trade certainly had its challenges.
For Jones, his eventual ascension carries a somewhat more complicated equation. Even though Manning’s best days are behind him, the fact that Jones will some day follow in his footsteps means a potentially higher degree of difficulty in trying to live up to Manning’s legacy.
Giants fans may be weary of Manning’s inability in recent years to consistently get the most of out his offense, but we’ve seen it time and time again when aging stars leave the game. Once they are gone, their flaws are soon forgotten or overlooked, and the peak moments are remembered most. So, while there might be a short-term bump Jones might enjoy simply by beginning with a clean slate, his growing pains will be a reminder that there is a long way to go before his career can be mentioned in the same breath as Manning’s.
Will he be a two-time Super Bowl winner with historic victories over a team like the Patriots? Or will he turn out to be good, not great? Or, worse yet, will he disappoint and set the Giants back? It’s all too soon to know, but at least we are about to find that out. And the answer will likely determine whether the Giants can move forward as a championship contender or not. And whether Dave Gettleman’s legacy as the general manager who staked his reputation on Jones will be among the most important in franchise history.
It’s a consequential time for the Giants, all right. One of the most consequential in their nearly century-old history.
The same holds true for the Jets, who believe that Darnold may be their best chance at being the next best thing to Joe Namath, the only quarterback to have raised a championship trophy for a team so often used to disappointment. That was more than half a century ago, and the Jets haven’t returned to the Super Bowl since.
But Darnold does not shrink from the daunting task. Rather, he welcomes the opportunity of turning the Jets into champions. He showed plenty of promise as a rookie, especially in the final month of the season after recovering from a foot injury. And with quarterback whisperer coach Adam Gase now calling the shots on what should be an imaginative offense that also features tailback Le’Veon Bell, Darnold can expect to flourish.
“I’m ready to roll,” Darnold said. “As a quarterback, you have to be able to lead. There’s not a better way to put it, I don’t think. On Sundays, there’s no room for error. I have to be very outspoken about what’s right and what’s wrong.”
Darnold has checked all the right boxes so far: experience as a rookie starter, improvement in the off-season program, training camp and preseason, and a high football IQ that makes him able to adapt to unforeseen circumstances.
Two young quarterbacks, two teams in transition, and all of it happening at the same time.
There hasn’t been a more collectively consequential time in New York football than now.