Daniel Jones has had three different locker locations since joining the Giants. As a rookie, he was set up next to Eli Manning to allow him to soak up as much as he could from the veteran. During the height of the pandemic, when everyone and everything was as spaced out as possible, he moved across the room but had hardly any neighbors.
Now he has one of the best seats in the house.
It’s right in the middle of the room, next to the door, so anyone who has to see a trainer or take a shower or soak in a tub walks right past him. Some nod politely; many stop to chat. They talk about a play at practice or plans for dinner or anything else they are thinking about. Sometimes they gather in groups to kibitz, other times they feign some boxing moves on his shoulder.
This new location has made Jones the undisputed center of attention in the locker room, which is an appropriate spot for the starting quarterback. The whole team, literally and figuratively, revolves around him. He seems overwhelmingly comfortable in that role and it is glaringly obvious that everyone is comfortable with him.
Lately, it has become clear that is a skill not every quarterback in the league possesses. Often it is to their detriment.
While production and winning remain the ultimate measures of a quarterback in the NFL, the ability to be relatable and in touch with the rest of the team has become more and more significant.
Whether it’s Russell Wilson, whose recent birthday party attendance became a barometer for his popularity with the Broncos in a strange homage to Bo Callahan from the movie “Draft Day”; Carson Wentz, who has been trailed by tales of aloofness from Philadelphia to Indianapolis to Washington, where he now is healthy and on the bench; or right here, where Mike White is putting on a clinic in quarterback humility and politics for Zach Wilson to observe and ideally learn from, leadership and likability have become not only synonymous with each other but critical to a quarterback’s success.
What should be the easiest part of the job — not being a jerk — often can be the downfall of otherwise talented players. Nice guys don’t always finish in first place in the NFL these days, but rarely do they seem to finish last.
“I think that’s very important,” Giants quarterbacks coach Shea Tierney said. “The quarterback, right, wrong or indifferent, is always the face of the franchise, if you will. So having that kind of personality that guys kind of gravitate to and can joke around and have fun with is what you want.”
That’s something Jones has always been able to navigate no matter where his locker has been located. Though it has taken time for him to catch up to the league with his ball security and decision-making matters, he arrived as a rookie who immediately was embraced by the team.
That’s part of why he was able to withstand the learning curve of mostly bad football speckled with dynamic plays that marked his early career. Guys may have been frustrated by losing, but they never seemed to get frustrated with Jones.
“You never find anyone who has a bad word to say about him, from all the people in the building: the video guys, the equipment guys, the people upstairs, the players,” Tierney said. “He’s just got a really good way about him with everybody, and that’s a really good thing to see for the building.”
Consciously or not, White has the same persona elsewhere in the Garden State. Unlike Wilson, who often walks in and out of the locker room without anyone even bothering to look up, White can barely make his way across the space without getting stopped by someone. Usually it’s several someones. And he stops for just about all of those encounters.
“I think that’s the best part about football is the camaraderie of it and the locker room and hanging out with the guys,” White said. “Not a lot of people get to go to work and just hang out and play a sport for a living. While I’m doing that, I know I’m going to try my best to get to know everybody, enjoy it, mess around with them, talk some crap on the football field, and then come in here and maybe play some dominoes or cards and hang out with them. I just genuinely enjoy that part. And I think when you develop relationships that way, then you go out on the field, that comes to life and you can build off of it.”
Giants backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor has been on many teams throughout his 12-year career, sometimes as the starter and sometimes not. He’s seen a lot of different styles of quarterback play on the field and in the locker room.
“Obviously, your play is what stands out, but I think as far as being a likable person, I think you have to be respected more so than be liked,” Taylor said. “How you command the offense and how you’re respected throughout the team . . . I think it’s what makes the great ones great. Those guys will find a way to challenge themselves but also challenge their teammates to be better.”
Taylor said Jones has that attribute. “He’s done a great job of commanding obviously the offensive huddle, but just the offensive room in general, every position,” Taylor said. “Even the defensive side has a ton of respect for him.”
Does that make him a great quarterback? No. It might not even make him the Giants’ quarterback next season. The front office is still evaluating Jones’ place in the team’s future with six games and a possible playoff berth to go in this final year of his contract. They could move on and either bring in a veteran through free agency or draft a rookie to basically start a rebuild from the beginning.
Whomever they pick to lead the team on the field certainly will have the arm strength, playbook awareness, athleticism and other attributes the Giants and other teams covet. There are lots of players out there who probably rank higher than Jones in those areas. But they will be wise to consider other soft skills quarterbacks clearly need to rely on these days in order to succeed.
As recent trends in the league have shown, there are lots who will never measure up to Jones in that regard.