Joe Schoen said the “expectation” is that Daniel Jones, when he is healthy and fully recovered from the torn ACL which was surgically repaired last week, will resume his place as the starting quarterback of the Giants.
That’s exactly what you would think the general manager, who just eight months ago put the full weight of his office and the organization behind a four-year, $160 million contract to retain Jones’ services, would say.
But Schoen also left enough wiggle room in his verbiage and answered other questions about the future of that critical position during his press conference on Monday, in a way that suggests expectations are not necessarily locked into reality.
Schoen would not rule out drafting another quarterback in April with what, despite a two-game winning streak that has impacted their potential spot in the first-round order, still figures to be a very high pick. And he further acknowledged that the Giants might have to add a capable veteran in case Jones is not back for the 2024 season opener.
“If the best player available for our team is at a certain position, we’ll take it,” Schoen said. “We're still working through all that and the offseason progress. We have to come up with a plan… We'll look at all different avenues there.”
In other words, he didn’t say much at all.
“Nobody has a crystal ball on this,” he said.
That’s the smart play at this time: Tip-toe through the abstruse without setting foot firmly on either side of the biggest issue facing this team.
Schoen has options and he should keep as many of them open as he can. There’s no need to fully and unconditionally commit to Jones, just as there is nothing to gain from openly declaring that the Giants are in the hunt for his replacement (which, if you follow Schoen and the other big scouts in the organization throughout their travels, is hard to deny). Too many things can happen between now and free agency in March, the draft in April, the start of training camp in July, and the 2024 regular season opener in September.
At some point, though, Schoen and the Giants have to stop living in this half-in, half-out double-talking world they have created around Jones, with a contract that seems to indicate long-term commitment but is also structured so they can reasonably get out of it after the 2024 season — should the tantalizing possibility of the coaching staff and front office finally getting to pick their own prospect to groom into the centerpiece of the offense come along.
Not now. Maybe not even this offseason. But soon. Very soon.
Schoen needs to close his eyes, envision himself on a midfield stage with confetti falling around him on a February evening in the near future, and think very hard about who he sees standing next to him to hold that big silver baby that will join its four brothers in the Giants’ trophy case. Is it Jones? Caleb Williams or Drake Maye? Someone else?
There is a danger to declaring that daydream aloud, no doubt. The Giants know Jones. They know how he works and what he brings to their team.
Schoen didn’t talk much about Jones’ play this year, but he made sure to mention that he spotted the player walking across the parking lot on Monday morning carrying and not using his crutches. This was five days after surgery.
“You guys all know Daniel and his work ethic,” Schoen said. “He’s probably a guy we’re going to have to pull back.”
True. Jones has remained a presence in team meetings, too. His teammates rave about his leadership and his even-keeled presence in tough times. He is an absolutely ideal off-the-field quarterback, everything any franchise could ask for.
“We still believe in Daniel and the person,” Schoen said proudly.
On the field? That’s where things get a lot more debatable with his 23-36-1 career record, 62 career touchdown passes (but only 38 in the 47 starts since his rookie year) and 64 career turnovers (40 interceptions, 24 lost fumbles).
He’s a better option than a lot of teams have right now, no doubt, but definitely not as good as the top teams enjoy.
“The guy won 10 games, he won a road playoff game for the Giants [last season],” Schoen said when asked why he still backs Jones. But asked why Jones and the Giants struggled earlier this season, Schoen said: “There’s 11 guys out there and everybody’s got to be on the same page and do their job… The quarterback position is important, but it’s ultimately a team game and it’s not all on Daniel by any means.”
So when the Giants win it’s hip-hip-hooray for Jones, but when they lose it is suddenly on everyone? Don’t the Giants deserve to have a quarterback who can transcend that thinking? Someone who can overcome imperfections at receiver and the offensive line? The teams that have those in today’s NFL are the ones that contend for rings.
Everyone else is just spinning their wheels.
The risk, of course, is having to start over with a rookie who may or may not develop into the kind of player the scouts project. Every year there are a handful of quarterbacks who are plucked off the board at the top of the draft, and most years it’s a worse than 50-50 proposition that they even become adequate players, nevermind franchise changers.
Schoen said he was recently perusing through the 2018 draft class that included Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen.
“How many of those guys are starters? How many are with different teams?” Schoen asked aloud. “Some are out of the league that were taken in the first round from that draft.”
That draft also included Josh Allen taken seventh overall (hmm, right around where the Giants might be picking) by a Buffalo front office Schoen was a big part of, not to mention this year’s potential MVP Lamar Jackson, who was selected 32nd.
The teams that truly dug in, were patient, and had a vision for their pick, did well. The ones that stretched for a quarterback simply because they needed one and felt the pressure to make a splash pick, did not.
It's pretty clear which type of team Schoen wants the Giants to be this spring, and what type of team he wants them to be in the not-very-distant regular seasons.
If the Giants have an opportunity this offseason to add a quarterback who they are convinced will give them a better chance at winning a Super Bowl in the next five years than Jones currently does, they would be foolish to pass on that player to justify the contract they gave Jones.
Schoen clearly isn’t yet ready to state a final decision on any of this, and probably isn’t even ready to make one in the privacy of his own thoughts. Give him time. There is still scouting and mulling and soul-searching to do in this process. And the not always on-schedule healing process for Jones, who he has as the “expected” returning starter already on the 2024 roster.
But if this season has taught Schoen and the Giants anything — from the disastrously slow start, to the injuries to Jones and other key players, to the pleasantly surprising play of undrafted rookie Tommy DeVito — it must be that expectations can and often do change very quickly.