The Giants don’t know if they have seen the last of Daniel Jones this season. They seem only a bit more certain they have seen enough from him to move into the offseason with him as the franchise’s starting quarterback.
"I feel good about Daniel already," Joe Judge said on Wednesday after noting that Jones’ situation from a neck injury remains "status quo" with the expectation remaining that he will miss Sunday’s game against the Cowboys. "Daniel’s done a good job growing for us. We’re going to keep on pushing forward with him."
That’s certainly not a strong enough statement to preclude the Giants from dabbling in the quarterback markets in the coming months, whether it be free agency, trades or the draft. Last year they were so committed to Jones that they ignored any other opportunities at the position. In fact, it was about a year ago that Judge declared Jones the team’s quarterback of the future.
"You always want to know about is Daniel our guy," he told reporters toward the end of the 2020 schedule. "Are we going forward with Daniel? The answer is absolutely."
There was no "absolutely" when Judge was asked about Jones’ future this time.
This coming offseason they’re likely to be a bit more open-minded regarding a potential change. Given how things may be shaken up within the organization before they even get to dealing with the quarterback position, it may not even be up to the people who have drafted and groomed Jones to determine his fate.
The Giants were hoping to see a big jump in Jones’ play in 2021. Instead, his statistics have been like the recent MRI images on his damaged neck: Status quo.
Jones has thrown just 10 touchdowns with seven interceptions in 11 games this season. A year ago he threw 11 touchdowns with 10 interceptions in 14 games. In the most important statistic, Jones has started four victories for the Giants this season. Last year he started five.
Not all of that has been his fault. The Giants surrounded him with weapons this offseason but have had difficulty keeping them healthy and on the field. The offensive line that was supposed to give Jones time to function has been a disappointment.
Judge said he saw intangible progress and "demonstrated growth" from Jones this season before he hurt his neck in the Nov. 28 game against the Eagles. He finished that victory but hasn’t played since.
"There have been times where he has made mistakes on the field that he’s shown through decisions later on that he doesn’t repeat that mistake," Judge said. "There are things he’s picked up in terms of management of the game or how to handle something at the line of scrimmage that he’s carried forward."
Those comments sound more like the shine a coach would put on a rookie quarterback, not one closing in on his fourth season in the NFL. A fourth season that, perhaps, will be the next time Jones plays.
Judge indicated for the first time Wednesday that the Giants are considering shutting Jones down.
"We consider that with every [injured] player," Judge said.
They could also simply run out of time this season if he is not cleared for contact soon; the Giants have just three games remaining after Sunday.
If he does not return this season, Jones will have missed the final six games. Had he played it’s hard to say he would have impacted the team’s outcome in the standings, but he has certainly lost something that is almost more valuable to a still unproven quarterback like himself: Playing time.
"I think he’s missing experience and an opportunity to grow," Judge said. "Just as any young player in this league, every rep you take is an experience you learn from… The biggest thing he’s missing out on is just that experience and the opportunity to grow within a craft."
And, perhaps, cement himself further in the Giants’ future plans before they head into an offseason that could see tremendous changes on and off the field. He has not been able to do that in 2021.
"He’s a great asset to our team," Judge said. "You want to have him available to play with the team. That’s obviously something that we’re not keeping secret. There’s not really much more to say past that."
There may not be much more to see from him past that for the rest of this season either.