When a team drafts a quarterback high in the first round, it does so with a vision of stability at the most important position on the field for the next decade or more. There is a hope, when that selection is made, that this will be a long-term relationship that yields years of happiness and success . . . and maybe even a few championships.
Sometimes it even works out that way.
“It happens way less than the other way,” Pat Shurmur said.
It’s too soon to tell which path Daniel Jones’ career with the Giants will take. He’s still a rookie and has started only eight games in the NFL.
Just about every mistake or gaffe he makes can be chalked up to his development. Fumble? Interception? Wrong call?
Just learn from it and your sins will be forgiven.
“We believe in Daniel and we believe he has a very bright future and he is going to help us win a lot of games,” Shurmur said. “That’s our belief. That’s what we’re moving forward with.”
There is no reason not to at this point. But there comes a time when any quarterback must validate that belief from his team. When he must show that he was worth the investment, that the learning curve is flattening out and that his trajectory is pointing steadily upward. How long will it take to go from the honeymoon glow that Jones is still warmly embraced by, for the most part, to the restless expectation of results?
As the Giants look across the field before kickoff on Sunday, they may see the answer to that question. Because there, just 55 yards away from them and two short years down the path from Jones, will be Mitchell Trubisky.
Trubisky is the Bears’ starting quarterback. They traded up to the second overall selection in the 2017 draft to choose him and have put the hopes of the franchise on his shoulders.
And there already are serious questions about whether he can, in fact, be the player the Bears thought they acquired.
The Bears won the NFC North title a year ago, but it’s been a mostly uneven and disappointing season for Trubisky and the rest of their offense. The team ranks 28th in the NFL in points per game with 16.9 and Trubisky is 26th among 33 qualified quarterbacks with an 82.2 passer rating, having thrown for 1,580 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions. It doesn’t help that other quarterbacks in Trubisky’s first-round draft class — Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson — have flourished.
While Chicago is growing impatient, Bears coach Matt Nagy is sticking with Trubisky. This week, he named him the unquestioned starter (despite a hip injury that required him to be removed from last week’s game against the Rams) and said he has seen progress from the third-year player.
“The last two weeks he has without a doubt gotten a lot better at the quarterback position,” Nagy said. “Decision-making, throws . . . where he’s at the last two weeks has been a lot better.”
Trubisky agrees that he’s making strides.
“I feel confident going out there and being able to do my job,” he said. “We’re still just not clicking on some plays as an offense and I feel like that’s holding us back. But each week it’s getting a little bit better. It’s slowing down . . . I feel like I have been progressing and got to keep doing so.”
Fans don’t want progress from a third-year quarterback, though. They want production. They want wins.
Jones and Trubisky have gotten to know each other a bit over the years, but they’ll probably never be close friends. That’s what playing for Duke and North Carolina, respectively, will do to a relationship, even if the more common manifestation of such enmity occurs on basketball courts and not among NFL starting quarterbacks.
“There will always be that rivalry there,” Jones said with a smile.
In their only head-to-head meeting for their colleges, Jones, a sophomore, beat Trubisky, a senior, and his nationally ranked Tar Heels in 2016.
On Sunday, the two players will meet again, this time representing the Giants and the Bears.
They also will represent two different stages of development for professional quarterbacks who were selected with expectations as high as their draft slots. Jones and Trubisky may be contemporaries and come from similar backgrounds and colleges just down the road from each other, but the modest two-year difference between them represents the tiny gap between the shrug-it-off sloppiness of a rookie and the when-will-he-stop-doing-that worry aimed at a young veteran.
For Jones, it could be a chance to see his own near future. Or, like some Dickensian holiday tale, a possible version of it to be avoided.
“When you are developing a young quarterback, yeah, there are bumps in the road,” Shurmur said. “There are mistakes that happen that you have to get cleaned up. Each guy is different. Obviously, you put a guy in, you’d like to have him help you win games and move forward and get better and not make any mistakes. That’s the ideal world. But what we know is that we are working with young players.”
When will that change for Jones? When will he need to start fully living up to his and the team’s lofty expectations? At some point the Giants will need to take a step back and make an honest assessment of whether they have a guy who is or can be The Guy, or, as Shurmur noted happens more often than not, just another high draft pick who never quite pans out.
“We’re talking about something way down the road here,” Shurmur said.
Or maybe it’s as close as Duke and North Carolina. As close as this week’s opposing quarterbacks.