Giants co-owner John Mara.

Giants co-owner John Mara. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

ORLANDO, Fla. — Twenty years ago this spring, the Giants had a quarterback who had won playoff games for them, brought them to a Super Bowl, was universally liked and respected by the organization and had a close personal relationship with the owner and time left on his contract.

Then they drafted his replacement.

It certainly worked out for them when they acquired Eli Manning and parted ways with Kerry Collins, to the tune of a pair of Lombardi Trophies and a decade and a half of stability at the most important position in the sport.

John Mara said on Monday at the NFL owners’ meetings that he has reflected on that decision this offseason. His Giants find themselves in a potentially similar situation, trying to determine whether or not — and if so, when — they might select a quarterback in the draft to compete with and likely replace Daniel Jones.

And it’s one reason why, despite reiterating his confidence in Jones, the team’s co-owner is giving general manager Joe Schoen the green light to explore other — i.e. better — options at the position.

“If they fall in love with a quarterback and believe it is worth pick No. 6 or moving up, I certainly would support that,” Mara said. “Everybody in the building wants Daniel to succeed, but you can never let that get in the way if you make a judgment that there are people coming out in the draft who have a chance to be really good franchise-type players.”

That was the lesson of 2004. Back then, Mara’s late father, Wellington Mara, was so resistant to parting ways with Collins and giving up such a large haul of picks to get Manning from the Chargers that those within the organization — John among them — had to convince him otherwise. Two decades later, John Mara made it clear that he will offer no such hesitancy or obstacles.

Mara and Schoen, who also spoke Monday, made it clear that no such determination has been made. There still is far too much research to be done and, as Schoen pointed out, LSU, North Carolina and Washington, the schools of some of the top prospects, haven’t even had their pro days.

But the Giants do seem intrigued by some of the players and already have had J.J. McCarthy of Michigan to New Jersey for an individual meeting and workout.

Earlier Monday, McCarthy’s coach at Michigan, new Chargers coach Jim Harbaugh, gave his stamp of approval on the player.

“I think he’s the best quarterback in the draft,” Harbaugh said. “That’s just what I think, just my opinion. He’s the one who plays quarterback of all the quarterbacks in the draft. There are great quarterbacks in the draft, but I think he plays quarterback the best of any quarterback in the draft.”

Mara said he would like to meet with any potential quarterback before the Giants draft one high in April.

Had he met with McCarthy?

“Not yet,” he said with a smile.

McCarthy certainly is not the only option for the Giants, though.

“They tell me it’s the most talented group to come out in years,” Mara said of the many options.

A year ago, the Giants gave Jones a four-year, $160 million contract, but things quickly went downhill during the 2023 season. Jones was unable to function (mostly because of a lack of protection up front), injured his neck, returned to action and tore an ACL in a forgettable 6-11 campaign.

“I think the real Daniel Jones is the one who played in 2022, particularly down the stretch there,” Mara said of the playoff run.

But he also said Jones’ contract would not be an impediment to drafting another quarterback and insisted that drafting a quarterback would not mean giving up on Jones.

“Why not let them both compete and let the better man win?” Mara asked.

For now, it is all conjecture. The Giants haven’t come to any conclusions. As Schoen said in regard to the many volumes of speculation that have been produced on what the Giants have or have not decided: “There are very few people who know what we are thinking or what direction we are going. Anything out there is likely not true.”

What is undeniable, though, is that in 2004, the Giants had a pretty good quarterback and made the bold move to go get a better one. The fact that it worked out for them back then certainly has been on Mara’s mind lately, and with it perhaps the hope that it might again.

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