KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. – Giants president and co-owner John Mara likes what he sees from Daniel Jones, but he’s not about to make any sweeping proclamations about the team’s No. 6 overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft.
“So far, so good. We’re very pleased with him so far,” Mara told Newsday Tuesday in his first public remarks since the team selected the former Duke quarterback last month with its first of three first-round picks. “He’s in shorts on the practice field, he’s got a nice arm and a great demeanor. But we’re [only] into May.”
Mara chose not to go into more detail about Jones or the decision to draft him – a move that was widely criticized because the team also needed a pass rusher and opted to take Jones over Kentucky edge rusher Josh Allen. The Giants selected Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence with the 17th pick, which was acquired from the Browns in the Odell Beckham Jr. trade.
Many have chided general manager Dave Gettleman for not waiting to take Jones at No. 17, when it appeared there was little interest among other teams to draft him that high. Gettleman insisted after the draft that at least two teams were interested enough in Jones to take him before the Giants had a chance to get him with their second opening-round choice.
Mara has heard much of that criticism and also has been targeted by fans and media who believe the team is flailing. But the 63-year-old co-owner believes the Giants are on the upswing.
“Absolutely, I think we’re moving in the right direction,” Mara said. “I certainly don’t think we’re a finished product yet, but I am happy with the direction of the team, contrary to popular opinion.”
Among the most strident critics: WFAN host Mike Francesa, who lit into the team and Gettleman the day after Jones was drafted.
“The Giants, in a word, have become sad,” Francesa said. “They have become a sad, chronic, losing organization that has proved under Gettleman’s leadership that a) you can’t believe a word that Gettleman says and b) that they don’t have a plan, because there is no plan.”
Francesa and others have challenged Gettleman’s decision to trade Beckham to the Browns a year after signing him to a contract extension worth nearly $100 million. Gettleman’s decision to bring back Eli Manning at age 38 also has drawn criticism.
“You should never ever [have] had Eli Manning back on this team,” Francesa said. “There was no way it made any sense under any circumstances in terms of asset allocation, the way to rebuild this team or anything else, to have Eli Manning and draft a quarterback at six.”
Mara’s reaction to the criticism?
“Nobody likes to hear that stuff, but none of the criticism means anything, just like none of the praise means anything until you start playing,” he said. “So, let’s just see what happens. I feel like we’ve made some good decisions and that we’re moving in the right direction. I understand a lot of people feel otherwise, but let’s see what happens during the season.
“It’s not my first dance. We’ve been through this before, but I do feel like we’re moving in the right direction. I thought we had a really good draft. We had a really good draft a year ago. I’m pleased with the direction we’re going. I understand that a lot of people in the media and our fans don’t necessarily agree, but time will tell.”
Mara often has detailed the profound frustration he felt growing up, when the Giants endured some of their worst years from the mid-1960s through most of the 1970s. They failed to make the playoffs for 17 consecutive seasons (1964-80). Might the team’s recent struggles, which include just one playoff appearance since its 2011 Super Bowl victory, bring back unpleasant memories of those difficult times?
“It’s a completely different era, and I do have confidence that we have the right people in the building,” Mara said. “So, no, I’m not going to think about those bad days.”