In no way do I believe New York Giants head coach Pat Shurmur wanted to start a quarterback controversy on Tuesday, or open the door to the narrative that rookie Daniel Jones has any realistic chance of taking the Giants’ starting quarterback job away from Eli Manning by Week 1.
Pressed about the idea of an open competition, Shurmur didn’t come right out and say that was impossible. He reiterated that Manning is the starter, but if you want to interpret it that way he left the tiniest bit of wiggle room for that to change. He said he would “constantly” weigh which player or players gave the team the best chance to win.
“We are gonna play the very best player, and I know we’re dancing around the words there. Right now Eli is getting ready to have a great year and Daniel is getting ready to play. WYou see what happens with it,” Shurmur said. “We feel good where Eli is, he’s our starting quarterback, and we’ve got a young player that we think is going to be an outstanding player getting himself ready to play.”
But, an open competition? Really?
“You never know what is going to happen,” Shurmur said.
What is really happening here?
Shurmur isn’t inviting a competition here. At least, not in my view.
The coach has consistently said that Manning is the starter and the Jones is trying to prepare himself to be ready Week 1. Remember, someone has to be the backup quarterback when the season starts. The last two young quarterbacks the Giants drafted, Davis Webb and Kyle Lauletta, were deemed not ready to be the primary backups initially and spent most of their rookie seasons on the inactive list.
The five passes without a completion Lauletta threw last season were the only ones either of the two rookies threw for the Giants.
Shurmur, the way I see it, wants to be comfortable with the idea of having Jones as the No. 2 quarterback when the season starts. That way he can be part of the active game day roster, get the experience of how things function on an NFL sideline during a game and be called upon to play if the situation demands.
Let’s face it. The Giants used the sixth overall pick on Jones. If someone other than Manning plays quarterback for the Giants in 2019, the organization would much rather it be Jones than anyone else.
Jones has had an excellent spring. I have written before that he has done everything the Giants could have hoped for:
There are many reasons why New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman fell in “full-bloom love” with quarterback Daniel Jones and made him the sixth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Throughout the spring, from rookie mini-camp to Thursday’s conclusion of the three-day mandatory mini-camp, Jones has displayed many of them. He has answered the arm strength question by showing plenty of zip on deep outs and has thrown a number of excellent deep balls during sessions viewed by the media. He has shown off the maneuverability that allowed him to run for 17 touchdowns at Duke. He has displayed Eli Manning-esque tendencies in his handling of the media.
... to this point Jones has shown legitimate reasons why the organization believes he can be the answer to the “who comes after Manning?” question. Whenever that time comes.
Here is what Shurmur said about Jones on Tuesday:
“I think he has had a really, really productive offseason. He is on track with the goal to be ready to play day one. That is really what all the players need to be thinking. The quarterback stuff will be on the front burner for everyone. I get that. He is on track.”
Shurmur is walking a fine line here. He may be trying to remind Manning that there is for the first time in his career a quarterback on the roster who — at some point — will be a legitimate threat to Manning’s playing time, while also trying to respect the career Manning has had. He may also be trying to hold a carrot in front of Jones,
The last thing Shurmur wants to do, though, is encourage a blood-thirsty media to perpetuate the idea of a quarterback controversy, mythical or not. GM Dave Gettleman has worked arduously to eliminate distractions, and the idea of having to constantly answer questions about which quarterback will, or should, play can be a major one for the coaching staff and the players. Shurmur also needs to take care not to risk dividing his locker room, which means in my view that he’s better off not leaving any ambiguity in his comments.
How will this play out?
I do not believe Shurmur’s comments on Tuesday change anything about how the Manning-Jones situation will play out.
If the Giants win games and stay in playoff contention, Manning will play. If they get off to an 0-6 start like they did in 2013 or a 1-7 start like they did a season ago, there won’t be any reason not to insert Jones into the lineup.
I don’t believe the Giants will “Kurt Warner” Manning. The Giants removed Warner from the lineup in 2004 when they were 5-4, still in the playoff race. They were able to do that because Warner was a first-year Giant. The organization had no history with him and owed him nothing. The long term was what mattered most.
Not so with Manning. He helped them win two Super Bowls. In recent years he has had to play on a lot of bad teams behind a lot of porous offensive lines. He has represented the franchise with class for 15 years now. In my view, if the Giants have a chance to reach the playoffs this season they owe Manning the opportunity to see that through, to see what he can make happen.
If the Giants are eliminated from the playoffs, Jones should play. It’s that simple. Or, in the event the Giants somehow clinch a playoff berth before Week 17 getting Jones some playing time would also be a realistic option.
Shurmur and the Giants don’t want a quarterback controversy, though it’s obviously not easy to avoid one when you select a quarterback No. 6 overall. My advice to Shurmur would be to think carefully about how he frames his answers about both players going forward.