A recent phenomenon in the National Football League, born out of the desire for teams to have the competitive advantage of a rookie quarterback on a cost-controlled deal, is the “Year 2 quarterback leap.” Recent history has seen players such as Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes and even to an extent former third-team All-ACC selection Mitchell Trubisky take a step forward in their second season.
In the year ahead, six passers will look to be the next name added to that list: Kyler Murray (last year’s offensive rookie of the year), Gardner Minshew, Drew Lock, Jarrett Stidham (yes, he counts), Dwayne Haskins, and Daniel Jones.
Can Jones take that Year 2 step?
Contract: Year 2 of four-year $25,664,056 rookie deal. That included a $16,684,768 signing bonus, the guaranteed amount, and an average annual salary of $5,416,014. In 2020, Jones will play for a base salary of $675,000, a portion of that signing bonus ($4,171,192) and a roster bonus of $1,076,548. The team will need to make a decision on his fifth-year option prior to the 2023 season.
How he got here
The Giants made Jones a somewhat surprising sixth-overall selection in the 2019 draft. At least, the pick was surprising to many in the football media space. Those in and around the league, including many teams besides the Giants, viewed Jones as one of, if not the, top quarterbacks in the draft class, even ahead of Murray.
Jones began the year as the backup to Eli Manning, but the veteran soon gave way to the rookie. Jones made his first professional start in Week 3 on the road against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he led the Giants to a dramatic comeback victory in the closing minutes. In that outing Jones completed 23 of 36 passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns, despite taking five sacks. Jones also added two rushing touchdowns, including the game-winner.
Jones would start 12 games for the Giants, missing contests in Weeks 14 and 15 due to injury. On the season he completed 61.9 percent of his passes for 3,027 yards and 24 touchdowns, against 12 interceptions. Jones posted an Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt of 5.38, 25th in the league but just behind the 5.55 number posted by Murray, who came off the board with the first-overall selection to the Arizona Cardinals.
A number to watch for Jones? His fumbles. Jones put the ball on the turf 18 times last season, leading the league. He also lost 11 of those fumbles, 10 of which led to points by the opposition.
Jones’ rookie season was about proving the doubters - myself included - wrong. Jones accomplished that goal. While there are certainly areas of his game that need improvement, most notably the ball security issues as well as his processing speed and decision-making, the rookie passer proved the doubters wrong and showed that he belonged in the NFL.
Now, the quarterback needs to take that big step forward in Year 2 and show that beyond simply belonging in the league, he can be the franchise quarterback the Giants thought they were getting when they turned in a card with his name on it.
Two areas where improvement can take place in concert are the ball security woes and the processing speed. If you look back at many of the instances where Jones either faced pressure in the pocket, or put the ball on the ground due to a sack, it was not the offensive line that let the quarterback down. It was Jones’ mind. Think back to the game against the Cardinals, where Jones was sacked an incredible eight times. Many of those sacks were on the quarterback himself, either being too slow with his reads or failing to get the ball out on time and in rhythm.
That will leave you exposed in the pocket, and vulnerable to the very ball security issues that plagued his rookie season.
As Jones gets more acclimated to the speed of play in the NFL, and the game proverbially “slows down for him,” he should reduce the number of fumbles and turnovers. These two items go hand-in-hand.
Of course, nothing in 2020 is easy. For anyone. After all we are still living through a global pandemic, and what could have been a solid period of time to learn the offense that Jason Garrett will be installing, instead is a time spent apart and away from the practice field. Jones will enter training camp without the benefit of mini-camp and OTAs, and that fact might steepen his development curve in 2020. Learning a new offense is never easy - particularly the third in three seasons for Jones - and doing it in these conditions is going to be that much harder.
For that reason, along with the general rule of quarterback development, it is important for Giants fans to remember this -- quarterback development is never linear. We might imagine that Jones’ growth will look something like a perfect line, going from say the bottom left of a graph toward the top right. But in reality it will look more like an EKG. With peaks and valleys, highs and lows.
The main thing Giants fans should hope for is that when the season ends, Jones is better than he was when the season began. The journey is important, but the destination is critical.