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Daniel Jones
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How Daniel Jones is winning over the Giants ... and earning a chance to stay

At the beginning of the year it seemed unlikely Jones would get the chance to stay beyond this year ... now, it seems unlikely the Giants will choose to move on

When asked about individual players, New York Giants coach Brian Daboll can sometimes give perfunctory answers. That was not the case earlier this week when Daboll was asked a number of questions about quarterback Daniel Jones.

Daboll on Tuesday answered question after question about Jones, giving full answers that seemed to reveal a rookie head coach who has gained an appreciation for the often-criticized fourth-year quarterback.

“Well, give Daniel credit, first and foremost,” Daboll said “He’s an extremely hard worker. I think he understands what we’re trying to accomplish each week. Every week, it’s a little bit different. But he works extremely hard. He studies. He understands the teams that we’re playing, and he makes good decisions for what we ask him to do. Last week was a little bit different than the week before. He’s taking care of the football. He’s done a good job.”

The 8-5-1 Giants are on the verge of making the playoffs for the first time in Jones’ NFL career. They will definitely not finish with a losing record for the first time since the organization made Jones the No. 6 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Jones has been a huge part of the team’s success. Jones’ passing stats (2,694 yards — 16th in the NFL; 12 touchdown passes — 24th) are not overwhelming. The Giants have fewer explosive passing plays (20+ yards) than any team in the league, with just 21. Jones is averaging a career-low 192.4 yards passing per game.

Those numbers are misleading in that they don’t come close to showing the value of the quarterback on a team with pass protection and wide receiver issues.

Jones has led four fourth-quarter comebacks this season after doing that only twice in his first three seasons. He has led five game-winning drives after leading only three over his first three seasons.

Jones has career-bests in completion percentage (66.0) and passer rating (90.5). His on-target throw percentage of 80.5 and bad throw percentage of just 12.5 are also the best of his career. He also had 6.6 percent of his passes dropped, the worst percentage of his career and an indication of the lack of help he has received at times.

Jones has also run for a career-high 583 yards, with his running ability emerging as a major weapon for the Giants’ offense.

Daboll said Jones is playing the quarterback position the way he and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka want it played.

“We always have a game plan each week. Go into a game of how we want to play it and his job is to make the right decisions,” Daboll said. “So, if it’s to throw a quick game or take an underneath route, he’s done a good job of putting the ball where we want him to put it. We certainly would like more explosive plays, that helps you score more points, but he’s doing what we ask him to do.”

A major part of that is not turning the ball over.

Jones has thrown just four interceptions this season, fewest of any NFL starting quarterback. His interception percentage of 1.0 is a career- and league-best. He has also fumbled a career-low five times despite carrying the ball 105 times (his previous career high in carries was 65) and being sacked a career-worst 9.2 percent of the time when he attempts to pass.

The lack of fumbles is particularly impressive. He has now fumbled only 12 times in his last 25 games. Combine Jones’ carries and sacks, the times he would possibly fumble, and he is averaging one fumble every 29.2 times he is hit. Over his first two seasons he fumbled 29 times on 193 combined carries and sacks, an average of once every 6.7 times.

“I think each game’s different. But I think I’ve gotten a better idea of what does win in the NFL,” Jones said this week. “A lot of times, it’s not what you would think. I think it has a lot to do with taking care of the ball, staying in good situations for the offense, executing on critical downs and scoring in the red zone.”

Daboll praised the quarterback’s ball security and how he has run the team’s offense.

“Give credit to him. He’s got to take care of the ball in the pocket, and he’s got to be the one to make good decisions when he’s under pressure,” the coach said. “We try to do things that accentuate his strengths. I think he can throw it on all three levels, but there’s a way to play each game against each opponent based on what they have defensively, how their rush is, what their corners look like. He’s done a good job of operating and executing our offense.

“We have certain reads and things in our offense that we teach. And he just goes out and executes well. So, he’s done everything that we’ve asked him to do in terms of the things that we need to do each game. Again, it’s never going to be perfect. It’s a hard position to play. I think he’s got some confidence. We have confidence in him. We just put together a game plan that we think will work well for us as a team but (also will) work well for him, too, as a quarterback.”

What happens now?

It is hard to listen to Daboll speak about Jones and believe he won’t be a “yes” vote when the Giants convene to make their final decision on whether to bring Jones, a potential free-agent-to-be this offseason, back as the team’s quarterback in 2023 — and perhaps beyond.

Jones has never put up prolific passing numbers. His career highs in passing yards (3,027) and touchdowns (24) came as a rookie in 2019. The Giants haven’t been a winning team, until this year.

Daboll, though, seemed to indicate this week that he still believes the 25-year-old’s best football is in front of him.

“I don’t think he’s that far along in his career as a quarterback,” Daboll said. “Again, it’s a tough position to play. I can just go by the guys that I’ve had the last few years. One, I was with him for four years and each year we took a little bit of a step, and you always give credit to the players. His [Jones’] ability to grasp information and then go out there and perform it with what we’re asking him to do, I’m not sure the other years he’s been here, I think he’s made steps each way. Certainly, things to improve on but conscientious, hardworking, tough, competitor. Those are good qualities to have at that position.”

Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka also believes Jones has continued to improve, and could continue to ascend.

“Everyday, Daniel, he comes to work. Whether it’s in the classroom, he just sat in there with the install, asking questions, and then on the field he’s working his butt off, too. It’s great for him, he’s always looking for ways to improve, no matter what day it is. Whether it’s future, past, whatever, he’s always looking for ways to improve his game,” Kafka said. “Asking on how certain people did certain ways and bouncing ideas off of Dabs, (quarterbacks coach) Shea (Tierney), myself, and the other quarterbacks. So, he’s always looking for ways to learn and grow. That’s one of the things I love about him.”

We know co-owner John Mara has always been a Jones booster. Daboll also acknowledged this week the respect Jones’ teammates have developed for the quarterback.

“He’s a competitor and I think that’s why his teammates respect him so much,” Daboll said. “I think he’s just very levelheaded and that helps too when sometimes there’s chaos in the game; whether that’s in the pocket, whether you’re down. I think he’s really been the model of consistency with his attitude and his approach and that’s what I appreciate about him.

“I think when I got here, just talking to some of the skill guys and even the defensive guys, they’ve always had that respect for Daniel because of the way he approaches his job, he’s a true pro. And he’s a good leader. I know he’s kind of a quiet guy. But in the huddle, he’s a good leader with those guys. He knows everybody’s responsibilities. He can get things lined up; he can correct mistakes. He’s a problem solver. So, I think the guys have a lot of respect for him.”

With all of that preamble, it seems easy to guess that the Giants will make a serious run at bringing Jones back for next season. Especially considering that they aren’t likely to be drafting in a spot where they will easily have a chance at one of the top two or three quarterbacks in the 2023 draft class.

What, though, might it cost?

Over The Cap estimates that the franchise tag for a quarterback this offseason will cost $31.497 million. The transition tag would cost $28.049 million.

If the Giants are going to use a tag, they would seem more likely to be willing to use it on Saquon Barkley at potential costs of $12.632 million (franchise) or $10.197 million (transition).

Spotrac estimates Jones’ market value at $76.61 million over three years, an average of roughly $25.5 million per year.

At first blush that seems steep. But, is it?

A salary of $25.5 million would put Jones 15th among quarterbacks in terms of average annual value, right behind Matt Ryan ($30 million per year) and Ryan Tannehill ($29.5 million per year).

Former agent Joel Corry, salary cap analyst for CBS Sports, recently suggested a deal close to Spotrac’s estimated market value.

Here is some of what Corry wrote:

Some sort of bridge or short-term deal (two to three years) probably makes the most sense for both sides. The Giants aren’t going to be in a position to select a perceived potential quarterback in the 2023 NFL Draft as a likely playoff team. There will surely be an upgrade at wide receiver either in the draft or free agency. The free agent crop of wide receivers isn’t particularly strong.

How the Jaguars handled 2014 third overall pick Blake Bortles when he was entering his fifth NFL season could be instructive. The Jaguars gave Bortles a two-year extension averaging $17,473,500 per year in February 2018 after previously exercising his fifth-year option for $19.053 million. At that time, fifth-year options were guaranteed for injury only when exercised instead of being fully guaranteed if picked up as they are now. The options became fully guaranteed on the first day of the league year of the option year, giving the team an out as long as the player stayed healthy.

The deal put Bortles under contract for three years (2018 through 2020) totaling $54 million, where $26.5 million was fully guaranteed. The maximum value of the contract was $66.5 million thanks to base salary escalators and incentives.

The salary cap was $177.2 million when Bortles signed his deal. In a 2023 salary cap environment, the base value of the Bortles contract would be in the $23 million per year neighborhood. A Jones deal along those lines with incentives and/or salary escalators could make sense barring a collapse over the final three regular season games or a magical playoff run where Jones elevates his level of his play.

Final thoughts

Giants fans appear to be overwhelmingly in favor of a short-term deal based on the Spotrac/Corry numbers for Jones. Here are results from this week’s ‘SB Nation Reacts’ polling that asked if Jones deserved a three-year, $76 million deal — the Spotrac market value.

I would agree with the fan base on this one.

When the season began I was clear that I thought there was a chance Jones could earn the right to stay with the Giants beyond this season, but that the odds were stacked against him.

Now?

I think the opposite. I think the odds would be stacked heavily in favor of a return by Jones. The quarterback has been a huge part of a surprisingly successful season. The Giants won’t be in position to draft C.J. Stroud, Bryce Young or Will Levis without trading away significant draft capital they need to supplement a roster that still has significant holes. I can’t see Daboll and Joe Schoen believing they can have as much success with Tyrod Taylor as they have had with Jones. I also can’t see them believing they can find a veteran quarterback on the free agent/trade market better than Jones.

There might be a free agent market for Jones, but I can’t imagine any team feeling more committed to him than the Mara-Schoen-Daboll Giants. After the upheaval Jones has seen in his time with the Giants, I would think he would also understand that working with Daboll and Kafka is the best situation he has ever been in.

So, yes, I think Jones is likely to be the Giants’ quarterback next season. If I were making the decision, I would certainly try to make that happen — within the parameters of the type of contracts that have been discussed above, of course.

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