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Daniel Jones, Giants’ offense face nine-game stretch that could shape team’s offseason plans

Jones is again in the position of needing to show he is the right guy to go forward with at quarterback

NFL: New York Giants at Miami Dolphins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants enter the second half of what has been a disappointing 2023-24 season in a familiar place with quarterback Daniel Jones. Where’s that? The answer, of course, is trying to figure out how much longer they should go forward with Jones leading their offense.

Maybe you thought the Giants made that decision once and for all after making the playoffs a season ago, giving Jones a four-year, $160 million contract. That, though, is not really the case.

We have been over this before, but the deal GM Joe Schoen gave Jones has only two seasons of guaranteed money. It really offers Jones a two-year window to show that the 2022 season, during which his legs, his arm and his leadership had a lot to do with the Giants making the playoffs for the first time since 2016 and winning a playoff game for the first time since 2012, wasn’t a mirage. To show that he could build on what was a winning year, but not a statistically prolific one.

The decision has become complicated. At least with the information the Giants have right now.

  • Jones did not play well in the first five games of the season. The offense as a whole was filled with dysfunction, from injuries to curious coaching decisions and game plans, but Jones’ decision-making and apparent lack of recognition at times was also part of the problem.
  • Jones got hurt — again. The quarterback has consistently said this neck injury was different than the one that ended his 2021 season. The fact that he is back in the lineup tells us it was less severe. Still, that is two neck injuries in three seasons and has to factor into the team’s decision-making going forward.
  • While the point production did not improve, in some ways the Giants’ offense looked better with Tyrod Taylor starting. There are reasons beyond Taylor — the presence of and increased reliance on Saquon Barkley, somewhat better play from the offensive line among them — but Taylor was able to accomplish some things Jones could not. Most notably perhaps, was the creation of more explosive plays.
  • Most significantly, at 2-6 the Giants could be headed toward a draft slot that would put them in position to select one of the top quarterbacks in the 2024 NFL Draft. With Jones’ contract having only one year of guaranteed money remaining, perhaps for the first time since the Giants selection Jones No. 6 overall in 2018 a legitimate argument for selecting a quarterback early can currently be made.

This is why Jones’ return to the lineup this week against the Las Vegas Raiders is a good thing for the Giants.

In the short term, it means that they won’t have to enter a game with undrafted free agent rookie Tommy DeVito or newly-signed vagabond Matt Barkley starting at quarterback. In the long term, and more importantly, it should give the Giants much-needed information that will help shape their 2024 offseason decision-making.

Tight end Darren Waller, the Giants’ leading receiver, has already been ruled out for Sunday. Waller may miss a few weeks as he deals with his latest hamstring injury. Still, with Jones, Barkley, the possible returns of starting tackles Andrew Thomas and Evan Neal, Wan’Dale Robinson at full strength, the addition of Justin Pugh and the ongoing development of Jalin Hyatt, the Giants’ offense could be as whole as it has been all season. Maybe as whole as it is going to be.

The Giants need to see what Jones can do with it.

Over the final nine games can we see, at bare minimum, what we saw from the Giants’ offense last season? Efficiency and, when it mattered, the ability to make winning plays?

Can we see the explosive plays that happened during Weeks 6 and 7 with Taylor at quarterback? The Giants have 19 explosive passing plays this season, 17th in the NFL. Nine of those came in Taylor’s starts against the Buffalo Bills and Washington Commanders.

Can we see something like the efficiency Jones showed last season when his career-best 1.1% interception rate led the league rather than the quarterback who had six interceptions to just two touchdown passes in his first 4+ games this season? Can we see the improved pocket awareness Jones showed last season rather than the jittery way he played earlier this season?

Can we see the Giants, last in the league in points per game at an embarrassing 11.8, score a representative amount of points the rest of the way? Can we occasionally see explosions like we did the last time Barkley and Jones were together, when the Giants scored 31 second-half points in a come-from-behind victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2?

If we don’t see at least some of those things with the Giants’ offense reasonably whole, or should Jones suffer another debilitating injury, that likely tells Schoen and coach Brian Daboll that quarterback needs to be on the menu at some point next offseason.

If they do see the positive things we discussed perhaps they can go into the offseason focused on continuing to try to build with what they have. They can focus on the offensive line, a play-making wide receiver, more help in the defensive front seven and maybe at cornerback. They can build, rather than face starting over with a new quarterback.

Jones’ teammates are excited to see what happens.

“It’s good to see 8 back,” said wide receiver Jalin Hyatt. “We’re all happy.

“It’s good to have our leaders back. Not starting the year off with Wan’Dale. DJ getting hurt, having him back. Hopefully we get our two guys up front back,” Hyatt said. “We’re starting to get our guys back. We know what we have to do. We have to go out there and do it in games and finish drives.”

Pugh, who joined the Giants’ practice squad the week Jones was injured against the Miami Dolphins, practiced with Jones for the first time on Wednesday.

“You know the guy is a leader of men. He steps in the huddle, he commands the huddle,” Pugh said. “I know he learned from Eli [Manning], but he’s got a lot of that same aura that Eli had when he gets in the huddle. The guys respect him.

“I’m excited for him to go out there and keep proving who he is as a player. It’s going to be exciting to get him out there on Sunday.”

Pugh said “it’s exciting” to think about the offense being as whole as it can be.

“To get all the pieces, how you drew it up, obviously I wasn’t in the plan preseason but I’ve tried to carve out a little role to be able to help this team, and win some games” Pugh said. “It’s exciting for me to be a part of that, to see how we can all fit together. To see what we can do.”

How they all fit together, and see how they do over the final nine games, will have a lot to do with the decisions the franchise makes next offseason. Especially when it comes to the idea of whether or not they bring in a young quarterback and begin to look toward a Jones-less future, or whether they see enough to continue building around the guy they already have.