Daniel Jones' fifth-year option presents Giants with difficult decision

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·5 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • New York Giants
    New York Giants
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Daniel Jones
    Daniel Jones
    American football quarterback
Joe Judge looks on as Daniel Jones throws pre-game
Joe Judge looks on as Daniel Jones throws pre-game

The Giants have never expressed any doubt that Daniel Jones is their quarterback, and that they plan for him to be their quarterback for a very long time. But that's been easy to say while he’s still been playing on his rookie contract.

Now they're going to have to back up that faith with cash.

They are now facing what seems like a very difficult decision -- whether or not to pick up the fifth-year option on his contract for 2023, or let him play next year in what would be the final year of his deal. If they pick up the option it would be at a guaranteed cost of about $21.3 million, and they would have to make the decision by May 3.

That decision was going to be tough enough, but now they have to do it with an incomplete evaluation after Jones was officially shut down for the season on Monday with what the team is calling a "sprained neck." He will have missed the final six games of a season, and in the first 11 he didn't play particularly well.

Back in August, when co-owner John Mara was asked about Jones' looming fifth-year option, he said, "Hopefully he stays healthy. Hopefully he'll make it an easy decision for us by the end of the year."

Unfortunately for Mara, Jones didn't make it easy at all.

His play ranged from mediocre to poor. He completed 64.3% of his passes for 2,427 yards, with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He ran an offense that at times looked dysfunctional and is clearly one of the worst in the league.

He's also now missed games with an injury for a third straight season -- certainly a concern when paying a player so much money. And overall, he's sitting on a body of work that has been maddeningly inconsistent and has sparked far more questions than it has answered. The flashes of future stardom have been few and far between -- even less so recently -- and he's shown no sign that he can rise above his circumstances and lead an NFL offense to even modest success.

So after three seasons, 37 starts, 12 wins, 45 touchdown passes and 29 interceptions, the Giants have to at least be wondering:

Is this all there is?

"Yeah, I've seen enough growth from Daniel to tell us he's the one to go ahead and play with," Giants coach Joe Judge said Monday. "In terms of the business aspect of it, I'll let different parts of this organization handle that stuff. I'll coach the players."

That was some artful, noncommittal praise. But actually, Judge was much more bullish on Jones' future with the franchise last week when he was asked if he had already seen enough from his young starter this year.

Nov 7, 2021; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) rolls out of the pocket to pass against the Las Vegas Raiders during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 7, 2021; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) rolls out of the pocket to pass against the Las Vegas Raiders during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

"I feel good about Daniel already," Judge said last Wednesday. "I want him to keep growing and developing his craft. Obviously, he's a great asset to our team. You want to have him available to play with the team. That's obviously something that we're not keeping secret. Daniel's done a good job growing for us. We're going to keep on pushing forward with him."

Well, they'll push forward with him at least through 2021 when he is only due to make $965,000 in salary and count for $8.3 million against the salary cap. That's easy because the Giants don't have many better options at the moment. The idea of trading for Russell Wilson is an unrealistic fantasy given their awful salary cap situation. And while the Giants hold two high picks in the upcoming draft, the scouting world doesn't seem particularly high on the incoming quarterback class.

So this is less about replacing Jones and more about keeping their options open. If they guarantee him $21.3 million for 2023, he's their quarterback for the next two seasons. If they don't, they roll the dice to see how he plays next season and whether he can stay healthy. Maybe he plays himself into a lucrative, long-term contract that they'd be thrilled to give him if he earns it.

Or maybe he shows them once and for all that he's just not the guy.

It's a tough call -- one that Mara may be making with a new general manager -- because the answer just isn't clear. How much of Jones' issues were about him and how much of them were the terrible and depleted cast around him? The Giants fired offensive coordinator Jason Garrett midseason – an indication that at least some in the organization blamed the scheme and coaching more than the players. He's also spent most of the season playing without his best weapons, with players like Saquon Barkley, Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard and rookie Kadarius Toney all missing significant time.

And then there's the issue that has plagued his predecessor his whole career, just like it praised his predecessor, Eli Manning: The awful Giants offensive line. It was particularly problematic this season after losing two starters early in the season, and then losing left tackle Andrew Thomas for several games.

Did he even have much of a chance to thrive in his first three seasons? Or do the Giants believe he should have thrived despite what was happening around him?

The smart financial move seems to be to let him play out his contract. But it's awfully risky to let a quarterback approach free agency if they really believe he's the guy. Even if the salary cap jumps in 2023, though, $21.3 million is a lot to pay if it turns out they're wrong.

So whatever the Giants say about Jones between now and then are just words. We'll know what they really think about him when they make their next move sometime in the next 4 ½ months. It's a move they really hoped and expected would be a no-brainer.

It just hasn't turned out to be nearly as easy as they thought it would be.