Daniel Jones' price tag will determine if Giants can build contending team around him

Daniel Jones
Daniel Jones / Jeffrey Becker - USA TODAY Sports

Daniel Jones isn’t going anywhere. Publicly, privately — the Giants haven’t wavered in that stance. This isn’t like when they “didn’t sign” Odell Beckham Jr. “to trade him.” This isn’t the Seahawks - Broncos tango for Russell Wilson. Jones is returning to the Giants in 2023.

The means in which the Giants and Jones get something done, however, is another question entirely. With that, the fifth-year quarterback holds more than a few cards.

You just hope that what Jones sees as best for himself is also what helps the Giants — they need to find a middle ground.

This all, truthfully, could have been a problem for another day. You know those over at Giants Drive are kicking themselves a bit. They’d have Jones under contract for 2023 had they picked up his fifth-year option when the opportunity presented itself — carrying a figure of $22.38 million. They didn’t, though. Granted, it’s hard to blame them. Few possessed that foresight.

Jones was 12-25 his first three seasons. He’d dealt with injuries (never played a full season) and turnovers (36 in his first 21 games). He hadn’t thrown for 3,000-plus since his rookie season, and had just 21 passing touchdowns in 2020 and 2021 combined. A player like that isn’t one you invest in. It’s one you move on from. That’s what the Giants were preparing themselves to do.

Then came 2022 — Jones' first season playing for a roster constructed by GM Joe Schoen and an offense led by Brian Daboll. He went 9-6-1, led the Giants to the postseason and beat the Vikings in the first round. He completed 67.2 percent of his passes and threw for 3,205 yards, 15 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He added another 708 yards on the ground and seven scores.

He converted the naysayers. The Giants now believe they can win with Jones if they build out the roster around him. They’re fully prepared to do that, too.

The key is making that happen.

As of right now, Jones is set to be an unrestricted free agent. That means, come the legal tampering period, he and his agent are free to talk to any team of their choosing. That means, come the new league year (March 15), if he and the Giants don’t agree to an extension, the Giants could watch their starting quarterback sign on to start for another team.

The Giants have absolutely no intention of letting that happen — and have the franchise tag at their disposal to prevent it. That has to be a bit of a last resort, though, as tagging Jones would cap strap New York. They want to find a number that works for both sides. This is where the ball shifts into Jones’ court.

Predicting the annual value of Jones’ next contract is a bit of the wild, wild west right now. No, he’s not Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs). He doesn’t have the past career successes of Aaron Rodgers (Packers), Russell Wilson (Broncos) or Deshaun Watson (Browns). Schoen is a shrewd negotiator — easily able to separate sense and emotion. He won’t pay Jones $40 million plus. He’s not worth that.

The appropriate figure is believed to be somewhere between $35 and $37 million, two executives familiar with the quarterback market told SNY. Another, whose team is in need of a veteran quarterback and would “explore” Jones if he were available, said he’d have a “hard time” justifying a $40 million figure for him. In the $30 millions? “Sure,” the exec said, “but not above.”

It’s not that simple, though. That doesn’t mean Jones needs to accept what makes sense. He’s certainly annoyed the Giants declined his fifth-year option then signed Tyrod Taylor last offseason. That’s the exact opposite of a vote of confidence. So he’s completely within his power to demand $40 million annually and scoff at anything less knowing if he doesn’t, the Giants will just franchise tag him — a one-year deal worth near $33 million annually.

And the Giants will do that if they must. It’s just hard to imagine that transaction benefiting anyone other than Jones’ immediate bank account.

The Giants, as of right now, have roughly $44.4 million in salary cap space — third most in the NFL behind the Chicago Bears ($90.9 million) and Atlanta Falcons ($56.4 million). They’ll free more with the release of Kenny Golladay, although the exact amount and when the Giants receive that relief depends on if Golladay is a pre- or post-June 1 cut. They could look to extend both defensive linemen Leonard Williams ($32.26 million hit) and Dexter Lawrence ($12.4 million hit). Releasing cornerback Adoree' Jackson would free $8.6 million, but the Giants are not expected to part with him.

But even if the Giants added $10 million in space, bringing their total to $54 million, it’s hard to undersell the negative impact a Jones tagging would have on the Giants ability to do more than just bringing back their quarterback. That $33 million tag is felt entirely in 2023 — meaning that $54 million instantly becomes $21 million. The Giants must dedicate $11.4 million to pay their draft class. The cap hit for that $11.4 million is $3.15 million. So that $21 million drops to $17.85 million.

A quick look at the Giants roster tells you this team needs to address the interior of their offensive line, add two receivers, a pass-catching tight end, a No. 1 corner and two new starting linebackers. They’re not bringing back safety Julian Love or running back Saquon Barkley with that figure, so you can add their replacements to the list, too.

Schoen is good. Contrary to what this season might have fans believing — he’s not a miracle worker. Should Jones really want the tag when it would prevent Schoen from giving him the help he so desperately needs?

The Bills had to pay Josh Allen when Schoen was in Buffalo. Allen, among the best at his position, could easily have milked the Bills for every last penny. There’s no denying his greatness. He’s in a completely different stratosphere than Jones. Instead, Allen signed a six-year contract that will pay him $258 million with $150 million guaranteed, kicking in after this season.

The average salary is just over $43 million — sixth most among NFL quarterbacks. Instead of taking the most he could, Allen took a deal that made him financially set for life while also giving the team the flexibility to continue to build around him. The length of the contract (six years) allows the Bills to move and adjust the money of the contract to free additional space as they need it.

Jan 21, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) in the huddle against the Philadelphia Eagles during an NFC divisional round game at Lincoln Financial Field.
Jan 21, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) in the huddle against the Philadelphia Eagles during an NFC divisional round game at Lincoln Financial Field. / Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Giants might very well look to do something similar with Jones. If they can get him under contract for five or six years, at an AAV in the high $30s, it would allow Schoen to lessen the cap hit while also giving him the financial flexibility to free more as he sees fit in recent years. This was a good season for the Giants, but the Philadelphia Eagles provided a harsh lesson on just how far away New York is from truly competing for a championship.

To close the gap, the Giants not only need Jones back, but on a deal that gives Schoen the means to continue to add.

But the question isn’t whether or not the Giants are willing to offer that. Will Jones accept it?

Schoen and Jones’ representatives hadn’t yet spoken during last week’s Senior Bowl. That’s not entirely uncommon. The Giants are readying to make a long-term commitment to their quarterback. There’s no question on whether or not they’re going to, they just have I's to dot and T's to cross in their deal.

And the Giants are ready to go all-in once they do. The moment they commit that much money to Jones, they are saying they believe he’s the guy to get them their fifth Lombardi Trophy. They’ll start targeting receivers and tight ends who run the routes he likes, linemen who block the way he likes, rounding out the playbook with the plays he likes. This will become Jones' team.

Assuming they have the financial means to do it.