EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The boos rained down across the Tri-state area, converging in a cacophony of audible misery and disbelief.
Stunned Giants fans collectively grieved their shared misfortune, searching in vain for solace and enlightenment on a night that began with so much promise, so much hope of a brighter future.
Meanwhile, in the Meadowlands, Dave Gettleman sat grinning like a Cheshire cat, wholeheartedly convinced he had set the New York Giants on the path of a rebirth. But little did the general manager know — or care — that his decision Thursday night had sent the franchise's most faithful followers into an emotional tailspin.
Gettleman finally gifted the fan base what it had long coveted: a clear succession plan behind veteran quarterback Eli Manning. But it wasn't the signal-caller many fans expected, nor was it a prospect they believed should have been selected so high in the draft order.
With the No. 6 overall pick in the NFL Draft, the Giants selected former Duke quarterback Daniel Jones to be Manning's heir apparent — though the Giants brass refused to commit to the first-round pick seeing action within the next three years.
"Maybe we're going to be the Green Bay model where [Aaron] Rodgers sat for three years. Who knows?" Gettleman said, while also divulging that the Giants had the same grade on Jones and Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen, who still was on the board at No. 6.
"…You can never have too many players at one position. Who knows? I might go out there in my car and get hit! You don't know! We drafted a quarterback that we believe is a franchise quarterback."
That, of course, begs the question: If Manning has three more years left in him, why wouldn't the Giants use the sixth overall pick to draft a player at another position?
"Life's too short. You don't know how this is going to work," replied Gettleman.
Thursday marked the first time the Giants had three first-round selections in franchise history. After selecting Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence at No. 17, they later traded picks to Seattle to select Georgia cornerback Deandre Baker at No. 30. But quarterback — a position they ignored in last year's first round in order to take running back Saquon Barkley No. 2 overall — was Gettleman's primary focus all along this year.
The team repeatedly has stressed that Manning is its starter for 2019. But the 38-year-old's run in New York is nearing its inevitable end. (Or, so we assume.)
So how do you replace a two-time Super Bowl champion with limited mobility and subpar athleticism?
Draft a younger replica who not only resembles Manning, possesses decent arm strength, good mobility but also was trained by Eli and Peyton Manning's former college coach.
"It's a wonderful thing when need and value match," Gettleman said of Jones. "He is just perfect for us. … He's the right kid for us."
Competitive. Gritty. Smart.
Those were the adjectives Gettleman and head coach Pat Shurmur used to deflect questions about Jones' lack of production at Duke, where last season he completed 60.5 percent of his passes and threw for 2,674 yards with 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
"When you watch him play, you just can't look at the raw numbers and say this guy can do it or can't do it," Shurmur said, not-so-subtly referring to the 38 drops by Jones' college receivers. "There are reasons a ball is complete or not complete."
Inexplicably, it took only a few series of Senior Bowl play in January for Gettleman to determine that Jones was The Guy. "He walked out there and I saw a professional quarterback," the GM said. "After the three series that I watched, I saw a professional quarterback.
"I was in full-bloom love."
But despite being grossly enamored with the Duke prospect, Gettleman wouldn't definitively say Jones will start games in 2019 — or in 2020 for that matter.
But the GM is certain of one thing.
"In time, you'll be very pleased," Gettleman said with a self-satisfying grin, when asked to offer encouraging words to despondent Giants fans.
The 6-5 Jones certainly looks the part of an NFL quarterback. And if you believe the hype surrounding his top-10 selection, he has the potential to be as good as both Manning boys. Just ask his Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who coached Peyton at Tennessee and Eli at Ole Miss.
"He can win a championship. He's that level of NFL quarterback," Cutcliffe said from the draft in Nashville. "I just know he'll be a championship quarterback in that league."
Jones' college coach may be confident in his former pupil, but Giants fans understandably need a lot more convincing.
Sam Darnold didn't excite Gettleman.
Josh Allen wasn't deemed to be elite.
Josh Rosen wasn't good enough.
And neither was Lamar Jackson.
A year ago, the Giants chose to ignore a better rookie quarterback class altogether in favor of keeping veteran Manning at the helm. But Gettleman has found the perfect facsimile of his current starter — a player they believe has shown the ability to handle adversity and the New York market.
"I came to Duke as a walk-on, someone who wasn't recruited heavily, and I think that was part of it," Jones, who twice attended the Manning Passing Camp, said on a conference call.
Despite league insiders insisting Jones would still have been available when the Giants picked at No. 17, Gettleman said he couldn't bear to take that chance.
"You never know," he said. "I was not willing to risk it."
Shurmur said he spoke to Manning "throughout this process" and that the team was completely transparent about there being "a decent chance there may be a new guy here. It doesn't bother Eli."
Added Gettleman: "He was fine. I told him: 'It's your job.' …He said, 'Let's go.'"
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