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The New York Giants drafted Duke quarterback Daniel Jones with the sixth overall draft pick this spring, which was a big surprise. Another shocker was hearing Giants general manager Dave Gettleman say starting QB Eli Manning could have years — plural — left at the helm.
The surprises might keep coming with this team.
According to NFL Network’s Kim Jones, Giants head coach Pat Shurmur appeared to leave the door open on the rookie and Manning entering into a training-camp battle for the starting job.
“We’re gonna see what happens,” Shurmur said, “... we’ll just see what happens.”
It appears that Shurmur is talking out of both sides of his mouth, having said that Manning is getting ready to have an outstanding year and that Jones is getting ready to play Week 1. Both things, obviously, can’t happen. But when questioned about this fallacy, Shurmur was willing to let the media run with full-bore speculation.
“Have at it, I guess,” Shurmur said.
What did Pat Shurmur mean by this?
Some coaches choose their words carefully. Others are fine with media drawing their own conclusions based on open-ended comments.
Shurmur might lean toward the latter, but it’s still notable that the coach repeated a version of a phrase more than once on Tuesday.
"Eli is the starter, and [Jones] is getting ready to play," Shurmur said for effect.
The good news is that the Giants appear happy so far with what they’ve seen from Jones. As the Giants are getting ready to put a bow on their offseason program this week, Jones reportedly has thrown the ball well and picked up the offense.
Our No. 56 overall prospect in the 2019 NFL draft, Jones struggled after returning from a collarbone injury early last season at Duke and had a so-so (at best) week of practice at the Senior Bowl before being named the game’s MVP at week’s end.
Manning and Jones are on one tier atop the depth chart, and 2018 fourth-rounder Kyle Lauletta and Alex Tanney reside on the roster behind them. It appears to be nothing but a two-man race here.
"I think he's had a really, really productive offseason," Shurmur said of Jones. "He's on track with the goal to get ready to play Week 1. That's really what all the players need to be thinking. The quarterback stuff will be on the front burner for everyone moving forward. I get that. He's on track."
But how much is separating Manning and Jones right now? And can the rookie win the job sooner than we imagined?
What must Daniel Jones do to beat out Eli Manning?
Who has the lead heading into training camp? We say Manning. Even with the coach allowing our minds to wander on the matter.
Here’s another thing Shurmur said:
"But we feel good about where Eli is. He's our starting quarterback. We have a young player. We think he's going to be an outstanding player. Getting himself ready to play."
That sounds more like a coach who is perhaps underwhelmed by his starter and perhaps more excited by his rookie QB than he expected to be at this point. But in no way are we believing that Shurmur is ready to hand the keys over anytime soon.
In fact, it could take an injury or some pretty poor play by Manning in camp and the preseason (and continued, measurable growth from Jones) for the Giants to consider starting the rookie in Week 1 on the road against the Dallas Cowboys. The Giants open with a pair of teams in the Cowboys and Buffalo Bills who had defenses that ranked in the top 10 in several categories.
If we’re putting odds on this race right now, Manning still should be considered the overwhelming favorite to keep the job with a solid camp or better, no matter how Jones performs. That sounds like the way the Giants might want it to go, not having to force Jones into the lineup before he’s ready. In the video pinned to the top of this post, former Giants OL Shaun O’Hara (also with NFL Network) suggested the Giants would be fine with Jones sitting quite a while before he takes over.
Still, it would not be a wild idea to see Jones replace an ineffective Manning at some point should that be the way the season starts. There are even some opening built into the schedule both early and later in the season.
The Giants head to New England for a Thursday game in Week 6. If Manning hasn’t lost the starting job by then, we could see Jones getting a shot against a far less proven opponent — the Arizona Cardinals — with more than a week to prepare for what would be his home debut.
The Giants also have a Week 11 bye, although they come back to action to face the Chicago Bears, owners of a dominant defense a year ago, at Soldier Field.
All that being said, it would be foolish to close the door entirely on the idea of the rookie beating out the vet. The Giants are carrying Manning and his unwieldy salary for a reason, yes, but Shurmur also knows he has to win games. There’s less job security than ever in the NFL for a head coach, and he enters this season with a 5-11 record and a 15-34 mark overall as a head coach, including his tenures with the Cleveland Browns (two seasons) and Philadelphia Eagles (two games as an interim coach).
The edge likely is with Manning. But it’s hard not to think that Jones is closing the gap and giving the coaches — and Manning himself — something to think about as training camp approaches at the end of July.
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