EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — He stood before the cameras offering a warm smile and an easygoing disposition that felt all-too familiar.
It was a fresh face delivering vintage Giants quarterback cliches.
The resemblance was uncanny.
The measured emotion.
The earnest, monotoned delivery.
Daniel Jones’ official unveiling in front of the New York media was both a gaze into the future and a reversal in time. At first glance, the former Duke quarterback seems like an Eli Manning clone, down to the lean build, boyish looks and coiffed brown hair. But time will tell if Jones can be half the quarterback the two-time Super Bowl MVP was in his prime.
The 21-year-old passed the first test of his professional career, saying nothing controversial or particularly interesting, while displaying his affable nature.
He’s excited to learn at the feet of a two-time champion.
He’s also eager to build on what Manning started.
But having long-term success here is a difficult proposition. Especially now.
Jones has unwittingly been thrown into an impossible situation — caught between an aging veteran not yet ready to hand over the reins of the franchise, an overconfident general manager determined to prove he’s the smartest man in the room and a fan base that didn’t want him. At least not at No. 6 overall.
Drafting a young quarterback was supposed to stabilize a franchise that has strayed from the gold standard of football operations and devolve into dysfunction and media obsession. But rather than lift the cloud of confusion surrounding the organization, GM Dave Gettleman’s decision to select Jones that high in the draft with so many other pressing needs sent the Tri-State area into a tizzy and raised even more questions about the Giants’ long-term plan, their handling of Manning’s final years and Gettleman’s aptitude for assessing QB talent. And the more Gettleman doubled down on his decision — touting his “full-bloom love” for Jones, which was cemented during the Senior Bowl — the more pressure he unwittingly placed on the shoulders of a signal-caller with 31 college starts.
The way the front office has approached the team’s rebuild — trading away high-priced defensive talent, jettisoning the polarizing Odell Beckham Jr. (after inexplicably giving him $65 million guaranteed), and drafting a running back with the No. 2 overall pick last year — has left no wiggle room for Jones.
He can’t just be a suitable successor.
He has to be elite. Just like Eli was for a time.
“In three years, we’ll find out how crazy I am,” a defiant Gettleman recently told NBC's Peter King.
Indeed, we will.
In the meantime, Jones, due to no fault of his own, will be the one saddled with expectations that far exceed the typical scrutiny that comes with playing in the New York market.
“Anyone that comes into New York, you can see that there is more attention than they have had previously,” Jones said Friday, on the first day of rookie minicamp. “It is all part of it. It is my job to make people believe in me and I understand that.”
As expected, the new Giants quarterback expressed only optimism and enthusiasm about the opportunity to learn from Manning.
“I think we both want the same thing: We want the Giants to win football games,” Jones said, adding that Manning congratulated him over the phone last Friday and “was excited” to be teammates.
“That is the goal here. I am certainly going to let that be known. However that happens and whatever the plan is, I am here to do that. I understand my role is to learn from him. I am going to make sure I am improving myself everyday. At the end of the day, we want to win games. That is the goal and I think it will be good.”
Running back Saquon Barkley — the generational talent the Giants selected with the second overall pick in 2018 — is still at the epicenter of debate a year later. Now, imagine what the expectations will be for a polarizing prospect like Jones.
“It would be hard to be completely unaware of a lot of that stuff and the way it works,” Jones said of the blowback surrounding his selection. “I don’t focus on it. There is a lot to focus on and a lot to learn right now. Being here, learning the offense and trying to pick up a bunch of stuff. I am not sure I can really afford to focus on a lot of that stuff.”
But the Giants front office insists that Jones has the right temperament — and talent — to be the team’s leader for years to come.
“Time will tell. This is a very accomplished, talented and smart young man that gets it,” said head coach Pat Shurmur. “... He understands what comes with being the quarterback here.
“Listen, if you’re in this game long enough, you’re in this arena, you get cheered and you get booed. And he’s smart enough to know how to handle that type of stuff and do what he can to help us win football games.”
With one bold and largely unexpected move, the Giants made it clear that Jones was their target all along at No. 6. He was the signal-caller they believed in most, the quarterback most capable of carrying the franchise in the future.
And on Friday, Jones affirmed his desire to add another Lombardi Trophy to the collection.
“I wanted to be in New York,” he said. “I think through the process, this is the place I wanted to be.”
For better or worse, they’ll forever be linked.
The young quarterback, eager to make a name for himself beyond Manning’s shadow.
And the GM and head coach, whose tenures are tied to Jones’ ability to replicate the same success as his predecessor.
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