Giants sources weigh in on how soon we could see Daniel Jones start over Eli Manning

Ralph Vacchiano

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Daniel Jones exceeded all expectations this summer and was more impressive than anyone could have expected a rookie quarterback to be. He looked ready to play. He showed the Giants' future is in very capable hands.

The only remaining question is: How soon will that future be?

Or to put it another way: Eli Manning may be the Giants' starter, but how short is his leash?

"It's Shurmur's call," one team source said. "Let's just see how it goes. When and if it's time, we'll all know."

The word from inside the Giants' organization -- and straight from the mouths of Dave Gettleman and Pat Shurmur -- has never really wavered on this since the day they shocked so many by taking Jones with the sixth overall pick. They believe in Manning. They believe he can lead this team to the playoffs. And they intend to give him every chance to do that this season, even if it means Jones has to spend the year on the bench.

 

But the specifics of that, and how much of a chance they plan to give Manning, has always been murky. Privately, team officials have told SNY that Manning will be the starter "as long as we're in the playoff race." So maybe it means that Manning will be the starter as long as the Giants are mathematically alive.

Last year, though, they weren't mathematically eliminated from the playoff race until Week 14, when they were shut out at home by the Tennessee Titans and dropped to 5-9. But remember, those Giants started 1-7, so no one thought the playoffs were realistic when the second half of the season began. Even the most diehard optimism probably jumped ship when they were blown out by the Eagles on Oct. 11 and dropped to 1-5.

Would the Giants pull the plug if the same thing happened again? Would it take a 1-5 start? Would they do it at 0-3? How about 0-2?

That's obviously not a worst-case scenario the Giants are planning for, nor would Shurmur say it if they were. He remains publicly and privately a Manning believer, and nothing he's seen this summer - from either Manning or Jones - has changed his thoughts.

"I think (Manning) has had an outstanding offseason," Shurmur said on Friday. "I think he's had, in my mind, an outstanding camp. He's executed well the time he's been in the game. He's certainly a guy that's got a lot of experience. When I look at him I just see a guy that's much more comfortable in the system for a second year in a row, and I'm looking forward to him having a really good year."

If he does, great. Jones can take over in 2020, or sometime after that. It gets complicated, though, if he doesn't. Because the decision might not be solely based on Manning's performance and statistics. There are other variables at play.

For example, in the recent past, the Giants have argued - correctly - that Manning's struggles were directly related to the poor performance of his offensive line. So if the Giants start poorly, but the line is a mess again or the team is crumbling around him, they could be more inclined to see if Manning can ride it out.

One variable that seems off the table is the 2004 plan, where Tom Coughlin made the switch from veteran Kurt Warner to a young Manning even though the Giants had a 5-4 record at the time. One of the reasons given at the time was that Warner's play was regressing, which is why the Giants' offense was struggling. But if Manning is struggling and the Giants are above .500, there seems to be, as one source said, "no way" Shurmur makes a similar move.

And there's another variable, too: How ready is Jones, really? His preseason was phenomenal. He completed 29 of 34 passes (85.3 percent) for 416 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, good for a passer rating of 137.2. Of course, it was almost completely against second- and third-team defenses that surely didn't game-plan much against him or get creative with their pressure and coverage. He looked spectacular, but in relatively controlled conditions.

The Giants have no idea how Jones will react and play in a real game. They are hopeful and encouraged, but how he handles NFL regular-season game conditions is still a big unknown.

That's a big reason why, when Shurmur was asked after Thursday night's preseason finale, if he thought Jones was ready to play, if needed, Shurmur said only "He's getting there." And when he was asked if it was going to be hard to keep Jones on the sideline, Shurmur, without hesitation, said "No."

"Because he's going to continue to improve and continue to keep growing, and keep preparing," Shurmur said. "You know, once the season starts, he's going to prepare like he's going to be the starter and be prepared to go in there when we need him."

Maybe his learning curve will be quick. There is great value in sitting in meeting rooms with Manning, breaking down defenses, evaluating games, and learning to think and see like an NFL quarterback. Maybe after a few weeks of that, the Giants will really believe Jones is ready to step in.

The Giants still hope, though, that they won't have to make that switch until next season. They seem to relish the thought of Manning leading them to the playoffs and forcing them into an enormous and agonizing decision about who should be their quarterback next year.

But they have to be prepared for the switch to come sooner, just in case, and they do seem to understand that. They're just willing to let the beginning of the season play out first.