EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – His health will always come first, so if Daniel Jones isn’t physically able to play on Sunday, he won’t and he shouldn’t. There’s no good reason to put him in a position where he could suffer another injury or make this one worse.
But if he can play, if it’s just a matter of pain tolerance and dealing with discomfort, then the Giants quarterback really needs to find a way to be on that field in Miami. It’s not just because his team needs him as they cling to the fringe of the playoff race.
It’s because no one on the roster needs a strong finish to the season more than Jones.
His future may not literally be hanging on these last six games, but how Jones plays – and if he plays -- could go a long way towards how the Giants view his future long-term. They’re fully committed to him for now, according to just about anyone in the organization, but a new general manager is likely to take over sometime in January and he could have a different view.
And if what that new GM sees is a quarterback who has missed time with injuries in three straight seasons and one who has mostly struggled through what everyone believed was a make-or-break year, that will loom over the big decision the Giants must make in early May: Whether to pick up the fifth-year option on Jones’ contract for about $21 million in 2023.
And it could also cause the Giants to take a good, long look at the quarterbacks coming out of college with one of what could be two Top 10 picks they’re currently holding in 2022 NFL draft.
If that sounds alarmist – well, maybe it is. Because all indications are the Giants still believe that Jones is their long-term answer at quarterback. Even those in the organization who acknowledge that he hasn’t played up to expectations are quick to point out the long list of injuries to most of his offensive weapons and the disappointing, if not disastrous, state of his offensive line.
But at some point, before they start making big financial commitments, the Giants need to see some sign that Jones can rise above all that and play like the elite quarterback they think he can be. When Giants co-owner John Mara was asked about that in August, whether he needed to know for sure that Jones was his franchise quarterback by the end of this season, before he started giving him bags of money, Mara said “Yes, you have to know. Hopefully he stays healthy. Hopefully he’ll make it an easy decision for us by the end of the year.”
So far, Jones hasn’t made it an easy decision at all. Despite being healthy all season – he only missed part of one game with a concussion – his production has been only a tiny bit better than it was last year when he battled injuries throughout the second half of the season. He has completed a decent 64.3 percent of his passes this year, but for only 2,428 yards and just 10 touchdowns with seven interceptions.
Even his effectiveness as a runner isn’t as good as it was, with 62 carries for 298 yards. That’s 4.8 yards per carry this season, down from his 6.2 as a rookie and 6.5 last year.
By any measure, Jones is a quarterback who ranks in the bottom third of the league. And once again, he’s proving to be an injury risk, too.
But he can certainly change those realities and perceptions down the stretch, first by finding a way to play against the Dolphins, and second by playing well. The Giants may not have a great shot at the playoffs with their 4-7 record, but they certainly have an opportunity to make it interesting with a fairly soft final six games.
They just don’t have much of a chance if Mike Glennon has to play quarterback, or if Jones plays the way he’s played over the last two months. In the six games he’s played since he suffered that concussion in Dallas, he hasn’t topped 250 passing yards once and he’s thrown just six touchdown passes to go with his six interceptions. He has been a game manager at best, including two games where he didn’t even reach 200 passing yards and two others where he couldn’t reach 205.
That’s just not good enough for the Giants to justify taking a leap of faith and guaranteeing him $21 million in 2023, because they have to be wondering what the heck happened to the quarterback they saw down in New Orleans back on Oct. 3. That day, against a pretty good defense, Jones completed 70 percent of his passes (28 of 40) for 402 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception.
That was early enough in the season that it really did look like the start of something big.
Instead, it stands out as an anomaly – a performance that maybe Jones can duplicate every now and then, but certainly not with anything near the consistency a franchise quarterback needs. He has done nothing since then but raise questions about his viability as an NFL starter and whether his ceiling is any higher than where it currently is.
He needs to answer those questions now. He needs to show the Giants don’t have to worry about his durability and availability, even if he’s never going to be the Iron Man that Eli Manning once was. And he needs to show that when he’s on the field, in some big spots, he can carry the team and not need others to carry him.
If he answers those questions, then banking on his future maybe will turn out to be an easy decision for the Giants. But right now, it’s just not. The odds are strong that he will still be the Giants’ starting quarterback next season. But he obviously wants to hold the job a lot longer.
The next six weeks could go a long way towards determining whether he can.