JOE SCHOEN’S FOOTSTEPS echoed through the empty hallways of the New York Giants‘ Quest Diagnostics Training Center. It was 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday when he peered into what he expected to be a player-less cafeteria.
That’s when he spotted Daniel Jones.
Schoen saw his quarterback eating breakfast, while the rest of his teammates enjoyed their Week 9 bye. Jones was preparing for a day of workouts and film study.
While Jones has helped the 7-3 Giants emerge as this season’s surprise success story, his future in New York has been the subject of debate. There is still more to be done before Schoen and this new regime are ready to make a long-term commitment to the young quarterback.
The Giants don’t have any questions about Jones’ character. First-year coach Brian Daboll has done nothing but rave about the way Jones remains steady in his approach.
Schoen said after the Nov. 1 trade deadline any extension talks not settled after the bye week would be tabled until the offseason. Jones said there were no contract talks between the organization and his representatives prior to Schoen’s self-imposed deadline.
Despite Jones’ career-best quarterback rating of 58.3 through 10 games this season, his future in New York remains uncertain.
“I don’t read into it too much,” Jones told ESPN. “I’m going to control what I can and play as well as I possibly can. Then let the rest of it work itself out. That has been my mindset. I don’t think that has changed at this point.”
For the Giants, however, things are more complicated. They declined Jones’ fifth-year option earlier this year, which allows him to become a free agent after the season. Jones has proven to be a quality starter, but the Giants are waiting to see how Jones finishes the season to decide if he’s a quarterback around which they want to build.
Those are two very different distinctions.
“We’ve got [seven] games left. I mean, for all these guys, it’s going to be a continuing evaluation,” Schoen said after the bye week. “We’ll talk through it — what the market looks like, we’ll have those meetings, but it’s going to be an ongoing evaluation.”
SCHOEN’S ACTIONS AT the trade deadline gave away what he really thinks of this team. The Giants were 6-2 at the time, but with a roster they’ve conceded is flawed after an offseason limited by salary-cap constraints.
There are holes all over the roster. The new regime has done its best to build around Daboll’s balanced offense and coordinator Wink Martindale’s aggressive and opportunistic defense, but there are also needs at tight end, interior offensive line, middle linebacker, secondary and in the return game.
And, of course, there’s the most important position of them all.
The franchise tag for a quarterback is estimated at $31.5 million next season, according to the salary cap site Over the Cap. Jones made under $4 million this year, and five quarterbacks — Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes, Kyler Murray and Derek Carr — are currently slated to make over $31 million next season.
Dan Graziano could see Saquon Barkley playing for the Bears next season.
The Giants could absorb the hefty salary next year, with ample salary-cap space. But they also have to figure out a solution for Barkley, who seems like a prime candidate for the franchise tag in back-to-back years. The franchise tag for a running back is estimated to be in the $10-12 million range.
That would leave the Giants needing to find a middle ground with Jones or turn to backup Tyrod Taylor for a much more manageable $5.5 million.
One NFC general manager figured the Giants’ “best option” would be to re-sign Jones this offseason. Another executive with a potential NFC playoff team said there is “no way” he would build around the 2019 No. 6 overall pick, citing what he considered an inability to win in traditional drop-back situations, and the Giants’ success in Daboll’s scaled-back offense.
An NFL executive with experience negotiating contracts suggested a one-year deal for midlevel money would make the most sense for both parties. Something in the $15 million to $20 million range.
That is assuming there won’t be a big, long-term deal out there for Jones.
“He’s a bridge to the real future starter,” the executive said.
Another source pointed to the two-year, $28 million contract ($21 million guaranteed) Jameis Winston signed with the New Orleans Saints this past offseason as an example of what might work with Jones.
Jones, 25, might not be so willing to make that deal. He can likely do better on the open market. He has had more recent success than Winston and isn’t coming off a serious injury.
But there is an inherent risk to letting Jones test his value. Quarterbacks with far more fleeting success — Brock Osweiler, Nick Foles and Matt Flynn, to name a few — have been paid handsomely on the open market.
“While far from perfect, he’s young and ascending, and upward of 12 teams will need new quarterbacks next season,” ESPN NFL front-office insider Mike Tannenbaum said. “The ball-security issue that plagued him over his first three seasons [36 fumbles] is largely under control this year.”
Tannenbaum doesn’t think Jones will get anything less than $25 million per year, citing the supply and demand with the position.
Prior to the season, it seemed more likely the Giants would look to the 2023 draft for their next quarterback. That is the blueprint Schoen and Daboll used in Buffalo when they drafted Josh Allen in 2018, even after Taylor took them to the playoffs.
But if the Giants keep winning it will become difficult, although not impossible. Buffalo turned the 21st overall pick that year into Allen at pick No. 7. It cost a starting offensive lineman in Cordy Glenn and two second-round picks to make it happen.
Schoen could get creative if he’s intent on moving on from Jones. It’s still an option, albeit a risky one.
“[Jones is] doing everything we’ve asked him to do and he’s doing a really good job with it,” quarterbacks coach Shea Tierney said. “That’s all we ask him to do.”
JONES HAS SHOWN a lot of promise in his first 10 games of the season. The Giants have seven wins for just the second time since 2012, and Jones is ninth among all quarterbacks with a QBR of 58.3 — ahead of both Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert and Cincinnati Bengals‘ Joe Burrow at Nos. 10 and 12, respectively.
Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka are maximizing his skill set. Jones has already rushed for 437 yards and a career-high four touchdowns.
Still, Jones has a lot to prove in the final seven weeks.
He needs to continue making good decisions — six turnovers in 10 games is by far the best pace of his career — and winning games.
“That’s what they say about Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady. It’s that they don’t turn the ball over, which he’s shown,” wide receiver Darius Slayton said. “I think that is the biggest key and something he’s done a great job of doing this year.”
Schoen has been especially impressed with how Jones has performed in the got-to-have-it moments. Jones is third among all quarterbacks with four fourth-quarter comebacks this season, behind only Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Matt Ryan. Jones rallied the Giants to comebacks against the Tennessee Titans, Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Ravens, their three biggest wins of the season.
“He’s done a really good job for our football team and, the things that we have asked him to do, he’s done them well,” Daboll said after the win over the Packers. “I’m glad he’s our quarterback.”
He’s done it all without an elite receiving corps. Slayton is the Giants’ leading receiver, despite being buried on the depth chart this summer and early in the season. They’ve gotten almost nothing from Kenny Golladay (four catches, 51 yards) and traded Toney prior to the deadline.
Sterling Shepard was lost for the season in Week 3 to a torn left ACL, and rookie Wan’Dale Robinson tore his right ACL in Sunday’s loss to the Detroit Lions and is done for the season. In-season additions such as Marcus Johnson and Isaiah Hodgins have already been forced to start games.
It has left Jones and the offense unable to open up the passing game.
“He’s a great leader,” Barkley told ESPN. “He’s a heck of a player.
“I’m always going to speak highly of him, not just because that is my friend or teammate, just because the work ethic that he has and the plays he makes on the football field. I think he’s shown that this season. I think he’s shown that a lot in his career, to be completely honest. Obviously it’s a little easier to see those or praise him a little more for people outside because it’s coming with wins.”
The Giants might be on the way to their first playoff appearance since 2016, but they still need to see Jones finish a season.
Jones has missed at least two starts in each of the previous three seasons because of ankle, hamstring and neck injuries. He hurt his left ankle in a Week 4 win over the Chicago Bears this season but managed not to miss any time. Staying healthy and playing 17 games was admittedly at the top of his list of goals this season.
It might all come down to the next seven weeks. The Giants face the Cowboys on Thursday in Dallas, play the NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles twice and face the 8-2 Minnesota Vikings on Christmas Eve.
“I think there’s always more to do,” Jones said. “I have expectations of myself and goals for myself to continue to improve week to week. How that’s seen by other people is really out of my control.”