The pressure is on Daniel Jones and the Giants need to stop trying to shield him from it.
It’s here and it will stay on Jones until he answers the call or wilts.
Several times on Thursday, in Jones’ first interview in 143 days, it felt like the third-year quarterback was trying to dodge the idea that he is primarily responsible for the Giants offense’s production.
He droned on about how “it’s on all 11 guys to do their job every play.”
Only when pressed — don’t great quarterbacks make everyone around them better? — did Jones somewhat accept the reality and accountability for 2021.
“Absolutely. I think, yeah, the quarterback plays a big part in it,” Jones relented. “Communicating, getting everyone on the same page, getting the ball where it needs to be as quickly and accurately as possible. I think that’s a huge part of the equation. I certainly respect that and appreciate that responsibility.”
The time for talking around Jones’ expectations is over, though. He has to take command. He has to take ownership of the offense and this team. He has to do it now.
If Joe Judge is going to plant his flag that “Daniel Jones is our quarterback,” as he did Thursday, with Deshaun Watson and Aaron Rodgers possibly available and the Giants holding ample draft capital, then it is time for Jones to drop this naive act.
He can start by canning comments like “it’s not on any one person more than the other, it’s about everyone executing together as a unit.” This is no time for the Giants to coddle their quarterback.
They have finally taken an aggressive approach to upgrading their roster. They are demanding more out of a player or finding someone better. There is no reason that philosophy shouldn’t apply to the most important position on the team, and it shouldn’t scare Jones to say that or realize it.
It is the job.
So it is time for the Giants to challenge Jones like never before.
Jones does have a valid point that he can’t do it alone, obviously.
It is not his job to call creative plays, block opposing pass rushers, catch the ball, or pick up blitzes in the backfield. He can’t control Kadarius Toney and Kenny Golladay not attending OTAs.
But he can play better. Way better. And there is nothing wrong with saying that.
Colts coach Frank Reich is doing exactly that with his new quarterback, Eagles flameout Carson Wentz.
Reich is working to build Wentz back up to his 2017 MVP form. To get him there, Reich chose on Wednesday to be brutally honest about Wentz’s shortcomings in Philly, to make clear those mistakes will not fly in Indy, and in the process test the famously sensitive Wentz.
“There has been a lot of that discussion, and it has started around, ‘Just be the quarterback of this team and don’t try [to] do too much,’” Reich said. “A lot of that begins in believing [in] the quality of the team around you in all phases — especially up front from the offensive line — and reminding Carson we have high standards around here in the number of sacks we take.”
Reich added of Wentz’s “hard year” in Philadelphia: “Humble pie doesn’t taste good, but it is good for you.”
Back in New Jersey, Judge challenges Jones, too, but he does it behind the scenes.
The coach didn’t directly demand improvement from Jones publicly on Thursday. He said: “I’m very pleased with the way he’s working and I’m looking for a little bit of improvement from every one of our players on a daily basis and every coach, as well.”
Judge intimated that he has Jones’ back publicly but is challenging the quarterback plenty when the cameras are off.
“He just has to be the best he is every day,” Judge said. “That’s what we ask of all of our players. It’s not going to be perfect all the time, but we need it to be the best version you can be of yourself, and as coaches we have to put you in the best position to play to your strengths.
“I’ll keep in terms of the personal conversations that me and him have, or some of the things that we challenge him internally, whether it’s Jason, [QB coach] Jerry [Schuplinski] or myself,” Judge added. “But this guy steps up every day to the plate and he comes to work every day with a plan.”
Co-owner John Mara, GM Dave Gettleman and Judge constantly praise Jones’ intangibles and insist he can be a franchise quarterback. Their belief is genuine, but the Giants know Jones has to get better.
They expected a dramatic improvement from his rookie season in Year 2, and he threw 11 touchdown passes in 13 ½ games for the NFL’s 31st ranked offense.
The skill around Jones had to get better. It did. Now he has to get a lot better, too.
Wentz, widely considered a broken player, has 49 touchdowns to 33 turnovers in 28 games the past two seasons. Jones has 38 TDs to 39 turnovers in 27 games in that same span.
Everyone knows Jones works hard. Everyone knows he’ll need his teammates’ help. But both he and the Giants should be acting like the pressure and responsibility is primarily on him.
Because that’s the harsh truth. And if Jones is all the Giants think he is, he’ll be able to handle that just fine.
Tuesday is important on the NFL calendar because teams can cut or trade players and spread their dead money cap cost across both the 2021 and 2022 seasons, instead of eating it all this fall. That “post-June 1” benefit should lead to a second mini-wave of free agency and player transactions. Teams have less space under this year’s $182.5 million cap (down $15.7 million from 2020 due to the pandemic), and the league determined this week that the 2022 cap could rise to as high as $208.2 million. Clubs were allowed to designate player transactions as “post-June 1” moves in the past few months ahead of time, but they still had to carry the player’s cost through June 1. So those with less wiggle room will finally be able to act come Tuesday if they wish.
Expect the cap-strapped Atlanta Falcons to trade Julio Jones after the June 1 deadline passes for exactly this reason. By the way, I can’t understand why the L.A. Rams aren’t being talked about more as a possible suitor for Jones. GM Les Snead continues to go all-in with the Rams trying to follow the Bucs’ lead in hosting and winning a Super Bowl in their own building. This team once wanted Odell Beckham Jr. from the Giants. Coach Sean McVay got his quarterback in Matthew Stafford and surely would welcome Jones. The Falcons would have to be willing to trade Jones in the NFC, but Snead worked in Atlanta from 1997-2011. The relationship is there. The Patriots also make sense for Jones, who doesn’t have a no trade clause but wants to go to a contender. Just saying: never count the Rams out on these sweepstakes.
The Giants have $202 million in cap liabilities for 51 players already on their roster for the 2022 season, per overthecap.com, and the cap will be no higher than $208.2 million. Now everyone knows why assistant GM Kevin Abrams forecasted that next season will be “a little bit of a challenge” on Big Blue’s books.
The NFL and players’ union agreed to cut their 90-man rosters to 85 on Aug. 17 after the first preseason games, to 80 on Aug. 24 after the second exhibitions, and to 53 on Aug. 31 after teams’ third and final preseason tilts. This is much improved over last season’s COVID cutdown to 80-man limits early in camp that eliminated 320 jobs by early August.
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