Daniel Jones has emerged, against all odds, as the Giants’ franchise QB

John Mara never had any doubts about Daniel Jones. He’s said it time and time again over the past few years. And the new regime he hired last year didn’t doubt him either. They just wanted time to evaluate the quarterback for themselves.

That was the message they gave Jones last April when they told him they were declining the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. It wasn’t that they wanted to move on, but that they wanted him to prove it. They wanted it to prove that it was really worth building on.

So he did.

There’s still the tough job of negotiating, but it’s long been clear that Jones is the guy for the Giants, who want to lock him up to a long-term contract and hand him the keys to the franchise. Now they’re confident he’s a quarterback they can win with if they can ever put a decent team around him. Saquon Barkley has been terrific and Andrew Thomas has become an anchor at left tackle, but given the lack of wide receiver talent on the roster, Jones has been their MVP all season.

These Giants would not have been anywhere near their first playoff berth since 2016 if not for the play of Daniel Jones.

“I’m happy for him,” Mara told reporters after the Giants clinched a playoff berth with a 38-10 victory over the Colts, his team’s biggest win in six years. “You drafted him as high as we drafted him, we got a lot of criticism. He got a lot of criticism. And to see him do his thing is very rewarding for us.”

It should be, as somewhere in Cape Cod, Mass., former Giants general manager Dave Gettleman feels satisfied, too. He’s the one who went all-in on Jones as Eli Manning’s successor in 2019. He’s the one whose neck was on the line when he surprised many in the NFL by selecting Jones sixth overall.

There have been so many questions about Jones since then. He played well in his first season, but he couldn’t stop smoking. The offense has faded over the past few years under his direction, though no one thought it was all his fault. And he got hurt — an ankle injury here, a neck injury there — which surprised everyone who watched his predecessor start an incredible 210 consecutive games.

So all he did, with all those questions hanging over him, after the Giants told him they weren’t going to make a one-year, $22.4 million investment in him in 2023, after they told him he still had something to prove, it was out. and prove that he was just as tough as Phil Simms or Manning or any other quarterback the Giants have ever had, that maybe he also had the potential to be just as good one day. Jones has completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 3,205 yards and 15 touchdowns so far, despite playing with a patchwork receiving corps that doesn’t include anyone ranked in the top six on the Giants’ depth chart during training camp. He has thrown just five interceptions, the fewest in the NFL among quarterbacks who have made more than 10 starts. He’s even played just six times (losing just three).

And he’s played every game, despite taking more brutal hits than any quarterback should, thanks in part to an injury-plagued offensive line that wasn’t all that good to begin with, and the fact that he’s put his body in game rushing 120 times, twice his career high, for 708 yards and seven touchdowns. Daniel Jones’ run has been the Giants’ best play all season. He proved that again Sunday when he ran 11 times for 91 yards and two touchdowns against the Colts.

He also took big hits at the end of those two touchdown runs. Then he got up. He keeps getting up. And he’s still carrying his team.

“This guy, he’s working his tail off,” Giants running back Saquon Barkley said. “He’s the toughest quarterback in the league. He’ll do whatever it takes to help the team win football games. He comes to work every day with that mindset and I’m happy for him.”

Jones always had the respect of his teammates, coaches and bosses. But the real symbolic moment of total acceptance came on Sunday, with the 7:30 a.m. for the Giants’ victory party. That’s when Giants manager Brian Daboll sent his backup quarterback onto the field to relieve the starter.

By then, the gleefully happy crowd at MetLife Stadium was chanting Daniel Jones’ name.

“Hearing his name, it’s a beautiful thing,” Barkley said. “You can finally see that he’s starting to get the respect he deserves. I know everybody wanted to be a big critic of him, but he gave us a chance to play playoff football. When we needed him the most, he showed up and went make big plays.”

Jones’ reaction to the crowd reaction was straight out of Eli Manning’s playbook. “I’m very grateful,” he said. “Grateful”. He then deflected credit and attention to everyone else on the team. He is, in many ways, a clone of Manning with his stoic demeanor that, like Manning, hides the competitive fire that rages on the field.

He has a long way to go to be Manning, of course. Leading this ragtag team to the playoffs was just the first step. It was an important step, though. He helped revitalize a downtrodden franchise and showed Mara it was time to open up the Giants’ bench.

This part won’t be easy. The $22.4 million they could have paid Jones through 2023 won’t even be close to the starting point when negotiations begin. The going price for quality NFL starting quarterbacks these days is around $40 million per season. Even if the Giants have to use the franchise tag on Jones to buy time until they can work out a deal, it will cost them about $32.4 million. So he probably won’t accept less per year than that.

And no, don’t think for a second that Jones will be willing to sign at a discount. That’s not how it works in the NFL, certainly not when there are so many quarterback-needy teams lining up to make offers this offseason, including the Colts, Texans, Panthers and Commanders. And yes, maybe the Jets.

But the Giants will pay him, though they have to somehow balance that with what they pay Barkley. And yes, they’d like to bring Barkley back, too. They’d also love to somehow do both without using up too much of the extra $60 million in salary cap space they’re expected to have in the offseason, so they can build a quality team around those two

But that’s something GM Joe Schoen will find out later. The big decision on Jones is clearly made, even if the deal isn’t. The Giants won’t have to jump on the offseason quarterback merry-go-round because they have their franchise quarterback. Daniel Jones may not yet be the next Eli Manning or the next Josh Allen. But the Giants now know for sure they can win with him.

And that’s all they needed to see.

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Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him on Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.

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