The Giants. The Jets. Two teams in transition, fighting for one city … despite both playing, practicing, and operating in a different state altogether. In one corner: a roster with Eli Manning, Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley, and a noted lack of Odell Beckham Jr. In the other: a squad with Le’Veon Bell, Adam Gase, and a quarterback with the best jawline in football. On Thursday, The Ringer is breaking down the state of the NFL in New York City—and the players, personalities, and memes that define its marquee franchises.
America’s largest city is (kind of) home to two NFL teams, the Giants and Jets, who bear the city’s name despite playing in New Jersey, because things are just easier that way. Historically, the franchises have lived diametrically opposite lives: The Giants have the ninth-best NFL winning percentage of all time; the Jets have the seventh worst. The Giants have often stumbled into greatness, winning a pair of Super Bowls over seemingly superior Patriots teams; the Jets have been unable to avoid failure, doomed to forever finish behind those same Patriots in the cruel joke that is the AFC East. The two franchises are both defined by head-related sports miracles: the Helmet Catch and the Butt Fumble.
However, both are currently in similar spots. Both New York–adjacent franchises have lost at least 11 games in each of the last two seasons. The Jets appear to be on the verge of escaping incompetence and building a decent squad, but in some ways feel haunted by elements of their hilarious past. The Giants seem determined to squander every positive they have, as they traded superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. for pennies on the dollar in March, sacrificing $16 million in salary cap space to do so.
On the heels of that OBJ trade, I compared the situations of each team to determine which was closer to escaping embarrassment. Shortly afterward, the Jets general manager was overthrown by the head coach he recently hired, while the Giants used the sixth pick in the draft on a player who might not have been worth a first-round pick altogether. At that point, it became clear that tracking any developments involving the two franchises—the good, the bad, and the inexplicably weird—needed to become a seasonlong endeavor. So I came up with an extremely scientific formula: I’ll reward each team with Helmet Catch points for any positive development and Butt Fumble points for any negative development. In this post, I’ll grade the biggest events that have taken place since March.
The Gase Gaze
It was hard to find many positives in the Jets’ January decision to hire head coach Adam Gase, who was brought in after being fired from a 23-25 stint with the Dolphins. Gase is a supposed quarterback guru whose QBs have generally fared poorly, with the notable exception of late-career Peyton Manning in Denver. Hiring Gase is like hiring a director whose movies have sucked, but who got a good performance out of Daniel Day-Lewis one time.
However, Gase was not content to merely be the Jets head coach. Two months after a free agency period in which the Jets doled out $120 million in guaranteed contracts—more than any other team in the NFL—and one month after the draft, the team abruptly fired GM Mike Maccagnan. That firing was ostensibly the result of disagreements with Gase, who reportedly clashed with Maccagnan. (Headline from May 15: “Gase upset with report of rift with GM Maccagnan.” Slightly later headline from May 15: “Jets fire GM Maccagnan, name Gase interim.”)
The issue here was timing. It was clear that Maccagnan should not have been running a team when he somehow thought Christian Hackenberg was a franchise quarterback. But the powers that be deciding to ax him after the Jets had spent more money than anyone else in free agency, and at the behest of a power-hungry coach who hasn’t yet proven he should be trusted … well, it’s questionable.
Over the last few months, Gase has emerged as one of the strangest figures in the league. The Athletic reported that he left his wife in the hospital moments after the birth of their baby so that he could make a previously scheduled coaching meeting. (He briefly laid eyes upon the human being his wife had grown inside of her as it tried to reckon with the bewildering world it had been born into, and then said, “All right then, I’m out,” per his wife.) There is also the matter of his eyes. Gase generated headlines for his frenzied googly-eyed look during his introductory Jets press conference. It was not a one-off appearance. His eyes apparently just look like that now. Gase had been a public figure for well over a decade before that presser, and did not always resemble Jack Nicholson carving up an Overlook Hotel door with an ax. I suspect he’s actively choosing to bug his eyes out everywhere he goes now to instill fear in people. The googly eyes are exacerbated by some of his other actions, like his pregame smelling salt ritual:
Find someone who loves you the way Adam Gase loves pregame smelling salts. pic.twitter.com/ZzhT3jRb5Y— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) August 8, 2019
Gase is power-hungry, possibly terrifying, and only maybe good at coaching football. His hire is outside the scope of this study since it happened before March, but for his coup and general demeanor I’m awarding the Jets 1.5 Butt Fumble points.
The Draft Rise, Post-Draft Fall, and Preseason Rise of Daniel Jones
I still cannot believe the Giants selected Daniel Jones with the sixth pick in the 2019 NFL draft. The Duke quarterback ranked dead last among drafted QBs in several metrics that have been highly predictive of NFL success. He averaged 6.8 yards per attempt during his final college season, which was 81st among Division I QBs in 2018. He had a completion percentage of just 60.5, which ranked 60th. He was not seen as a top-50 prospect by many draft experts. The Giants took him at no. 6 nonetheless.
And Jones has gone out and looked incredible this preseason. Through three games, he’s 25-of-30 for 369 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, good for a stunning 140.1 passer rating. He’s averaging 12.3 yards per attempt, nearly double his college rate. (The one downside is a tendency to fumble the ball—he has three fumbles in just a few drives of action.) The stats aren’t empty either, as he’s routinely making difficult throws look routine. He’s Danny Dimes now.
dAnIeL jOnEs CaN't ThRoW tHe DeEp BaLl pic.twitter.com/3ERPB1ufQb— New York Giants (@Giants) August 17, 2019
Daniel Jones throw 14— Talkin’ Giants (@TalkinGiants) August 17, 2019
•Tight man with a safety high
•Looks off safety and hits Jones on the end zone fade
When Jones was drafted, Giants general manager Dave Gettleman said it could take him up to three years to beat out Eli Manning for the team’s starting spot. Team owner John Mara said he hopes Jones never sees the field this year, because that would mean Manning is playing well. But through three preseason games, it seems like the Giants should test out their rookie instead of giving another shot to their 38-year-old veteran.
I refuse to let three preseason performances—three incredible preseason performances—trump 36 games of, uh, less-than-incredible college tape. So I’m awarding the Giants 4.0 Butt Fumble points for drafting Jones sixth overall and two Helmet Catch points for his preseason play, leading to a net total of 2.0 Butt Fumble points. If Jones’s preseason performance is a legitimate sign of things to come, though, he’ll erase that tally quickly.
The Growing Legend of Quinnen Williams
The Jets picked defensive lineman Quinnen Williams third overall in April’s draft, and he’s already proving to be an absolute force on the field. Here is a clip of the Alabama product knocking a Falcons offensive lineman flat on his ass. (Please, do not truther this highlight by pointing out that said lineman got his foot caught on another lineman.)
Perhaps more importantly, Williams has emerged as an All-Pro quote. In December, he comically refused to express his true thoughts about eventual top pick Kyler Murray, showing that he clearly has a filter. He just spends every sentence deciding whether or not to apply it, with fascinating results. Williams achieved meme status for saying he “couldn’t wait to play with himself” in Madden, then realizing a half-second later that his words had come out wrong. He said “bless you” to himself, a true innovation in the field of post-sneeze etiquette. He is unstoppably charming.
For Williams’s impressive play and unparalleled charm, I’m awarding the Jets 0.5 Helmet Catch points.
The Giants’ Wide Receiver Circle of Doom
The Giants’ offseason decision to ship Beckham off to Cleveland left fourth-year man Sterling Shepard—who by no means is a superstar—as the team’s top receiver. So the franchise attempted to mitigate the loss of OBJ by handing a $37 million contract to Golden Tate, who, like Shepard, plays primarily out of the slot. Tight end Evan Engram often plays out of the slot as well, and the Giants really should play Saquon Barkley out of the slot from time to time, although they haven’t. Heading into training camp, this experiment was confusing. Who was going to line up outside?
Then things immediately got worse. Shepard broke his thumb on the first day of training camp; on the same day, fellow wideout Corey Coleman tore his ACL, ending his season. A few days later, Tate got popped with a four-game suspension for testing positive for PEDs. Just like that, the Giants’ receiving depth chart had been decimated. The long-term outlook isn’t so bad: Shepard is already practicing and Tate is merely out for four games. Because the two have yet to appear in the same preseason game, though, we still don’t know how they will coexist. And with Tate out in Week 1, Shepard will be the Giants’ only active receiver in that game with more than 1,000 career yards. (Their no. 2 receiver will be Cody Latimer, who managed just 16 catches in his first three years in the league.)
The Giants don’t have the worst receiving corps in the NFL—Washington’s go-to wideout was supposed to be Josh Doctson, but the front office might actually cut him because he’s so bad—so that’s a relief. Still, the Giants had a brilliant star and voluntarily chose to downgrade to two slot receivers and an assortment of journeymen. The Beckham trade is outside the scope of this exercise, because it happened before March. However, I’m awarding the Giants 0.75 Butt Fumble points for shooting themselves in the foot at receiver since then. (Metaphorically, this time.)
Both teams are in the red: The Giants have 3.75 Butt Fumble points, while the Jets have 1.0 Butt Fumble points. Who can get into Helmet Catch territory?
If Daniel Jones continues his tear and proves the doubters wrong, the Giants can rack up plenty of Helmet Catch points. If Jones struggles, however, or if the Giants stick with Eli deep into a 4-12 campaign while OBJ dances into the playoffs, they’ll stay in the red.
Will Adam Gase display a method to his madness, curing Sam Darnold of his interception woes and getting the Jets to the brink of the postseason? Or will he ignore all the players Maccagnan signed in free agency and make progressively weirder faces for 16 consecutive weeks?
The Jets seem likely to win more games, although neither team appears playoff ready. The Jets’ over-under for wins in 2019 is 7.5, while the Giants’ over-under is 6. But the Helmet Catch–Butt Fumble Matrix is not solely about wins and losses. It’s about spectacular successes and spectacularly self-inflicted wounds. Check back for scoresheet updates all season long.