From the Saints’ curious quarterback pairing to the Titans’ superstar wide-receiver combo, The Ringer is highlighting the most important, interesting, and, in some cases, baffling NFL duos for the 2021 season. Today: Dave Gettleman and Daniel Jones.
Giants GM Dave Gettleman is known for a good sound bite, and after the dust settled on the 2019 NFL draft, when he selected Duke QB Daniel Jones with the sixth overall pick, Gettleman didn’t disappoint. The Jones selection was viewed by most analysts as a reach for a fringe first-round passer, made all the more egregious by the fact that the Giants had another first-round pick (17 overall) sitting squarely in Jones’s projected range. The New York media monster and rabid fan base demanded answers; Gettleman delivered by saying he fell in “full bloom love” with Jones after watching him play three series at the 2019 Senior Bowl.
But amid the bluster that has defined Gettleman’s time in New York, there are nuggets of wisdom. When speaking to Peter King of NBC Sports after the draft, Gettleman bemoaned the questioning he had to endure, insisting that those “taking the shots” should look at his résumé—a résumé that, critically, did not include the drafting of any major quarterbacks. But he also said, of team building and quarterback development: “Today, there’s no patience.”
There is no patience. Not just for Jones, who was a New York Giant for just one week before coming under heavy fire; not just for Gettleman, who was in his second year of attempting to resurrect the rudderless Giants’ franchise; but for GMs and first-round quarterbacks altogether.
From 2010 to 2018, 27 quarterbacks were selected in the first round. Sixteen of them had a losing record through their first three seasons—and nine of the 16 GMs who had selected them were fired after just two years. Some don’t even get that long. GMs like Tom Heckert, Mike Maccagnan, and Ruston Webster only made it through one season of Brandon Weeden, Sam Darnold, and Marcus Mariota, respectively. The leash is short when the early-drafted rookie doesn’t immediately look like the solution.
But even for those GMs who survived the first few seasons, the story doesn’t get much better. Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell, who selected Blake Bortles, made it through the third year, only to lose control of the roster to Tom Coughlin. Bills GM Doug Whaley drafted EJ Manuel in 2013 (technically he was the assistant GM at the time, but he had influence in the decision) and barely got him on the field before he was replaced by Brandon Beane, who began the Josh Allen era in 2018. Broncos GM John Elway selected Paxton Lynch in 2016 and was able to hold on long enough to draft Drew Lock in 2019—that didn’t work too well either, and now he’s also ceded the reins to new GM George Paton.
The urgency to replace a struggling young QB is often the impetus for a GM change—for those GMs who survive their failed first attempt, like Elway, a swift second swing is also necessary. Cardinals GM Steve Keim missed on Josh Rosen in 2018, and immediately went back to the plate for Kyler Murray in 2019 after reports that he was on the hot seat. Vikings GM Rick Spielman missed on Christian Ponder in 2011, drafted Teddy Bridgewater in 2014, traded for Sam Bradford following Bridgewater’s 2016 injury, and signed Kirk Cousins in 2018. Pretty much the only general manager to draft a “bust” first-round QB in recent memory, see his entire rookie contract, and live to tell the tale was Jason Licht, who selected Jameis Winston in 2015. Of course, the reason for Licht’s retention was fairly evident in the Bucs’ 2020 season: The man can build a Super Bowl–winning roster. Tom Brady certainly helps.
This is the barrel down which Gettleman is staring as he enters the 2021 season: the third year of Jones’s career. QB wins is far from a perfect stat, but owners don’t write checks for TD:INT ratio or air yards per attempt. Jones is 8-18 in his 26 starts over two seasons, with roughly the same winning percentage (.307) that other Giants QBs have produced in his absences (.333)—it would take a 14-3 season for Jones’s career mark to jump over .500. It isn’t enough that Jones has developed his deep ball, or that his running ability surprises defenses to this day, or that the list of quarterbacks with early-career losing records is peppered with workable passers like Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Darnold, and Ryan Tannehill. It’s just that, when those first round QBs lose early, the general managers tend to get fired.
Unlike some of the general managers who endured, Gettleman doesn’t have much of a body of work to lean on. In his first draft for New York, he passed on Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson to take Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick: a talented player at a position of volatility and injury. 2019’s first-rounders were Jones, the excellent nose tackle Dexter Lawrence, and a flameout at cornerback in Deandre Baker. Gettleman took Andrew Thomas before Jedrick Wills Jr., Tristan Wirfs, and Mekhi Becton in 2020, and in 2021, traded out of the Justin Fields slot to take Kadarius Toney in the top 20. While a few late-round hits serve as reminders to Gettleman’s eye for talent—Darius Slayton, Julian Love, Shane Lemieux—the early-round success simply isn’t there.
Gettleman understands the corner into which he and Jones have painted themselves. Just last week on Sirius XM NFL Radio, Gettleman said: “This is an important year for Daniel and an important year for us. What can I tell you? I’m stating the obvious.” Gettleman has poured further resources into the offense accordingly. Besides drafting Toney, the Giants acquiesced to free agent WR Kenny Golladay’s substantial demands in free agency, offering $40 million in guarantees and $72 million in total money across a four-year deal. They join Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton in one of the league’s deepest WR rooms; free-agent signee Kyle Rudolph joins Evan Engram in the tight end room. The Giants reworked veteran OT Nate Solder’s contract, hoping to help Jones cut down on fumbles with an investment in pass protection on the outside. On paper, the Giants’ depth chart is studded with early draft picks and pricey free agents at premium positions. Even beyond the misses in players like Solder, Will Hernandez, and Engram, there’s more than enough talent on this offensive depth chart to deliver for a solid starting quarterback.
But Jones hasn’t been that. NFL.com’s QB Index placed him 24th among the starting quarterbacks in the 2020 season; Mike Sando’s QB Tiers, which polls league execs and coaches, placed him at 22nd. The NFL list has him below Jared Goff and Jalen Hurts, just above Andy Dalton and Taysom Hill; for The Athletic, he ranked below Carson Wentz and Jimmy Garoppolo, and above Ryan Fitzpatrick and Sam Darnold. Veteran journeymen, trade pieces, quarterback competitions—everyone in Jones’s neighborhood is a moving piece in a volatile QB landscape, while Jones quietly entered the season as the Giants’ uncontested starter, no questions asked.
Jones’s bugaboo is ball security: He has thrown 22 interceptions and lost 17 fumbles in two seasons, which total more individual turnovers than any other player in the league. His 18 total fumbles in 2019 were league-leading; his 11 fumbles in 2020 were league-leading. A poor offensive line certainly hasn’t helped. Coaches and analysts alike have commented on the need for Jones to release the ball quicker, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. On quick dropbacks (less than 2.5 seconds), 18.3 percent of the pressures allowed on Jones have turned into sacks—that was the third-worst rate in the league, behind only Carson Wentz and Dwayne Haksins. The problem here isn’t that Jones is holding onto the football; it’s that he can’t account for quick pressures with pre-snap blitz recognition, hot route awareness, or escapability.
Even when the ball gets out, it’s not as if Jones is captaining a dangerous passing game—or even an effective one. For as long as Jones holds on to the football, he isn’t generating explosive passes. Jones’s 7.7 intended air yards per attempt were below average for the 2020 season; fewer than 10 percent of his passing attempts went more than 20 yards downfield; the Giants ranked 30th altogether in explosive passing plays in 2020. Jones’s completion percentage over expectation (CPOE), which serves as a catch-all bucket for quarterback accuracy adjusted for context, was better only than Drew Lock’s, Carson Wentz’s, and Nick Mullens’s.
Jones’s film doesn’t pass the eye test, his career record doesn’t pass the sniff test, and any deep plunge into his production sees the diver surfacing with empty hands. There’s little to hang a hat on here—but Gettleman hung his hat all the same, pushing further investments into the offense, clinging to another year of job security with the promise of turning his top-10 pick at quarterback into something resembling a franchise passer.
And he does have a shot. Jones learned new offenses as both a rookie and a sophomore, so this is the first offseason that offers some schematic stability. The investments at the skill positions inarguably make this the most talented roster with which he’s played. The defense is ready to compete, and the standard for competition in the NFC East is about nine wins. It’s a perfect storm of hackneyed story lines and expectation lifters to place on a young quarterback’s shoulders. But all outlooks are rosy in August. Players with Jones’s body of work rarely get substantially better, just as general managers like Gettleman rarely change their stripes.
So they ride off together into the sunset—however that sunset may look. It’s Gettleman’s way of sticking to his guns, always with a pithy quote to accompany his stubborn outlook. He called the devaluation of the running back a “myth” just one week before taking Barkley with the second overall pick. He called himself a “doddering old fool” when railing against analytic approaches to team building. And to King in 2019, after justifying the wisdom of the Jones selection and haranguing the naysayers, he said boldly: “In three years, we’ll find out how crazy I am.”
This is Year 3, and we’re about to find out just how crazy Dave Gettleman is.