When then-Giants general manager Dave Gettleman was asked why he drafted Saquon Barkley with the second pick in the 2018 draft, his answer was simple. Barkley, Gettleman said, “was touched by the hand of God.” The following year, Gettleman said he fell “in full-bloom love” with Daniel Jones after watching the quarterback at the Senior Bowl.
Four years later, Gettleman and his effusive praise are gone, but the Giants’ commitment to both Jones and Barkely remains. On Tuesday, New York’s new general manager, Joe Schoen, signed Jones to a four-year contract that’s reportedly worth up to $160 million, with an average salary of $40 million per year. Jones also has an additional $35 million in various incentives he could earn. Those figures are eye-popping, and they’d place Jones alongside Dak Prescott and Matthew Stafford in a tie for the seventh-highest-paid players by average annual pay in the NFL. But the guaranteed money, which is the real contract, tells another story about where Jones and the Giants are headed.
According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, Jones’s contract is fully guaranteed for just $82 million over two years, along with an additional $12 million bonus that will become guaranteed early in the deal. That makes New York’s true financial commitment $94 million, not the full $160 million, while reserving the team’s ability to decide whether to keep Jones beyond 2024. In other words, the Giants might have paid a premium for Jones in the short term, but they have also negotiated a healthy return policy and could get out of the deal in two years without taking on massive dead money charges like the Eagles or Falcons did when they got rid of Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan, respectively.
Details on the #Giants deal for QB Daniel Jones:— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 7, 2023
-- 4 years
-- $35M more in incentives
-- $82M over the first two years
-- $94M virtually guaranteed at signing.
-- First-year cap number around $19M.
The timing of Jones’s agreement with the Giants on Tuesday, shortly before the deadline for teams to use the franchise tag, allowed New York to tag their divine running back Barkley, bringing him back into the fold in 2023 for roughly $10 million. And so the Giants have retained the two stars of their 2022 playoff run, and have also built themselves the avenues to dump both of them in the not-so-distant future.
Now, Jones and his $40 million in annual salary is a football Rorschach test. Is he worth this much money? Can the Giants compete for a Super Bowl paying Jones just a few million dollars per year less than the Chiefs pay Patrick Mahomes or the Bills pay Josh Allen? Is Daniel Jones even good?
On one hand, Jones was good last year. He led the Giants to a stunning playoff berth and a convincing win over Cousins’s Minnesota Vikings in the wild-card round, where Jones became the first quarterback in NFL history with 300 or more passing yards, two or more passing touchdowns, and 70 or more rushing yards in a playoff game, according to NFL Research. He cut down on his turnovers and threw an interception on just 1 percent of his passes this year, the lowest rate in the NFL.
Injuries decimated the Giants’ receiving corps and prevented New York from running a true dropback passing game for months last season. Jones put his body on the line as a battering ram on designed runs to become a goal-line weapon so New York could run an offense. There’s no way the Giants would have made the playoffs without him. If this is what Jones accomplished in his first season under Daboll and first-year play-caller Mike Kafka, imagine what he could do with a real skill group!
On the other hand, there’s a case that Daniel Jones was not good at all last year, and that the Giants were buoyed by the easiest schedule of any team in the NFL, per Warren Sharp’s strength-of-schedule calculations. That easy schedule coincided with the only good season of Jones’s career. The Giants’ playoff win over Minnesota came against arguably the luckiest (or most fraudulent) 13-win team in NFL history. In the regular season, Jones threw just 15 touchdown passes in 16 games. His average pass traveled an average of just 6.4 yards in the air, 32nd in the NFL, ahead of only Indianapolis’s Matt Ryan. Jones benefited from the tutelage of Daboll, but that coaching could be transferred to other players for a fraction of the cost. If Jones’s main value were rushing and limiting mistakes, is he really worth seven times more money than Tyrod Taylor, who is under contract for $5.5 million in 2023? Should the Giants really give $82 million over two years to a guy who just had his only good season as a starter?
The answer to this quandary is probably somewhere in the middle: Jones is a slightly-above-average starter who was limited by a perfect storm of coaching and injuries during his first few years, then was propelled by a perfect storm of coaching and easy opponents in 2022, with injuries once again obscuring his true ceiling and providing excuses for his shortcomings as a QB. He’s probably a little better than Derek Carr and Kirk Cousins and probably won’t ever sniff the realm of Joe Burrow, Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, or Lamar Jackson.
The Giants probably feel the same way since they declined his fifth-year option. If New York had exercised that option, they would have locked in Jones for about $20 million for the 2023 season. By declining—a decision made last spring—the Giants effectively bet against Jones having a good season in 2022. The Giants lost that bet, and it’s going to cost them about $80 million. If the Giants had been confident Jones was going to have the year he had, they wouldn’t be here right now.
The game within the game of NFL team-building has been that quarterbacks on rookie contracts are so cost controlled that it makes sense to shell out huge money only if a QB is special (Mahomes, Allen, Herbert, Burrow) or if a team is on the precipice of a championship (like when the Rams paid Jared Goff coming off a Super Bowl loss four years ago). Jones is going to cost the Giants about three or four times the money he cost them last year every year of this deal going forward. But what else are the Giants supposed to do? The true Rorschach test might not be how you feel about Jones, but how you feel about the idea of quarterback purgatory.
Quarterback purgatory is when you have a QB who is probably not good enough to win a Super Bowl, but is good enough that it’s extremely difficult to replace him. Cousins put the Vikings in QB purgatory. For years, Derek Carr had the Raiders there. Andy Dalton is QB purgatory. With Jones now on a new contract, there are two questions: Can Jones be better than a mobile version of Cousins? If not, is it OK to settle for mobile Kirk Cousins? Or should the Giants be criticized for not being willing to crawl through QB hell in the hopes of finding heaven?
Thanks to their surprising success in 2022, they are drafting too late in the first round to trade up without paying through the nose. They are probably not good enough yet to trade for Aaron Rodgers. There’d have been no point in cutting Jones loose to get Carr or Jimmy Garoppolo. And rolling with Tyrod Taylor over Jones doesn’t really inspire the season-ticket holders. The Giants truly had just two choices: This contract, or the franchise tag, which would have put the Giants back in this same situation next year, while costing the team Barkley in the process. And so the Giants essentially sped up the timeline. Jones’s new contract will cost the team about $10 million more over two years than they would have paid with back-to-back franchise tags in 2023 and 2024, but gives them two additional years of control. Jones gets paid, and the Giants get back in the driver’s seat of deciding who should be their quarterback, while moving on to other roster decisions.
New York still has to extend Andrew Thomas at left tackle, re-sign Julian Love and Xavier McKinney at safety, and figure out a long-term plan for Barkley. If Jones ends up a disappointment, well, plenty of teams have built something for one QB and handed it to another. The Bucs built a team for Jameis Winston and won with Tom Brady. The Rams built a team for Goff and won a Super Bowl with Stafford. The Giants can build a team for Daniel Jones, and if it turns out this season was an outlier, they can move on in as little as two seasons.
The money Jones has gotten is eye-popping, but it will be worth it if he continues to ascend. If he doesn’t, and the Giants decide they’re not in full-bloom love, they can get out of this marriage.