National Football League
How the Giants' looming QB decision could shake the franchise to its core
National Football League

How the Giants' looming QB decision could shake the franchise to its core

Published Apr. 11, 2024 8:25 a.m. ET

Twenty years have passed since the Giants faced a quarterback dilemma quite like this, but John Mara hasn't forgotten how hard it was back then. The team had a quarterback it liked — one who had the owner's full support. But the general manager and head coach had their eyes on someone else.

"We had that discussion I remember very well back in 2004," Mara said at the NFL owners meetings last month. "My father [Wellington Mara] was a huge Kerry Collins fan. We all were at the time. He was reluctant to pull the trigger on such a big trade for Eli Manning. 

"But the feeling that [GM] Ernie Accorsi had, that [head coach] Tom Coughlin had, that a lot of people had, was, 'Hey, we have a chance to get a long-term franchise quarterback here who can help us win Super Bowls.' So, we pulled the trigger on him."

In retrospect, the Giants pulled off one of the most significant trades in franchise history — one that resulted in Manning leading the team to two Super Bowl championships. But it was a big gamble that risked everything for everyone involved.


And now here the Giants are again, in an eerily similar situation. They have Daniel Jones, a quarterback they believed in strongly enough to have signed to a four-year, $160 million contract just 13 months ago. He has the full support of a team owner who seems reluctant to replace him.

But once again, the general manager and head coach seemingly have their eyes on someone else.            

Mara has promised that, despite his strong support of Jones, he will not stand in the way if GM Joe Schoen and coach Brian Daboll "fall in love with a quarterback" in this year's draft. Mara has even said that Jones and a rookie could co-exist this season — "Let them both compete and let the better man win," he said — though that would set up one of the wildest quarterback controversies New York has ever seen.

But if the Giants do select a quarterback with the sixth overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft — or higher if they decide to trade up — the move to replace the 26-year-old Jones so soon after making him one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL would shake the foundations of the franchise. It would also have far-reaching ramifications for everyone involved.

The general manager

When Joe Schoen was hired to run the Giants in January 2022, he was the franchise's third GM in a six-year span, and he was tasked with hiring their fifth head coach in an eight-year span. That revolving door had become embarrassing for an organization once known for its stubborn stability.

Mara promised that this time, things would be different. He promised to be patient. He promised to let Schoen build the franchise his way.

Replacing Jones with a new franchise quarterback would be a major test of those promises. The Giants would not have given Jones that enormous contract with $82 million in guaranteed money if both Schoen and Daboll hadn't agreed that he was worth it; that he was the Giants' long-term answer at QB.

And now, one year later, Schoen is changing his mind?

"It is really unusual because most of us won't ever get a second chance like that," an NFL general manager told FOX Sports. "You know when you make a decision like that — drafting a quarterback high or signing one to a huge deal — it's either going to get you a new contract someday or it'll get you fired. It's the biggest decision you can make, and most places don't let you make it twice."

Despite the apparent reversal on Jones, Mara insists that he has "all the confidence in the world in Joe and his staff" and that the franchise is "headed in the right direction." But allowing Schoen, in only his third season and after a disastrous 6-11 year, to completely reverse course on the most important position on the team is an extraordinary show of faith.

Giants owner John Mara "would support" drafting a QB

But Schoen absolutely has to get it right this time, because he's not likely to get a third try.

"There is so much riding on this for him," said a former NFL GM. "At any other position, it wouldn't be a big deal. But there's only room for one franchise quarterback on your team. If you don't pick the right one, you're usually screwed."

The head coach

There is no indication that Brian Daboll is on the hot seat heading into his third season. But his seat isn't exactly comfortable either — not after a season that Mara called "a huge disappointment to me."

The last thing Mara wants to do is fire another coach, especially after he fired each of his past three after two seasons or less on the job. He craves stability for his franchise and, said one team source, "He's legitimately embarrassed by how much turnover there's been." 

But winning matters, and all the goodwill that Daboll built up by leading the Giants to a 9-7-1 record and a playoff berth (and wild-card win) in his first season evaporated with last year's injury-plagued disaster. The terrible optics didn't help. He rarely provided any insight in his press conferences. Meanwhile, he behaved like a wild man at times on the sidelines, even screaming at his own players and assistant coaches. He even had a fairly obvious running feud with his defensive coordinator, Wink Martindale, who quit in a huff shortly after the season.

"There are times where I wish he would tone it down a little bit," Mara said. "But I'm also in the team meetings, and I see how he acts around people and his coaches in the office. He always maintains his cool there. Does he get excitable during the games sometimes? Yeah. So do I. I don't think it's a major issue."

But winning is. And the quarterback decision could make a huge impact on how much winning Daboll can do in the near future. Sticking with Jones is risky, especially after he played only six games last season due to another neck injury and a torn ACL. But going with a rookie quarterback essentially resets the Giants' timetable for building a contender. Yes, the Houston Texans made the playoffs with a rookie quarterback last season, but C.J. Stroud was only the 15th rookie quarterback in NFL history to start a playoff game.

Do the Giants need to draft a QB?

It's much more likely that a rookie QB will struggle — as Manning did during his rookie season (1-6 in 2004), and as Jones did (3-9 in 2019). And that could be problematic for Daboll. He may not be entering a win-now season, but he's probably in a win-soon situation.

And starting a rookie quarterback could make that very difficult to do.

The incumbent quarterback

The Giants' evaluation of Jones hasn't changed much since they signed him to that mega-contract, according to multiple team sources. Yes, he was terrible in the six games he played last season (just 909 passing yards with two touchdowns and six interceptions).

But they really don't blame him.

"I know a lot of you killed Daniel for his performance this year, but we had the perfect storm," Mara said. "Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. Guys got hurt. The wrong guys got hurt. Let's face it, for a while we couldn't block anybody, and Daniel was getting hit all the time."

Jones played almost all of those six games without left tackle Andrew Thomas and most of them without running back Saquon Barkley. The offensive line was a disaster. Said one team source: "I don't think there's any quarterback that could have played well under those circumstances."

That's why Mara said, "I still have every confidence in the world in Daniel. Let's put a better team around him. Hopefully, he'll get healthy, and I think the real Daniel Jones is the one that played in 2022, particularly down the stretch in the playoffs."

It's also why Schoen said, "I have faith in Daniel as our starting quarterback."

But his health is a real concern, according to multiple sources. Two neck injuries in three years are bad enough. But now he's recovering from a torn ACL that will almost certainly sideline him until training camp and might keep him out at the start of the season. Schoen said Jones' recovery is "on the right track" but "You just don't know how he's going to react as we ramp it up and he starts to do more."

Is it time for the Giants to give up on Daniel Jones?

Jones' durability is the main reason the Giants are even pondering drafting his replacement. But if they do that, the result could be cataclysmic to Jones' NFL career. 

"He'd basically be done as a starter," said one NFL executive. "The Giants have always liked him better than everyone else. And with his injury history, no one's going to gamble on him. No one's going to want to invest their future in him."

That includes the Giants. Because make no mistake: Mara's idea to draft a rookie, keep Jones and "let them both compete" is a fantasy. If the Giants were to draft a quarterback high — especially in Round 1 — any competition would be very short-term. At some point, they'd end any appearance of a controversy and turn everything over to the rookie, so he could grow into being the unquestioned starter in 2025.

And since it would be crazy to keep Jones around to back up the guy who replaced him, the Giants would surely absorb the $22.2 million dead money Jones would leave behind on their salary cap and cut him next March.

The owner and the franchise

If the Giants were to draft Jones' successor, Mara understands the implications and the risk. He knows it could set Schoen's rebuilding project back a year or two.

He also understands that it will be a test of his newly rediscovered patience. He surely remembers what it was like in the middle of Manning's fourth season in the NFL. His GM, Jerry Reese, was beginning to think about veteran quarterbacks to bring in for the next season. His coach, Tom Coughlin, was in real danger of being fired. And with fans burning Manning jerseys in the parking lot, there was pressure on the Giants to start looking elsewhere for a franchise quarterback.

That was in late November 2007 — only a couple of months before Manning's late-game heroics helped the Giants win Super Bowl XLII.

Mara still seems to believe that Jones, when healthy and with a good team around him, can work similar magic. One team source said that the owner, more than anyone in the organization, is in favor of sticking with Jones, building him a better offensive line, getting him a No. 1 receiver and then seeing what happens.

But by all accounts, he has no plans to overrule whatever decision Schoen and Daboll make. 

Will the Giants trade up for Drake Maye?

[Vacchiano: Would Giants trade up for a QB? Maybe, if that QB is Drake Maye]

"He knows people outside think he meddles in football decisions, which has always been unfair to him," one team source said. "That's why he'd never risk getting involved here. He saw what his father did when [Accorsi] wanted Eli. He knows how hard that was for his father. But he also knows it was the right way to handle it."

"Listen, everybody in the building wants Daniel to succeed," Mara said. "But you can never let that get in the way if you make a judgment that there are people coming out in the draft that have a chance to be really good, franchise-type players.

"I don't want that to be interpreted as, ‘We don't have confidence in Daniel.' We do have confidence in Daniel. But if you have a chance to bring in another quarterback, and the head coach and the general manager have a conviction about him, then you go ahead and do it."

No matter how risky that move may be.

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 Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.


Get more from National Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more