3,000 Words on Daniel Jones (2023)

As promised, I have put down on paper where I stand with Daniel Jones four seasons into his pro career. It seemed like anytime I wrote something good about him, I was accused of putting him too high on a pedestal. If I wrote anything negative about him, I was labeled a hater. My reply has always been that I would wait until after 2022 to put any strong thoughts out there in either direction. I simply called it like I saw it. There was some very good, and there was some very bad. This is broken down into three sections followed by my conclusion.

Section 1: His Performance
Section 2: The QB Market
Section 3: The Options
________________________

PERFORMANCE

2022 was the best season of Jones’ career. Different people use different traditional statistics when looking at the numbers. No matter which you use, the conclusion is undoubtedly that he rose to another level this past year.

Career high in completion % (67.2 – 5th best - ahead of Patrick Mahomes)
Career high in yards per attempt (6.8 – 24th in NFL – same as Justin Herbert)
Career high in QB Rating (92.5 – 13th in NFL – ahead of Aaron Rodgers)
Rushing yards (708 – 5th best in NFL – one spot behind Jalen Hurts)

Most importantly, Jones has gone from someone that fumbled 19 times in just 13 games (2019) with 12 interceptions (2.6% of his passes) to just 6 fumbles and 5 interceptions (1.1% of his passes – best in NFL) in 2022. Now that Jones is dealing with the upper hand when it comes to coaching and scheme after being toggled between poor and outdated offensive systems, the ship has steadied. He is no longer weaving in and out of traffic during rush hour tapping the breaks, accelerating, stopping, going left, going right, stopping again…etc. He is on a smooth ascent on a back country, double lane highway relaxed with the windows down.

Jones ran the ball a career-high 120 times. He more-than doubled his scramble runs (65) from the previous high 27 set in 2019. This was the second biggest leap of importance in my eyes. Jones creating more with his legs, whether it was by design or better decision making, is what changed the most for the team’s offense as a group. I often found myself thinking about the possibility of having a lesser athlete back there. If they did, this team wins less games and I have zero hesitation in saying that. The conversations I have had regarding scouting in recent years when it comes to the quarterback has revolved around guys that make things happen with their legs. Everyone wants one now. Pocket passers are still mandatory to win Super Bowls – but the athlete that can create on their own is very sought after. With how the game is played regarding rules and defenses, quarterback runs (both designed and not designed) have turned into some of the most (if not the most) efficient plays in the game. Having one that can do what Jones did in 2022 is an enormous advantage.

The other performance components to Jones revolves around two things. They are cloudy because of the bottom-tier talent around him at receiver. Can he go through multiple reads quickly enough? Can he be an explosive downfield passer? Nobody fears Jones when it comes to the deep game. His arm talent is there, that is not the question. He’s had enough success downfield to give the notion he CAN do it. The question is, how consistently? Jones has had exactly one credible deep threat to work with over his career, Darius Slayton. Slayton has ranked top three in the NFL in drops since coming into the league. We all know how the Kenny Golladay situation panned out. The likes of Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram, Wan’Dale Robinson, Kadarius Toney, and Golden Tate never kept opposing defensive coordinators up at night when it came to the deep game.

Is this solely Jones’ fault? No. But did he show enough to pose as a credible threat to get the ball downfield when they do bring a capable threat? No. You could take the side that is reserved for people that constantly want to defend him, proclaiming “if he had X, then Y would have happened”. Or you could take the side that is reserved for people that simply do not see it, proclaiming “if he had X, then Y would still be the same result”. A good passing game needs to be able to push the ball downfield with some success. The mere threat of it makes everything underneath and intermediate work cleaner.

The next side of this discussion, as noted above, is the ability to play mentally on the same level as other top quarterbacks. To be transparent, this will have more to do with my subjective opinion than factual information. I am not in the meeting rooms. I do not have the full grasp of the NYG passing scheme. I simply watch a lot of football and have put the effort into learning more and more over the past few years. My takeaway is Jones still sits below average when it comes to going through multiple reads under pressure, making the right decision, and putting the ball where it needs to be consistently. Like his deep passing, yes he can do it and he has done it on tape. But when observing what he does in comparison with other quarterbacks that are swallowing 15% of their team spending, I do not see someone that can do it week to week, notably against a quality defense.

If the goal is to find a quarterback that does this at a high level and then pay him big money, this would cause my hesitation. We saw glimpses of progress under the new coaching staff and the debate will center around how much more margin he will gain. Does more talent at receiver help this? Possibly, but I would not give that an automatic thumbs up. This comes down to Jones, and Jones alone. Four years into his career and seeing some of the same problems I noticed when scouting his tape at Duke does not create a sense of optimism in this department, the department I consider most important to quarterback play when talking about the highest level.

(Video) Donell Jones - Shorty Got Her Eyes On Me (Enhanced Video Version)

To wrap up the performance section, I will say that Jones has mightily improved under a better offensive system but with very little support around him personnel-wise. There is reason to believe he can push that needle even further. He is one of the best running quarterbacks in the NFL. He has the talent in his arm to make everything happen in the passing game. The upside is never going to be what the best in the league are putting out there (and that is OK). The between-the-ears work still leaves a lot to be desired if you compare him to the top ten quarterbacks in the NFL. So where does he stand?

______________________

THE MARKET

I believe most understand this – but it does not get discussed enough. We can all agree Jones is a starting quarterback – most would agree a quality starter. Another way of saying that:

If NYG does not re-sign Jones, he will have over a handful of teams bidding for his services. He would be very sought after. Love him or hate him, it is an indisputable fact. Because the NYG brass declined his fifth-year option, a gamble that ultimately did not pan out for them economically, there is no exact amount he will play for at the moment. The market is going to dictate that. The demand is much higher than the supply. Retirements, former stars walking up the 18th fairway, current first round busts, unhappy quarterbacks, coaching changes. All of these in addition to a weak 2022 Draft class at the position has created potentially a dozen teams looking for a new signal caller. I cannot remember a time with so much instability. This favors Jones, it does not favor Joe Schoen.

The contract consists of three main components:

Total Money (per year average)
Guaranteed Money
Duration

Let’s look at the top ten contracts in the league at the position with average / guaranteed money, also considering the likes of Burrow, Herbert, and Jackson still have their own big pay days coming.

Aaron Rodgers: $50 million per / $150 million guaranteed through 2027
Russell Wilson: $49 million per / $165 million guaranteed through 2029
Kyler Murray: $46.1 million per / $103.3 million guaranteed through 2029
Deshaun Watson: $46 million per / $230 million guaranteed through 2027
Patrick Mahomes: $45 million per / $141 million guaranteed through 2032
Josh Allen: $43 million per / $150 million guaranteed through 2029
Derek Carr: $40.5 million per / $65.3 guaranteed through 2026
Matt Stafford: $40 million per / $120 million guaranteed through 2027
Dak Prescott: $40 million per / $120 million guaranteed through 2025
Kirk Cousins: $35 million per / $35 million guaranteed through 2024

Now, a deeper look into those contracts needs to include when they were signed. The cap increases over time, thus the target is always moving. I don’t want to go too much deeper into this unless we discuss below in comments. The point here is to show what the top 10 contracts currently look like from a per-year average and guaranteed ceiling. The Wilson and Watson contracts were somewhat derived by the fact those teams traded the farm for the player, putting them in a situation with zero leverage in negotiations. Teams that want to potentially trade for Lamar Jackson, you’ll be the next one to get caught with your pants down.

What do those numbers mean for Jones? Not even his family can make a case to be in the same ballpark as Rodgers, Mahomes, Allen, Carr, or Prescott. But the second you inch toward Cousins? A conversation can be had. Consider the increasing cap. Then look at some of the next few names:

(Video) Daniel Jones and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Jared Goff: $33.5 million per year / $110 million guaranteed through 2025
Carson Wentz: $32 million per year / $107 million guaranteed through 2025
Matt Ryan: $30 million per year / $100 million guaranteed through 2024
Ryan Tannehill: $29.5 million per year / $91 million guaranteed through 2024

Now we are talking about guys that Jones can now be clustered with. Personally, I have always compared him to Tannehill. Tannehill was drafted in 2012 with the 8th overall pick by Miami. He started right away and went 7-9. Then 8-8, 8-8, 6-10 were the next three seasons. He started to show signs of improvement and MIA first picked up his fifth-year option, then signed him to a 4-year $77 million contract. The market overall was a little less back then, and NYG declined the fifth-year option for Jones last offseason. Those are the two differences.

But in relation to the market, Tannehill’s earnings were around:

2016: 6% of team spending
2017: 10%
2018: 10%

Tannehill then goes to Tennessee and signs another contract later but that is where we can end the comparison to Jones. That first contract in relation to Jones revolves around 10% of team spending. The cap in 2023 will be $225 million (10% = $22.5). With the cap increasing year after year, I project the cap to be around $270 million by the end of Jones’ contract. Again, an estimation on my part with limited information on what is coming.

Does Jones, in comparison with others, truly deserve more than 10% of team spending on a year-to-year basis? Sure, the quarterback market has become inflated since the Tannehill contracts, so we can account for maybe another 2%. Sure, the demand for quarterback play around the league is maybe the highest it has been in a long, long time. Let’s add another 2%. So based on the current and projected future cap and coming away with Jones deserves 14% of team spending, we are looking at a deal that ranges from $31-$37 million per year. At the very, very most.

That is where I believe the per-year value will reside if the league is involved. Does NYG get a hometown discount? What about when it comes to guaranteed money? Over half of the deal will be guaranteed. Likely close to 65%. So the question now becomes, how long does the contract go?

____________________

THE OPTIONS

Now that we have discussed Jones’ performance and what the market tells me (I was favorable to Jones in my opinion), we need to look at the options. A franchise tag makes sense. $32 million on a team that has the cap room to afford it. Make Jones prove it one more time in year two of the Daboll era. If he excels and takes another jump, the negative will turn into Jones’ camp banging the table for $40+ million per year as a starting point. If he faulters or sustains a serious injury, the team can let him walk or get him done for an economic contract well under $30 million per year.

The issue with the franchise tag is obvious. Holdouts, distaste for the organization, a shift in culture. I don’t think anyone wants the franchise tag to be the solution that works inside that building.

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How about a rich three-year contract that essentially guarantees the first two seasons?

3 years: $105 million / $70 million guaranteed

This gives Jones a two-year tryout under the system that turned around his career. If he does well, he is paid within where his market value lies and then has another opportunity to sign THE contract of his career. If he fails, that is a pretty nice payday.

How about a longer commitment, less per-year and less-percentage guaranteed money type deal?

5 years: $160 million / $100 million guaranteed

This essentially says Jones is the guy for four-five seasons. Start the cap hit very low, and elevate it by $5-$10 per year while giving the team some extra room to build the offensive line and receiver room.

Last two options don’t end well for the Jones lovers. You let him walk, let teams getting into bidding wars against each other, and move on to finding the next guy. This could go in the direction of:

Finding a rookie toward the end of round 1 (like GB did with Rodgers, BAL did with Jackson)

Making an aggressive trade up into the draft for one of the top 3 or 4 quarterbacks in this draft class which would likely need to include a young player (S McKinney, OT Thomas, DT Lawrence).

Trying to stockpile picks in the 2024 draft in preparation for the next QB class which I project to have at least two, and possibly three, elite quarterback prospects.

Bring in a day 2 quarterback like Hendon Hooker (may be out in ’23 with torn ACL), Tanner McKee, or Jake Haener and let him sit behind Taylor.

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Lastly, you franchise and trade Jones. I think this is unlikely because of how hard it can be to maintain leverage in negotiations. There would need to be a team that REALLY wants Jones and is not afraid to make that known for this to happen. One positive here, however, is that the team can do Jones right. Put him in the best situation to succeed, get him out of the NFC if they want, and then get immediate compensation that can be used to build the roster OR go get a quarterback they want.

__________________

CONCLUSION

Only because I have been asked dozens of times, I am going to put down what I think NYG needs to do with Jones. To be blunt, I want him back in a Giants uniform. Considering the options they have in relation to the market and where they are in the draft, letting Jones go could put this team right back into the dark place we all feel they have finally escaped. Tyrod Taylor and the 25th pick in the NFL draft. Sure, you can always grab the likes of Jimmy G, but it won’t be for much cheaper than what you would have Jones for, and you are getting a new guy in this system and losing the mobility threat. I’m not going down the trade-for-Lamar or Rodgers road. I don’t see a young QB worth trading for that a team may want to get rid of (Love, Lance, Wilson…etc). Jones needs to be the quarterback of this team in 2023 and beyond.

BUT

This is not a blank check situation. He has not played well enough to deserve that. Jim Denton is his agent from CAA Sports. He and that organization have a very good reputation at being fair. Tom Condon is their headliner there, Eli Manning’s agent. I expect this to be a smooth negotiation.

I would prefer the 3-year deal / $105 million / $70 million guaranteed

Year 1: $26 million fully guaranteed
Year 2: $36 million fully guaranteed
Year 3: $43 million ($8 million guaranteed)

I am not a cap expert – a couple of those numbers can be moved around but the point here is, Jones has two seasons to prove he can take his game to another level while the front office supplies more talent around him. This does impede spending elsewhere, but that is the cost of paying a quarterback. Good drafting and smart spending will make this doable but yes, the margin for error will be small.

This also gives NYG an eventual out if he does not get the job done after two years. As I said earlier, Jones has not proven he deserves the 5+ year commitment. But if he plays well, NYG will want to lower that year-3 cap number by extending him to a longer deal (if he plays well). Let’s say that is the case. Jones will be 28-years old about to sign a 5+ year contract worth big money. That sets him up very well and keeps the door open for one final multi-year contract at the end of it.

If the Jones camp wants to pursue the market by refusing that deal above, I would be willing to let him walk. Build the roster for another season, re-evaluate the market in 2024. My numbers are aggressive and to be honest, there is a shot he signs for less. Again, looking at his career production to this point and it is hard to conclude that he deserves much more. That is my personal ceiling.

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Thanks for reading – let’s discuss.

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