Giants May Not Admit It, but Daniel Jones Already a Better Fit Than Eli Manning

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterJune 7, 2019

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning passes in front of quarterback Daniel Jones during an NFL football practice Monday, May 20, 2019, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
Adam Hunger/Associated Press

Daniel Jones outplayed Eli Manning in the New York Giants' minicamp. It was obvious, and it wasn't really close.

Through three days of full-squad sessions, the sixth overall pick in April's draft looked like a better quarterback than Manning. He wasn't just more athletic (that's to be expected); he was also sharper, more accurate and more willing and able to challenge the defense with difficult downfield throws.

Before we get swept away by minicamp observations, let's pile on the disclaimers. It's early June. The Giants were practicing in helmets and shorts. These conclusions are based on a few dozen throws witnessed from 30 to 75 yards away during sessions that are more about learning and play installation than getting the team ready to face an opponent in three months.

But the fact that it's still spring makes the fact that Jones looks good and Manning looks not so good even more striking. This is Eli's 16th NFL offseason. He should be able to execute the minicamp basics with his eyes closed, while Jones should still be figuring out how to buckle his chinstrap and spit out the playbook verbiage.

But Manning looked at times like it took all the oomph he had left in his arm to barely reach receivers on deep sideline routes, even in warm-up drills against uncovered defenders. During full-squad and seven-on-seven drills, his passes arrived high and low, early and late.

It wasn't all bad, of course. Manning still demonstrated a soft touch and perfect timing on some completions. But it's a bad sign for a 38-year-old quarterback when we come out of minicamp itemizing a short list of things he still does well. Eli doesn't look like an established starter still in his prime. He didn't even look like the rock-solid practice player we've seen for years.

Jones, meanwhile, uncorked some gorgeous deep passes along the sidelines and also overthrew receivers for interceptions. He follows his progression of reads and makes a wise decision on one rep, then throws a ball only a defender could catch on the next.

Jones got trampled by a runaway narrative when the Giants drafted him, taking heat from both the New York tabloids and the draftnik hipsters because of his underwhelming collegiate accomplishments and the unspectacular game film. But while he's as much a work in progress as any rookie quarterback, Jones looked better this week than either Carson Wentz or Lamar Jackson (two recent first-round quarterbacks I got long looks at as rookies) did at about the same stage in their development.

If the season began on Sunday, Manning would still be the best choice to start, because there's much more to playing quarterback than shredding seven-on-seven defenses in minicamp. But Jones looks so sharp, and Manning so wobbly, that it's hard to imagine that will still be the case by late August. Jones would likely win the starting job in an open competition.

The Giants, who view Manning as a UNESCO World Heritage Site that must be preserved, have no interest in an open competition. So they spent part of the week downplaying the idea that Jones is any threat or, heaven forbid, Manning has slipped a teensy bit.

"I don't know if I'd agree with that," offensive coordinator Mike Shula said when asked if Manning was struggling. "I think he's throwing it pretty good. … I said about a month ago that he looks like he's in better shape than he was last year. I still think that. And I think he's really dialed in."

Meanwhile, Manning preemptively addressed some of his off-target throws before reporters could ask about them on Wednesday. "You miss a couple of throws here and there just getting back to the timing of things with receivers," he said.

"There's always some things you want to improve on or throws you wish you had back, but for the most part, I feel good, comfortable within the offense."

Both Shula and Manning can spot a quarterback controversy from a mile down the New Jersey Turnpike, and they know how to stay ahead of the conversation. Jones earned praise for his "learning," with Shula saying, "He's got a fast mind. He picks things up pretty well." Meanwhile, Manning swiftly squelched speculation that Jones' presence was even a source of extra motivation. "You're driven because it's football, and you've got a job to do, and you want to win games," he said.

That's where the Giants are right now: Manning is in great shape and dialed in—he just wants some of those shaky throws back—and that rookie heir apparent still has ever so much to learn. They're trying to obscure the obvious beneath a layer of minicamp cliches. 

The great news is that Jones can not only walk and chew gum at the same time, but he can also throw spirals and read a playbook. Based on what he displayed this week and the fact that the Giants are in don't-call-it-rebuilding mode for 2019, there's no reason why he cannot compete for the opening day starting job.

No reason, of course, except for the Giants' commitments to Manning, both financial (he costs the team $23 million in cap space) and emotional. Manning will hold Jones off indefinitely, not because of ability or even experience, but because of the franchise's almost pathological loyalty to him.

Meanwhile, anyone who watches the Giants quarterbacks will see that Jones at least deserves some starting reps; he spent minicamp throwing to the second and third string. All that the team's stubborn insistence on propping Manning up as the unopposed starter is doing right now is delaying Jones' development, which just puts the future of the Giants organization on hold.

Yes, it's still early. But Jones will only get better. And Manning is heading in the opposite direction, whether the Giants want to admit it or not.

The quarterback questions are only going to get louder as the season gets closer. Which means it's gonna be a long, hot August at Giants headquarters.

            

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier. 

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