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It's Put Up or Shut Up Time for Daniel Jones After Giants Load Up Their Offense

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMay 10, 2021

New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones looks to throw a pass against the Baltimore Ravens during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)
Gail Burton/Associated Press

The phrase "three-and-out" is used to describe a football drive that features no first downs and a punt, but it could also generally apply to the NFL's patience when it comes to quarterbacks on rookie contracts. 

The New York Jets just gave up on 2018 No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold after exactly three seasons, and fellow 2018 first-rounder Josh Rosen lasted just one season with the Arizona Cardinals. The Chicago Bears pulled the plug on 2017 No. 2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky on multiple occasions in his first three campaigns before benching him from Weeks 3 to 10 in the fourth year. And the Washington Football Team bailed on 2019 first-rounder Dwayne Haskins just 13 starts into his professional career. 

Sure, a lot of franchises have clung to first-round quarterbacks beyond those first few seasons despite poor results. But most have lived to regret it. 

The only five quarterbacks selected with top-three picks between 2013 and 2016—Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and Blake Bortles—all remained starters for most or all of their first five seasons with the teams that drafted them. But all five were dumped before the sixth year.

The last first-round quarterback who failed to make a Pro Bowl in his first three seasons but remained the starter for the team that drafted him beyond his fifth year was 2012 Miami Dolphins No. 8 overall pick Ryan Tannehill, who was jettisoned from Miami after his sixth season as a starter. There are no other examples from the last decade.

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That brings us to Daniel Jones, who by all indications is entering a make-or-break third season for the New York Giants

Year three could make or break Daniel Jones.
Year three could make or break Daniel Jones.Gail Burton/Associated Press/Associated Press

Jones' fellow 2019 first-round picks, Haskins and Kyler Murray, have already gone down polar opposite paths. The former is now a backup with the Pittsburgh Steelers, while the latter has an Offensive Rookie of the Year honor and a Pro Bowl nod on his resume. 

But Jones is a wild card. The 23-year-old Duke product regressed slightly on paper as a sophomore in 2020, but injuries and a lack of support from a depleted offense have to be factored in. 

Now, with the Giants investing heavily in the offense, and with Jones seemingly on track to be reunited with key offensive players Nate Solder (a 2020 COVID-19 opt-out) and Saquon Barkley (who spent most of the season on injured reserve with a torn ACL), his rope might not extend far beyond 2021. 

Remember, under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, fifth-year options are fully guaranteed the moment they're exercised. That means that next offseason, the Giants will have to decide whether to commit about $20 million to Jones for the 2023 campaign. 

With Solder expected back to help the offensive line and Barkley in the backfield—and with prized free-agent addition Kenny Golladay and first-round pick Kadarius Toney teaming up with Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard and John Ross III at wide receiver—and with incoming veteran Kyle Rudolph joining the talented Evan Engram at tight end, Jones won't have many excuses if he doesn't take off in 2021. 

Top pick Kadarius Toney should help in 2021.
Top pick Kadarius Toney should help in 2021.Rusty Costanza/Associated Press

And if he doesn't under those circumstances, the Giants would almost be expected to replace him early in the 2022 draft. 

How could they not? 

Considering that they have two first-round picks and two fourth-round selections in next year's draft, it would be hard for a team coming off five consecutive losing seasons in a market like New York to pass on an opportunity to bring in a blue-chip signal-caller early in that draft. 

Under similar circumstances, the Giants' geographic sibling just moved on from Darnold in favor of No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson. And the Cardinals and WFT pulled triggers even faster on Rosen and Haskins, respectively.

The reality is that with all that draft capital, the Giants might be uniquely positioned to land a highly rated 2021 passing prospect such as Oklahoma's Spencer Rattler, North Carolina's Sam Howell, Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder, Liberty's Malik Willis, or whoever else emerges in the college game in 2021. 

Golladay is a physical marvel one year removed from a 1,190-yard, 11-touchdown Pro Bowl campaign with the Detroit Lions. Durability is a concern there, but he's in his prime at 27 and is well-supported by Slayton (an underrated field-stretcher on the boundary), Toney (a rookie 20th pick who should make an immediate impact in the slot) and Ross (a 2017 top-10 pick in Cincinnati with track speed), as well as Engram and Rudolph at tight end. 

Oh and that Barkley guy, who turned 24 in February and was a Pro Bowler as well as Offensive Rookie of the Year in his last fully healthy season. He's been limited the last two years but has still racked up more than 2,300 rushing yards and 1,200 receiving yards in the equivalent of about two full NFL campaigns since coming into the league as a highly touted No. 2 overall pick in 2018. 

Saquon Barkley is reportedly on track to return for the Giants.
Saquon Barkley is reportedly on track to return for the Giants.Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported recently that Barkley "is on track to be ready for the start of the season," while the steady and deeply experienced Solder reworked his contract to return to a line that should do a better job paving the way for Barkley and protecting Jones. 

But it's also possible they won't need Solder to play a major role because they invested so much draft capital in the line a year ago by using first-, third- and fifth-round picks on Andrew Thomas, Matt Peart and Shane Lemieux, respectively. The long and powerful Thomas is locked in, Peart and Lemieux have plenty of room to grow, projected interior starters Will Hernandez and Nick Gates have flashed enough to generate confidence, and at least vets Zach Fulton and Solder are there as well. 

So again, Jones isn't likely to have many excuses if he can't improve substantially on his 11-to-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio, his 6.6 yards-per-attempt average, his 80.4 passer rating or his 5-9 record as a starter in 2020. 

Fair or not, it's now or never. 

     

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter, @Brad_Gagnon.

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