Another day and another mixed message for Daniel Jones.
The New York Jets quarterback has not been good enough his first three NFL seasons since being the Giants first-round draft pick in 2019. Let’s all agree on that.
He’s been not good enough and it’s mostly his doing — despite the fact he’s working for his third head coach, third offensive coordinator and second general manager — because, ultimately, he’s the guy with the football in his hands.
And he’s the guy giving up the football with all those fumbles and interceptions.
But, as with most difficult situations surrounding NFL quarterbacks, it’s not all his fault. It is a team game.
And while the team around Jones has obviously been terrible, so has the messaging, which has changed coach to coach, year to year.
On Thursday we learned that new Giants coach Brian Daboll told Jones to feel more free to throw dangerous passes in the current OTA practices.
“Yeah, look, we want to make sure we protect the ball,” Daboll told reporters. “But again, you can’t go out there and play afraid. Be smart, not reckless, if you will. If he’s got a shot on the right read, let it go.
“There’s going to be things that happen in every game. The defense is going to make a good play, there might be a tipped ball. We’re going to have to do a good job of taking care of the football, but I want him to turn it loose.”
This is exactly the right message now for Jones because he needs to stop playing scared at times and doubting himself at times for fear of making a mistake.
So let’s go, Danny!
Except that approach from Daboll is the opposite to what Jones often heard last year after turning the ball over 51 times (22 interceptions and 29 fumbles) his first two seasons. The complaints in the press and the negative results on the field of that playing style caused Jones to become much more conservative.
“I mean, I don’t think it was what was written or was not written,” Jones said. “I think the facts were we were turning the ball over a lot and I was turning the ball over a lot.
“I don’t know, I think as a quarterback you’ve got to be able to do both. You’ve got to be able to be aggressive, take shots and also protect the ball.
“It’s finding the balance there and the best guys can do that. I’m always working to improve that piece of the decision making process, and yeah, being smart in those situations.”
Here’s the problem: If Jones takes Daboll too literally and starts throwing it in windows that are too tight or to the wrong guys, the rookie coach is going to have to find a way to rein in his quarterback. And he’s going to have to do it in a manner that doesn’t too much resemble Joe Judge or Pat Shurmur — New York’s previous two coaches.
And finding that sweet spot on their messaging with Jones has been one of the biggest challenges this New York braintrust of Daboll and general manager Joe Schoen have been challenged to find so far.
It began with the decision whether to keep Jones long term or not. That decision was made, for now, because the quarterback talent in the last draft didn’t clearly offer an upgrade over Jones. So the Giants had to not only keep Jones but talk him up as their starter.
So they said all the right things early on in their tenure. But when it was time to put money on the line and either exercise a $22 million guaranteed contract for 2023 or decline the option, the Giants hedged their bet and declined.
That means Jones is unsigned for next year and clearly on notice: Play well or his Giants days will be over.
“Yeah, you know, that was certainly out of my control, out of my hands, and that’s the business part of it,” Jones said, addressing the team’s decision about the option year for the first time. “I understand that.”
Jones thinks if the Giants win — not a certainty in a first-year rebuild — he won’t have to worry about his contract because the success will speak on his behalf.
“I think it’s more about winning games and knowing that if we win games and we have a good season, then that should take care of a lot of things for everyone,” Jones said. “That’s the focus I think we have as a group, as a team throughout the locker room, coaching staff.
“I think it’s to play well and win games. That’s what it’s about. Everything we do is about that goal, pushing to that, and that’s certainly my focus.”
Jones has to be hopeful that’s one message that doesn’t change.
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero