Time to draft Daniel Jones’ replacement? Everything I learned about Giants at NFL combine

INDIANAPOLIS — A year ago, the biggest question surrounding the New York Giants at the NFL Scouting Combine was how much they would pay quarterback Daniel Jones. This week, the dominant question at the NFL’s annual gossip convention was if they’re going to draft his replacement.

 

It’s another reminder of how fast things change in the league appropriately dubbed Not For Long. Whereas last year the mystery was simply how much the Giants would pay Jones, this year’s burning question is harder to answer because there are more variables involved.

 

If the Giants had a top-three pick, there would be more clarity. But their late-season surge led by undrafted quarterback Tommy DeVito has them at No. 6. They could love Caleb Williams, Drake Maye and Jayden Daniels, but if the teams with the top three picks also love those quarterbacks, the Giants won’t have the opportunity to land one of them.

 

 

What did we learn at the NFL combine about teams with top-10 draft picks?

 

Giants general manager Joe Schoen has carefully answered questions about the team’s quarterback plans so that he can’t be pinned down. He has said they need to address the position since Jones and DeVito are the only quarterbacks on the roster, and he’s keeping all options open in the draft.

 

But a key point has been raised in discussions with team and league sources this week: There’s a real concern about Jones’ injury history.

 

Jones’ poor play in six starts last season can be explained away by pointing to the porous offensive line, injured skill players and the level of competition. But even the most ardent Jones supporters can’t dismiss that he’s suffered two significant neck injuries and a torn ACL in a three-year span.

 

The durability concern is what makes taking a quarterback early in the draft a realistic possibility just 12 months after giving Jones a four-year, $160 million contract with $82 million guaranteed.

 

There are a variety of avenues for the Giants to address the quarterback position in the draft. They could trade up into the top-three to ensure they land Williams, Maye or Daniels; they could hope one of those quarterbacks slides to No. 6; they could take Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy at No. 6; or they could pick a QB later.

 

The Giants are exploring the cost of trading up, although it’s not believed the Chicago Bears or Washington Commanders will make the first or second picks available. The swing team is the New England Patriots, who have the No. 3 pick.

 

 

 

NFL Draft: What would it cost for Giants to trade up into top 3 for a QB?

 

New England needs a quarterback as it kicks off the post-Bill Belichick rebuild. But the Patriots have significant roster-wide needs, so a trade back to acquire more assets is viewed as a potential first step by Eliot Wolf in his debut calling the personnel shots in New England.

 

It would be costly for the Giants to jump from the sixth pick to No. 3 — it cost the Jets three second-round picks in an identical trade up for quarterback Sam Darnold in 2018 — but league sources believe Schoen would pull the trigger on such a bold move. The sense around the league is that this regime feels urgency to add a quarterback entering a pivotal third season.

 

A trade up the board likely wouldn’t happen until closer to the draft — and possibly not until the Patriots are on the clock — since Schoen and coach Brian Daboll will want to get as much exposure as possible to the top quarterbacks before making such a consequential move.

 

If Schoen can’t swing a trade for one of the top three quarterbacks, the focus would shift to McCarthy. There’s debate about his worthiness for the sixth pick, but the expectation is that a quarterback who had a 27-1 record as a starter at Michigan will win over teams during the pre-draft process.

 

The other option would be using the No. 6 pick on a player who can make a greater impact immediately, such as top wide receivers Malik Nabers or Rome Odunze. The Giants could then take a second-tier quarterback like Oregon’s Bo Nix with their second-round pick or after a trade back into the first round. That quarterback could then sit behind Jones, who will be on the roster this season due to his guaranteed $35.5 million salary.

 

It’s hard to nail down the Giants’ plan because there are so many contingencies at this stage. But the quarterback decision is looming over everything as they chart their course forward with far more uncertainty than expected when they signed Jones coming off a playoff berth a year ago.

 

 

The Giants using the franchise tag again on running back Saquon Barkley is viewed as a realistic possibility by a league source. Schoen has mentioned all along that another tag is a tool that could be used to retain Barkley, and the higher-than-expected salary cap has made the tag more palatable.

 

 

Schoen said he was pleasantly surprised the cap was set at $255.4 million after operating with a conservative projection in the $241 million to $243 million range. He said this week he’ll “recalibrate” and determine how the higher cap will alter his plans.

 

Schoen noted that a first tag for a running back this offseason would cost just $158,200 less than the $12.1 million cost of a second tag for Barkley. That’s a hefty price that would be challenging for Barkley to reach as a salary in a multiyear deal. But the case for the tag is the Giants aren’t in position to let good players leave a roster full of holes.

 

The $12.1 million cost of a Barkley tag would essentially fit in the gap between Schoen’s cap expectation and the actual number. The Giants would avoid a long-term commitment to a 27-year-old running back coming off a down season, while retaining their best playmaker.

 

Barkley surely wouldn’t be happy with another tag, as he seems to want an opportunity to gauge his value on the open market. But Schoen has proven he’s not averse to taking a hardline stance in negotiations.

 

The Giants and Barkley’s representatives began contract negotiations during a meeting at the combine. Those talks will continue leading into Tuesday’s 4 p.m. franchise tag deadline. If a long-term deal isn’t reached by the deadline, another tag could be his fate.

 

 

Schoen was scheduled to meet with safety Xavier McKinney’s agent Friday. There was no initial word on how that meeting went, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if there’s a gulf in the valuation of the 24-year-old safety.

 

McKinney has made no secret he believes he deserves to be paid like a top-five player at his position. That would mean an average annual salary of at least $16 million. The Giants likely will be targeting a deal cheaper than that for a player with no career Pro Bowl selections.

 

 

 

Gideon Canice

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