While the clouds continue to hover over East Rutherford, the sun appears to have peeked through in Florham Park. The New York Giants sit at 1-5 and in last place in the NFC East while their aging quarterback struggles. The New York Jets are 3-3 and realistically thinking of the postseason with their promising rookie leading the way. These are two franchises seemingly headed in opposite directions, and their fates can be traced back to the offseason.
The decisions that will be debated for decades occurred atop this year’s NFL draft. The Giants passed on a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick and selected running back Saquon Barkley out of Penn State, in part because they had Eli Manning on the roster. Barkley is proving to be a breathtaking playmaker, no doubt, but his star has been shining in defeat. The Jets happily grabbed quarterback Sam Darnold out of USC with the very next pick. He is proving to be the franchise pillar that they’ve desperately desired for decades. They’re happy with what they’ve received from him this season and even more excited about what the future might hold.
Now six weeks into the season, we’re able to see a bit more clearly where these teams stand and the long-term effect these picks will have on each franchise.
Does the development of Darnold and decline of Manning keep hammering home the mistake the Giants made in not drafting a quarterback?
Hell, yeah. The Giants made a shortsighted decision, thinking they could squeeze another productive year or two out of Manning to fulfill their win-now game plan. Now, the organization and its fan base have an up-close view of what might have been, as Darnold continues to make progress in the same city. Look, the Giants wouldn’t have been a contender this season even if they had drafted Darnold. He would be backing up Manning or experiencing on-the-job growing pains, which has been the case with the Jets. But at least they’d have a succession plan. Now, in a case of role reversal, the Giants will go into the offseason in quarterback limbo, desperate to find an answer in free agency or the draft. Desperation makes teams do dumb things. Look at the Jets; they drafted Christian Hackenberg in 2016, for crying out loud -- and they were desperate last offseason too, but they aggressively traded up and benefited from a little draft-day luck to escape potential disaster. The Giants will have to do the same thing in the offseason, which means they might not be a viable contender until 2020 -- if everything goes right. It’s compelling to note that Darnold passed Manning this week in ESPN’s QBR rankings, which take into account all aspects of quarterback play, not just passing. They’re ranked 25th and 27th, respectively, with Darnold at 44.7 and Manning at 41.4. Using this objective measure, Darnold already is as good as Manning, which is stunning. -- Cimini
Until the Giants find a suitable replacement to build their franchise around, yes. It’s the most important position in football by a wide margin. The opportunities were there for them to find their franchise quarterback at No. 2 overall. Instead, they chose a running back. It’s not that Barkley isn’t a sensational player. He is. It’s just that he plays a position that they’re realizing isn’t nearly as vital to winning as quarterback.
Just look at Thursday night, when Barkley was the best player on the field. He had 130 yards rushing and 99 yards receiving. What kind of outcome did it have on the game? The Giants lost by 21. If a quarterback is the best player on the field, you don’t lose by 21. Darnold has shown signs of being everything the Giants need and the Jets wanted. He has the arm, the mobility, the smarts and temperament that would suggest he’s on pace to have a successful career in New York. That might leave serious envy on the other side. The Giants are stumbling badly with Manning. He’s 37 years old and eroding behind a leaky offensive line despite having perhaps the best weaponry in the NFL. It has become hard to watch. The Giants have scored fewer than 20 points in four of six games, but they are standing behind their quarterback through the struggles. “We believe in Eli,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said on Friday. The Giants wanted to desperately make one more run with Manning. It didn’t matter that the timing was perfect to take a quarterback with a new coach, a new general manager and an aging quarterback, coming off a 3-13 season and with the No. 2 overall pick in a strong QB draft. They didn’t. And now they’re paying for the mistake while simultaneously watching Darnold shine across town with the Jets. -- Raanan
Which team appears to have a stronger foundation on which to build and why?
I’d give a slight edge to the Jets, but this is tricky because there’s some projection involved. Let me explain. Right now, I’d say the Giants have better talent on paper than the Jets, but Darnold’s presence tilts the scale in the Jets’ favor because we all know the NFL is a quarterback-driven league. This, of course, is based on the belief he will develop into a playoff-caliber quarterback. No one can say for sure after only six games, but he certainly seems to have the traits –- tangible and intangible –- to be that kind of player. And that gives the Jets an edge in the rebuilding process. In terms of non-quarterback talent, the Giants have more blue-chip players than the Jets -- Odell Beckham Jr., Landon Collins and Barkley to name three. Jamal Adams is approaching Collins’ stature, but the Jets don’t have anyone close to Beckham and Barkley. Those are terrific building blocks for the Giants. To complete the puzzle, they need the quarterback, and that could cost them significant assets if they have to trade up in the draft.
Another reason to favor the Jets: In cap space, they have approximately $150 million more than the Giants in 2019 and 2020, according to overthecap.com. -- Cimini
The Jets. The Giants have the skill position players (Barkley, Beckham, Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram). The Jets have the quarterback who appears will be their centerpiece for years to come. The latter is significantly more important and harder to find. Just ask the Jets. They had trouble locating the next Joe Namath; they’ve been searching for a true franchise quarterback for almost 50 years. Maybe they finally did. The Giants passed on their first opportunity to find the next Manning. Who knows how long it will take for them to find his successor. Maybe he’s in next year’s draft or already on the roster. Or maybe he has not even been born yet. Anything is possible in the search for a QB. The Giants are in a spot that nobody in the NFL envies with uncertainty at the quarterback position. Aside from that, the Giants' roster has the better building blocks. Beckham and Barkley are among the league’s top playmakers. Collins has proved to be a Pro Bowl player on defense. The Jets can build around safety Adams, defensive lineman Leonard Williams and linebacker Darron Lee. They need to add a difference-making playmaker (or two) to support Darnold and a dominant pass-rusher. Still, overall, they’re in better shape because they appear set at the most important position in football. --Raanan
What should/can the Giants do with Manning in the short term? It’s kind of funny when Shurmur gives a strong vote of confidence to Manning. I mean, really, what are his options? Alex Tanney? Kyle Lauletta? It’s not like he has a Josh McCown on the bench, a capable veteran who can win games.
The Giants should ride Manning until they’re mathematically eliminated. Remember, this is a new coach, trying to change the culture. Winning matters, and Manning gives them the best chance to win. When they’re eliminated, give Lauletta a shot, assuming he’s more prepared than Davis Webb was a year ago. It won’t be pleasant for Manning, a franchise icon, but the Giants must think of the future, not the past. -- Cimini
It’s becoming clear that the Manning era in New York is nearing a close. If the Giants can trade him (a big if ... but maybe to the Jacksonville Jaguars?), they should. If not and they continue to sputter along offensively, they need to put Manning on the bench. They have no choice. The Giants won’t be able to justify starting Manning much longer if they remain impotent offensively over the next two weeks against the Atlanta Falcons and Washington Redskins. At least some players in the locker room already have lost confidence in their quarterback. The Giants will need to look at rookie Lauletta after the bye week for a Monday night matchup on Nov. 12 at the San Francisco 49ers. Lauletta might be able to make some plays with his legs; that could reinvigorate the offense, to some degree, for the final eight games of the season. The Giants can then give Manning one final goodbye later in the season in their final home game. The two-time Super Bowl winner deserves a better farewell than where it appears to be heading right now. One last hurrah at MetLife Stadium on Dec. 30 against the Dallas Cowboys would be a good way to say goodbye to a Giants legend. --Raanan