Here’s one well-informed opinion on the direction the Giants should take
The offseason begins in earnest Monday for the New York Giants. In the wake of their Week 17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, the Giants now know they will be picking sixth overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. They enter this part of the league year with one glaring question: The quarterback position. Is Eli Manning the answer for 2019? Someone else? Can they look to the 2019 draft? Maybe not, with the news that Justin Herbert is returning to school. What is the path forward? With what seems to be a number of “not so great” options, trying to solve the QB problem might seem like trying to draw an inside straight. But if that is the task at hand, how do the Giants go about it? Here is a look at some of the potential scenarios, and a final verdict that surprised myself as I reached a conclusion.
Punting until 2020
For lack of a more enticing option, this may end up the path forward for the Giants.
New York could survey the quarterback landscape and come to the decision that of all the potential options, either the cost is too high or the short-term risk is too great, making the return of Manning to the starting lineup for 2019 the decision that makes the most sense in the short and long term. Granted, there were stretches of the 2018 season where it seemed like Manning was the unlikeliest of options for the 2019 iteration of the Giants, but some decent play down the stretch coupled with another year of Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram and Saquon Barkley makes it possible that the Giants could roll out a functional offense in 2019 even with Manning as the triggerman.
This also might be the approach given the free agent landscape, the trade market and the 2019 draft class. With Herbert returning to school, it is likely that the only draft quarterback worthy of a Top 15 selection will be Dwayne Haskins, from Ohio State. Haskins has yet to declare, and while the conventional wisdom would lead one to believe he is coming out, some comments on social media have left draft watchers speculating that he might return to school. A talented quarterback to be sure, but one who will have less than 15 starts to his name come the 2019 draft. The inexperience obviously does not preclude him from going early in the draft — after all, Mitchell Trubisky went second overall with even fewer career starts, but there is another consideration: The cost.
Right now, the Giants have the sixth overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft. In front of them are two teams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Oakland Raiders, who could theoretically be in on a quarterback, especially with the regime change coming in Tampa Bay, but the bigger concern is a team getting in front of New York. The team sitting right behind the Giants, the Jacksonville Jaguars, look to be in on a quarterback given how the Blake Bortles Era is drawing to a close. So a team that wants to be assured of getting their quarterback in this draft probably needs to get near the top of the board somehow.
Last year the Buffalo Bills moved from 12th in the draft to seventh, and gave up not only their first-round pick but also two second-round picks. That’s in a draft that saw five quarterbacks go in the first round. Imagine what the asking price to get to three will be in a draft where there is likely just the one quarterback worthy of such an early selection. Also last year, the Jets moved from sixth in the draft to third, and they gave up two second-round picks as well as a 2019 second-round pick to make that move. With just one Day Two pick, the Giants would need to dip into the 2020 draft pick well to make such a move. That could get expensive.
Speaking of costs, there is a financial consideration with Manning. The veteran passer is due to count for $23.2 million towards the cap for the 2019 season, over 12 percent of the team’s total salary cap obligations. That is a … big number. As Patricia Traina pointed out, it would place Manning with the 10th-highest cap hit among quarterbacks next season, on par with Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Newton. So, unless the Giants and Manning agree to restructure his deal, that is a very expensive punt. As Traina outlines, the organization can extend Manning through 2020 while reducing his overall cap hit to the team, by converting his base salary to a signing bonus prorated over the life of the deal. Whether Manning is willing to do this, however, remains to be seen.
Drafting ‘The Guy’
Yes, it may be expensive in terms of draft capital. Yes, it might be a short-term risk given the development that will still need to take place with a player like Haskins. Yes, it might mean some losses in the 2019 season and a bumpy stretch at the start of the rookie’s career. But even with all of these concerns and risks, there is still an argument to be advanced for paying whatever the cost is and going to get a player like Haskins at the top of the draft:
In today’s NFL, the biggest competitive advantage a team has is a quarterback playing well on his rookie deal.
For example, take a look at the current playoff teams. Of those 12, seven of them, more than half, have a starting quarterback playing during his rookie deal. Another team, the Seattle Seahawks, won a Super Bowl with Russell Wilson playing on his rookie deal. A cost-controlled rookie quarterback allows a team to spend elsewhere to improveits roster. Having Trubisky in place enabled the Chicago Bears to go out and push for players like Khalil Mack. Having Jared Goff in place let the Los Angeles Rams go out and get players like Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters and Ndamukong Suh.
So there is wisdom in drafting a quarterback and suffering through any short-term bumps as he develops. Most notably, you have financial resources as an organization to minimize the impact of those developmental bumps by placing a good deal of talent around the young quarterback.
Is there a player worth those risks in this draft? If he declares, Haskins is likely the player out of this crop. Is he a perfect prospect? No, but those types of players are rare. There are times when he struggles with pressure, and he could use some mechanical refinement, but his arm talent and his proficiency with ball placement to all levels of the field make him an enticing prospect, and he is emerging as the consensus top quarterback in this class with Herbert staying in school. In addition, Haskins did receive a first-round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board, so he’s got that going for him, which is nice.
Are there other first-round options? Likely two quarterbacks are in that mix: Daniel Jones from Duke University (who also has yet to declare) and Drew Lock from the University of Missouri. Lock entered the season as the top quarterback on many draft boards, but struggled during an early stretch of SEC play that saw him and the Tigers lose three straight games. But a late-season bounce-back has Lock primed to rise during the draft process, which kicks into high gear for him later today in the Liberty Bowl against Oklahoma State, followed by a late January trip to Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl.
A player who could potentially join Lock down in Mobile is Jones, the redshirt junior who just graduated from Duke with an economics degree. He’s coming off perhaps his best game of the season in the Walk-On Independence Bowl, where he threw five touchdown passes and ran for another. He has yet to make his draft intentions known, but showed this season he added some ability in the vertical passing game to pair with his proficiency in the shorter, more West Coast passing offense aspects of playing the position.
In the end, however, it comes down to the cost. If one of these players, particularly Haskins, falls to the Giants at six? It’s likely an easy decision. If it takes mortgaging the future to get up into the top three picks? That’s a much, much tougher decision.
Acquiring ‘The Guy’
A third option in front of the Giants is passing on this draft class and acquiring a new starter via trade or free agency. Two players are currently on the list of free agent quarterbacks who would merit consideration: Tyrod Taylor and Teddy Bridgewater. Taylor was acquired by the Cleveland Browns last offseason, and was their starter until Baker Mayfield took over. He is probably not a long-term answer at the position, but if the organization kicked the decision down the road a bit and Manning was not in their plans, Taylor could make some sense. Bridgewater is the more exciting option, and while he struggled a bit in his start Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, he’s shown that he is fully recovered from his horrific knee injury and is ready to be a starting quarterback in the NFL yet again.
But with some teams facing decisions around the league, the list of available quarterbacks is soon to grow. We know the Bortles Era is coming to a close in Jacksonville. Ryan Tannehill might soon be out in Miami. It seems that Joe Flacco is going to be available given the rise of Lamar Jackson. Then there’s a decision looming for the Philadelphia Eagles and their current backup quarterback, Nick Foles. Foles and the Eagles have a mutual option for the 2019 season, which would first be triggered by the team extending his contract for the sum of $20 million for the 2019 league year. Then it’s up to the quarterback, who can agree to stay with the team or decline it. If he decides to move on, he owes the organization $2 million, purchasing his rights to walk away.
It is … hard to imagine the Eagles paying $20 million for one year of Foles as a backup, so it’s likely he finds himself on the market, and he might be the most enticing free agent quarterback available. But there would likely be a number of teams inquiring as to his services, including Washington, Jacksonville, Miami and others. So there could be a bidding war for Foles.
There is another name to consider: Jacoby Brissett. With Andrew Luck seemingly back and healthy, the Indianapolis Colts could entertain trade offers for the former New England Patriots. Brissett was acquired just prior to the start of the 2017 season, but filled in fairly admirably for Luck despite having minimal time with the Colts before the start of the season. He’s also emerged as somewhat of a leader with that organization. When the Colts were struggling early in the year it was Brissett who was the driving force behind a players-only meeting, one that is credited with helping the Colts turn their season around. Depending on the asking price, Brissett might be the cheaper option – in terms of draft capital – than doing what it takes to acquire a quarterback in the draft.
The kitchen sink
Sometimes, big problems need bigger solutions. One could make the case that the Giants’ quarterback situation is a problem that requires such a bold solution. We can call this the “kitchen sink” approach. A little bit of everything thrown at the wall, in an effort to guarantee that you find an answer.
Picture this: The team comes to terms with Manning on a mutually beneficial restructuring of his contract, spreading out his cap hit over the next two seasons. Then, they acquire a quarterback like Brissett in exchange for one of their fourth-round selections. Finally, they pass on a quarterback in the sixth spot and address another need, such as offensive line or cornerback, but they dip into the quarterback pool early in the second round. Maybe a player like Lock or Jones falls a bit. Another option early in the second round would be Will Grier out of West Virginia University. But either way, under this approach the Giants enter the 2019 season with four quarterbacks on the roster and a number of ways they could handle the quarterback position in both the short-term, and the long.
Now look, I get that going into training camp with four prominent quarterbacks on the roster isn’t the most … efficient use of resources. You’re guaranteeing that one of these players, perhaps even two, is going to be cut or traded, and there are only so many snaps in practice to go around. Maybe it isn’t the crafty, innovative approach I thought it was when I dreamed it up the other night in a fever-induced haze. But if there’s a way to “go bold” and “think outside the box,” this approach might be it.
The final verdict
When I sat down to sketch out this piece and the various roadmaps available to the Giants, I truly thought that out of all of the options available, the “Drafting the Guy” approach would be the one I would be least confident in, given what we have seen and how we view this quarterback class. I am a quarterback guy by trade, and I see the value and promise in every single quarterback class and spend countless hours each spring picking up the sword and shield to defend the talent and depth of each draft group. This year’s crop, however, is making that a more difficult prospect as players like Herbert decide to stay in school. It could become even tougher depending on what Haskins and Jones decide to do.
But if Haskins comes out, I think he is the answer.
Is he worth a Top 5 pick? In a vacuum, probably not. Will he get such a grade from me? Since I grade quarterbacks in a vacuum, that’s unlikely. But is he worth such a pick? Given the various factors at play, I believe so.
Quarterbacks rise up boards artificially, because of positional value. And despite Manning’s play in stretches, the Giants need to figure out the future of the quarterback room. Sure, they can punt that decision into the 2020 draft and assume that one of the quarterbacks in that group, whether Herbert, Tua Tagovailoa, Jake Fromm, Jacob Eason, Tyree Jackson, K.J. Costello or some name yet to be determined has the kind of surefire season that makes them a lock as QB1. But there are two problems with that approach. First, development is not linear. We always assume that quarterbacks will have the kind of final collegiate season that shows improvement, making them a sure thing. It does not always happen that way. Second, will the Giants’ draft positioning be any better next season, ensuring that they get a shot at one of these players? That’s not a guarantee either.
Which brings us to this point, something that the wise Bill Belichick said after drafting Jimmy Garoppolo. When it comes to replacing a quarterback, it’s always better to be a year ahead than a year behind.
Unless the asking price is a Ricky Williams type of deal, the Giants need to address the quarterback position in this draft, and in this first round. Find a way to bring Manning back as the short-term starter if needed, and get Haskins as the guy for the future. Yes, there might be some bumps. Yes, he might not be ready to start Week 1, or even in 2019 on the whole. But that move gets you ahead of the game when it comes to replacing Manning. Plus, we have seen some rookies deemed developmental projects come in and flash at times, such as Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson with the Ravens. There’s nothing precluding Haskins from having that kind of impact as a rookie, but with Manning back in the mix there’s no rush.
Now look, I’m just a guy sitting at a desk awkwardly pounding away at keys on a laptop. What do I know? Not much. But I do know this. The Giants need to prepare themselves for life after Manning. Punting the decision to 2020 might seem enticing with some of the big names in the next group. But a year can make a big difference in one’s opinions of those players. Yes, the 2019 QB class might lack a sure thing or a silver bullet, but with the new economics of the NFL, teams can afford to get a QB on a rookie deal a ton of help on both sides of the ball. Recent history bears that out — pun intended. Fix the QB room. Set the organization up for a run in the near-term with a quarterback on his rookie deal, a run that maximizes the Barkley window.
Go get Haskins.