EAST RUTHEFORD, N.J. – The Giants normally hope their top draft choice makes an immediate and substantial impact, but John Mara would be happy to see Daniel Jones remain a spectator all season.
“I hope Eli (Manning) has a great year and Daniel never sees the field,” Mara said today. “That would be an ideal world, you’d like to see that. … I’d be very happy about that, because it means that we’re having a great year and Eli’s having a great year.”
Mara, the Giants’ president and chief executive officer, today held his traditional training camp meeting with reporters, his first since Jones was drafted in April. He is excited to have Jones, who was chosen sixth overall after an outstanding career at Duke, but he reminded everyone the Giants’ quarterback hierarchy remains as it has been for 16 years.
“Eli is our starting quarterback and will start the season,” Mara said. “He’s obviously been a great representative of our franchise for a lot of years, and will continue to be, so we’ll just have to see how that one unfolds.”
Mara was asked if the current quarterback situation reminds him of what occurred in 2004, when veteran Kurt Warner started the first nine games before Manning – then the highly-touted rookie – took over. Manning has since started 230 of the last 231 games.
“I guess you can make that comparison,” Mara said. “We weren’t quite sure when that was all going to take place and how it would all kind of work out, but yeah, there’s a certain similarity to it. I like to think that we have a better team than we had in 2004, but we’ll see about that.”
Manning spoke to the media soon after Mara and did his best to deflect questions about himself.
“My mindset is to go in, play well, win football games and have a great year,” Manning said. “That’s what I’m working towards.”
Asked how he would define a successful season, Manning said, “It’s making the playoffs to start with, and then making a run in the playoffs. Obviously, the goal is to always win a championship, and you can’t do that without making the playoffs. I think the goal is to win the division and go from there.”
“We need to win some games,” Mara said. “I want to feel like at the end of the season we’re moving in the right direction. I’m not going to say it has to be a minimum number of games that we have to win, or we have to make the playoffs. I want to feel when I’m walking off the field after the last game of the season, whenever that is, that this franchise is headed in the right direction. That’s, to me, the most important thing.”
As Mara indicated, the Giants believe they have the talent, coaching and attitude to significantly improve on their five-win season in 2018.
“I think we’ve done a pretty good job in the draft the last couple years and we’ve got some good, young talent on both sides of the ball,” Mara said. “I think our offensive line is better than it’s been, so I think there’s reason for some optimism there. But until we start playing some games and winning some games, that’s all it is right now. I also like the feel of the locker room, so we’ll see.”
So much depends on the quarterback’s performance. And Mara is confident Manning can deliver.
“I think he’s played well when the protection has been there in front of him, when he has confidence in the protection,” Mara said. “I thought that the second half of last year he played much better, our protection got a little bit better, and obviously Saquon (Barkley) was having a big year. So, I think our offensive line is better this year than it has been, and he’s had a terrific camp so far.”
We know what will happen if Manning plays well and the Giants win. But if the quarterback and the team struggle at some point, it’s fair to assume a segment of the fan base will want to see what Jones can do.
“At the end of the day, it’s going to be a decision by the head coach (Pat Shurmur) as to when or if Daniel ends up playing this year,” Mara said.
Would such a momentous move require Mara’s consent?
“I’d like to be informed of it before I read it from you guys,” he said. “But, at the end of the day, just like it was in ’04, it was Tom’s (Coughlin) decision back then, and it will be Pat’s decision this time. Again, hopefully, it’s a decision he doesn’t have to make until way in the future.”
When he takes his first snap in the season opener in Dallas on Sept. 8, Manning will be the first player in the 95-year history of the franchise to play 16 seasons. At some point, the Giants will have to say goodbye to one of the greatest and most popular players in franchise history. But Mara said this isn’t the proper time to focus on that.
“It’ll be a very difficult, emotional moment, to be sure,” he said. “But I’m not thinking about that just yet. He’s still the starting quarterback.”
Mara also spoke on several non-quarterback subjects:
*On whether his confidence in general manager Dave Gettleman has wavered.
“Not at all,” Mara said. “I think the best thing for me about Dave is he makes decisions that he feels are in the best interest of the franchise and he doesn’t give a damn what people think about it, be it the media, or be it fans, or anybody. He has the courage of his convictions, and you have to have that. He’s set about to try and rebuild this team and change the culture a bit in the locker room. I think, as I said before, our last two draft classes were pretty strong, and that’s what gives me confidence going forward. I think we’re moving in the right direction. Again, until we start winning games, it’s hard to sell people on that notion, but that’s what I believe.”
*On the departures of notable veterans like Odell Beckham., Jr., Landon Collins and Olivier Vernon leaving the team since Gettleman assumed the reins:
“There was never any doubt in Dave’s ability or in what his motivation was, or what his skill level was,” Mara said. “You don’t like to see all that talent go out the door, but let’s face it, we had one winning season in ’16 and the other five or six years, nothing, not since we won the last Super Bowl, so we needed some drastic changes. Again, he had the courage of his convictions, he knew they would be unpopular moves, but he went and made them anyway.”
*On the attitude in the locker room this season compared to what it was a year ago.
“I think it was not as strong as it could have been,” Mara said. “I think there’s just a different feel to it this year. I think some players have commented about that, too, so we’ll see. A lot of times, I think that gets taken out of proportion. At the end of the day, if you start winning some games, it builds some enthusiasm, it builds some good feelings, some positive vibes, and I think that’s what we need to do more than anything else. Right now, it feels pretty good.”
*On whether he’s “satisfied” with Shurmur.
“I’m not satisfied with winning five games, but I think he has us headed in the right direction,” Mara said. “I think the players believe in him and we have a lot of confidence in him.”
*Okay, more quarterback topics. Mara was asked if Gettleman and Shurmur are “tied in” to the team’s big investment in Jones.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I heard something the other day, I forget who the commentator was, that the coach was not crazy about our first-round pick. Nothing can be further from the truth and what sold me on (Jones) was Dave, Pat and our scouts, (offensive coordinator) Mike Shula, everybody was sold on this kid. That’s what made it easier for me to okay. Pat’s been a huge advocate right from the draft. Everything he’s done so far has been what we expected and what we hoped for.”
*On if, like others, he saw the similarities between Manning and Jones from the start:
“When I first sat down with Daniel, it was eerie to me how similar (he was to Manning),” Mara said. “It was like talking to a 22-year-old Eli, which is a good thing.”
*The Giants today placed wide receiver Amba Etta-Tawo (torn Achilles tendon) on injured reserve, waived/injured tight end Isaiah Searight (hip) and waived defensive end Alex Jenkins. Etta-Tawo was signed on July 27 and Searight on July 24.
The Giants signed tight end Jake Powell from Monmouth (N.J.) University. Powell, 6-6 and 230 pounds, was with the New Orleans Saints for two brief stints this year. In three seasons with Monmouth, Powell caught 54 passes for 641 yards and six touchdowns. He was the college teammate of current Giants wide receiver Reggie White, Jr.