Mailbag: How High Is Daniel Jones's Ceiling?

Why Year 3 is crucial for the Giants' young QB. Plus, what will determine when Kellen Mond and Justin Fields see action, the price you should pay for a star QB and much more.
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A slower time in the calendar didn’t slow your questions. Here’s what I got from you this week …

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From Ciro di Marzio (@JamalLannister): How high is Daniel Jones’s ceiling?

Ciro, this is a good time for that question to be asked. History on quarterbacks drafted since the rookie salary scale was put in place in 2011 tells us this is a critical year for Jones. We gave you the data on it a couple of weeks ago, but of the 25 quarterbacks drafted between 2011 and ’18, only one had his fifth-year option declined after Year 3 and remained on the team that drafted him into that fifth year. That quarterback was Blake Bortles.

So whether it’s by picking up a fully guaranteed option or extending him, we’ll have an indication after this year on Jones. And if the Giants don’t pick it up, we’ll know where they stand.

How does the rest of the NFL see this one? I figured I’d check for you.

“From work I’ve done so far, I would say there is still a lot to believe in. I think he can he a higher-level win-with starter,” said one NFC pro scouting director. “Has size, toughness, arm, good enough athleticism. The key is elimination of turnovers. Talent level around him will be much better.”

For those unfamiliar with the language, a “win-with” starter is as opposed to a “win-because-of” starter. In other words, the former can be good if things are around him (hence, winning with him), whereas the latter is a quarterback who can make up for flaws you might have and lift the operation around him. And the book on Jones seems to be what you’d think—that he can be the first kind of quarterback, but probably not the second kind.

“I think he’s a solid starting QB,” said another NFC pro scouting director. “Not going to elevate the play of those around him. But he’s good enough to manage the game. Will need a good supporting cast to be successful.”

The good news is how much better that supporting cast has gotten. Kenny Golladay, John Ross and Kadarius Toney, three contrasting talents who can play off one another, are joining a receiver group that’s already got Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton in the stable; Kyle Rudolph will jump into a tight end room that’s got Evan Engram; Saquon Barkley’s coming back; and the team has spilled a ton of draft capital to fix the line.

That should help the Giants get clearer answers on who Jones is, and who he can be, as an NFL quarterback heading into decision time in the spring of 2022.

From Andrew Puetz (@AJP_35): Does Kellen Mond have a shot/path to start this season for the Vikings?

Andrew, I understand the eagerness of any fan to want to see what a young quarterback— especially one drafted in the first three rounds who’s highly recognizable from his college days—as soon as possible. But I’m here to tell you: Be careful what you wish for. Getting Mond on the field would almost certainly mean one of two things happened: either Kirk Cousins got hurt or the wheels came spinning off the Vikings’ season.

I do believe Minnesota quietly spent time considering its post-Cousins future this offseason. Additionally, I think either Trey Lance or Justin Fields’s falling into their lap (and they liked both) might’ve prompted GM Rick Spielman to throw a more valuable dart (the 14th pick) than the one he chucked (the 66th, acquired from the Jets in the first-round trade down) to land Mond.

But that does not change where they are right now, in 2021. The team still has a strong core of players in their prime or on the back end of it (Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook, Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, Harrison Smith), and an older coach, so that’d be one reason to believe Mike Zimmer will be hesitant to sign up for all the ups and downs playing a rookie at the position brings. Then there’s Cousins himself.

Yes, Cousins is set to make a reasonable $21 million this year. But the $35 million he’s due next year is now fully guaranteed. And it’s hard to see where anyone would trade for that deal after the 2022 season—with Cousins turning 34 before that year’s opener. So I’d say the most likely scenario here is that Mond will be put into the developmental pipeline, and the Vikings will have about 20 months to figure out whether he can be the guy starting in 2023.

From PatsSTH1969 (@PatsSTH1969): Out of the four quarterbacks on the Patriots roster (Newton, Stidham, Jones, Hoyer), which is the worst system fit and why?

Pats ’69er, I feel like this is a trap! Obviously the one that doesn’t fit with the others is Cam Newton (though I could make an argument that Jarrett Stidham’s background matches up cleaner with Newton’s than Mac Jones’s or Brian Hoyer’s), and so I think what you’re asking is whether Hoyer’s return to Foxboro could mean the end for Newton there.

It might. It’s easy to see how, if the Patriots really liked what they saw from Jones at rookie camp over the week, they might think it’s time to get him a veteran sounding board in case he winds up starting—on the premise that Newton wouldn’t fit as a backup. Or, if you think about it, it also could set the Patriots up to give Jones a true redshirt year, where if Newton were to get hurt, they wouldn’t have to press him into action.

And then, guess what. You’ve got your answer on why bringing Hoyer back makes sense. He will be, at baseline, a good resource for the No. 15 pick, as a guy who’s spent much of his 12-year career in Josh McDaniels’s system. From there, he’d work in either scenario.

Or maybe he won’t make the team.

By the way: It’s May. I wouldn’t overreact.

From r (@legalshieldrob): Does Watson play this year and for who?

R, I think he will be suspended for a period of time, and I think he’ll wind up playing somewhere, but not in Houston. And I want to reiterate this: I have no idea where the legal situation is going, and I’m not passing judgment. It’d be unfair to Watson to indict him, and irresponsible to dismiss the sexual misconduct accounts about him. But I do think we’re at the point when we can say that this situation has shed bad light on the league, and that’s often been enough for Roger Goodell to come down on a player.

So that leaves us with two questions. Will Watson be dealt? And when? I think the answer to the first question is yes, and the answer to the second question is when there is some clarity on where Watson stands legally and with the league.

One reason why is that it wouldn’t be smart for new Houston GM Nick Caserio, a smart guy, to move a 25-year-old franchise quarterback without getting franchise-changing value for him. And trading him now seems like it’d be selling low, and timing is really less relevant with the draft in the rearview mirror. But once there’s clarity on the legal situation and the league takes whatever action it will?

At that point, I’d think the market for Watson could heat up, and that’ll naturally mean stronger offers coming down the pike. The Dolphins are one team I’d keep an eye on here, because they have a 22-year-old quarterback they can offer and three first-round picks in the next two years. The Eagles would be another, given the capital they have in next year’s draft alone. And, of course, the Panthers and Broncos kept their options open by not taking QBs at No. 8 or No. 9.

From Jerrad Wyche (@JerradWyche): How bad does Andy Dalton, or the Bears’ record, need to be for Justin Fields to start coming off of Chicago's Week 10 bye week?

Jerrad, I’d say going to Fields probably would be connected more to how the team is doing than just where Dalton is individually. The Bears are in the top 10 in the NFL in wins over the last three years, having made the playoffs twice in that period. Jobs are on the line there this year. So the ideal scenario for the Bears really is that Dalton kills it, Chicago contends, and Fields gets a year to learn—which is how the ballyhooed “Kansas City 2017 Plan” is executed. (As I spoke to Matt Nagy about after the draft.)

If Dalton is just so-so, and the Bears are good? I think it’s still tough to roll the dice on your rookie, given the makeup of the team. But if the Bears struggle, it almost doesn’t matter how Dalton plays; we’re going to see Fields.

And I’d agree with you that the Week 10 bye sets up nicely if Nagy does want to make a switch. At that point, Fields will have a full spring, a training camp and half a season under his belt. He’ll probably be plenty ready to play. The rest, like we said, will probably come down to whether Chicago is 7–2 at that point or 4–5, and that’s presuming Fields doesn’t blow everyone away and win the job over the summer (which I wouldn’t totally rule out).

From Carleen Driscoll (@CarMare): How does a potential ownership change (i.e. sale of the team) impact the Broncos’ pursuit of Aaron Rodgers? I have to assume it would drive up the value of the team due to increased exposure and likelihood of winning.

Carleen, I really don’t think it matters much. Most of the people in the building, and maybe everyone, want Pat Bowlen’s daughter Brittany to wind up with the team. And that makes driving up the franchise’s sticker price irrelevant. The only thing I can think of here where a lack of a principal owner would affect a run at him would be a positive: I don’t think the trustees (Joe Ellis, Rich Slivka, Mary Kelly) would stand in the way of a blockbuster trade. But then, given who Rodgers is, I don’t know that any owner would.

So, yeah, nonfactor.

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From Dom Bouloux (@pelicandowns): Would you sacrifice your first-round draft pick every year, for a top five QB on the roster (i.e. if Rodgers played for eight more years would you sacrifice your first-rounder for each of those 8 years to keep him)?

Dom, that’s an interesting question—and I think the answer is yes. When I put together that fake trade that people on the internet got all hot and bothered over, the premise was four first-round picks, plus a lower-round pick (a two with a four going back to Denver). May sound like a ton, but you could say it’s just a little more than what Washington did to get Robert Griffin III or the 49ers did to get Trey Lance (without the benefit of a rookie contract).

If you look, you’ll see that I had first-round picks from 2022, ’23 and ’24 as part of the deal, along with Drew Lock (a throw-in), and Bradley Chubb and Dalton Risner. With both Chubb and Risner’s having two years left on their rookie deals, which adds up to one full rookie contract, I equated that to the fourth, and virtual current-year first-round pick.

Is it a lot for a 37-year-old quarterback? Of course it is. But let’s say Rodgers plays, to match your premise, through 2024, a season he’d start at 41 years old and finish at 42. You’d get four solid shots at a championship, and you’d probably be able to attract players you wouldn’t have otherwise had a shot at, and at rates they wouldn’t play for in other locales (see: Buccaneers). That’d help you replace Risner and Chubb, and what you’d be getting with the first-round picks.

As for those first-round picks, if you’re as good as Rodgers should make you, what are we talking about here? Picks somewhere from Nos. 27 to 32? Green Bay’s last two first-round picks were Nos. 29 and 30 (they traded latter to move up and get Jordan Love). If you want to take the Rams’ trade for Jalen Ramsey as an example, the two picks they moved wound up being K’Lavon Chaisson and Travis Etienne. Those two could wind up being really good players. Would the Rams reverse the trade now? They would not.

As you know, I’m a big draft guy, and think the value of these picks is greater than most people realize—getting cost-controlled talent is important in today’s NFL. But getting Rodgers would be a special opportunity meriting emptying the barrel with regard to picks.

From Jeremy Friedrichs (@FriedrichsJk): Albert! If you weren't a sports reporter, what do you think you'd be doing? Regards from Brooklyn!

Jeremy, thanks for the question! I’ve wanted to work in football since I can remember. It’s the sport I liked playing the most growing up, and the one I liked watching the most, and I think I knew early on that I wanted to find a way to stay connected to it after I got done playing it. So that was really the starting point for me. I’ve always told people I didn’t want to work in sports so much as I wanted to work in football, specifically.

I won’t bore you with the story of how I got into journalism, but I just sort of fell into it as a teenager, got better at writing (which wasn’t my strong suit as a kid), learned the on-air part in college and went from there. And if that hadn’t happened? My guess is I would’ve at least tried coaching or scouting. In fact, there was a point in my career when I had to think realistically about what was happening to newspapers and I took the LSAT, with the idea that law school could lead to working in some facet of an NFL front office.

Things wound up working out for me soon after that. I landed the Patriots beat at the suburban paper I was working at, then a job in Dallas a couple years later, and I was on my way.

And if I wasn’t in sports? I think I’d have tried to work on Wall Street. My dad was a stock broker at Merrill Lynch in his 20s, and I always had curiosity about that.

From Zach Fogelman (@FogelmanZach): Is a Julio Jones deal going to get done? Or are the Falcons going to keep him? Are there any teams that are interested and what would be needed to give up?

Zach, I’d think Atlanta would have suitors if the price is a second-round pick and if Jones is willing to stay on his current contract (three years, about $38.3 million remaining), even though he’s 32 now and lingering hamstring issues cost him half of the 2020 season. But then, if there were a strong market for Jones, I’d think it would’ve materialized by now.

June 1 is a big date. That’s when trading him becomes feasible logistically for the Falcons (pushing $15.5 million of his dead money to the 2022 cap) and, accordingly, when a team trading for him will know it can have him in-house, rather than just agreeing to a trade. And at that point, the Falcons are going to want to start signing their draft picks—they don’t have the room to do it now. So when we get there, I think, it’ll either be time to trade or restructure Jones.

The one idea I can’t get out of my head is that the Packers could make a play for him and extend that as an olive branch to get Rodgers back on board. The Raiders were one team I’d actually heard connected to Jones during draft week. Other than that? It’s been quiet on the Julio front.

We’ll see if getting to June 1 changes anything.