About a half-hour before the NFL draft was set to start back up on Friday night, Giants GM Dave Gettleman found the excerpt he’d saved from the April 1 edition of USA Today on his desk. Columnist Dan Wolken was the author. Duke and Kentucky had just been ousted from the NCAA Tournament.
“I got it right here,” Gettleman said. “I want you to listen to this, the final paragraph in this article, he’s talking about Duke and Kentucky, great coaches, two great coaches, two great programs. But since this one-and-done thing, they’ve only won one championship each.”
He read it.
As long as [Mike] Krzyzewski and [John] Calipari are coaching, they’re going to get more than their share of the best recruits every single year because of the pathway they’ve established to the NBA. But both programs have discovered in the tournament that elite recruiting and good roster construction don’t mean the same thing.
It had been less than 22 hours since Gettleman had set a new course for the next decade or two of Giants football, by selecting Duke quarterback Daniel Jones sixth overall. In the aftermath Gettleman had a point to make.
“I don’t know how to say this, but it’s because of the current culture we have,” Gettleman said, “where ‘Albert Breer’s the greatest thing since sliced bread and if the Giants don’t pick Albert Breer they’ve got brain damage.’ That’s the culture we’re living in right now. That’s about talent procurement, the gathering of talent. It’s not about that. That’s part of it. But it’s about roster construction.
“Listen, I’ve been to seven Super Bowls, kiddo. And I’ve seen what it smells like, looks like and tastes like. And that’s what those teams had. They were well-constructed rosters, and the culture was there, and obviously the talent level was there. It’s gotta be a match of both. So Daniel for us was the guy, plain and simple.”
Among the four quarterbacks projected into the first round of the 2019 draft—only three wound up being taken on Thursday night—Jones was the most polarizing (in a crop of polarizing prospects). Some evaluators felt he had the most upside of all the 2019 QBs. Others believed he was a third- or fourth-round talent, destined to become a backup, whose stock was blown up in a year when supply didn’t meet the NFL’s constant demand for passers.
Either way, for Gettleman, this wasn’t going to be about how the rest of the league saw Jones, good or bad.
It was about—and only about—how he fit the Giants.
The draft is now, finally, in the rear-view mirror. And we’ve got you covered from all angles (including a couple pointed toward 2020). Including:
• How Miami deftly swiped Josh Rosen from the Cardinals in plain sight.
• What I know now about the draft class that’ll be in Vegas next April.
• My take on the Chiefs’ handling of the Tyreek Hill situation.
• How the Bengals, Panthers and Broncos had the quarterbacks ranked.
• Why the Raiders valued Clelin Ferrell at the level they did.
And much more. But we’re starting with the flagship NFL franchise that made the biggest waves with a move that was expected in one way, and totally unexpected in another.
That New York took Jones—given the ties linking Duke coach David Cutcliffe to Eli Manning (who played for Cutcliffe when he coached at Ole Miss) and the Giants—was no surprise. That it went down with the sixth pick, and not the 17th, was a big one.
So how did that happen? For Gettleman, it started with the best advice he got from ex-Giants GM Ernie Accorsi, after Accorsi’s vetting of Manning in 2004, and back when the current GM was the team’s pro scouting director: Make sure you get live game exposure to any high-end quarterback you’re considering drafting.
Gettleman couldn’t do that ahead of the ’18 draft, because the college season ended before he was hired. So ’19 was different. He was at the Big 10 title game in Indy to see Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins. He’d been in Morgantown, W.Va., the week earlier to see West Virginia’s Will Grier and Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray. Two weeks before that, he saw Oregon’s Justin Herbert (who ended up staying in school) play Utah in Eugene.
And for the first time in his 32-year scouting career, he extended his January stay in Mobile, Ala. During Senior Bowl week, most scouts get in on Sunday and leave after Wednesday’s practices. This year Gettleman stayed for the game on Saturday, because that would give him a shot to see eight more quarterbacks live.
Jones was one of them, and made it worth the three extra nights in a hotel.
“The thing that convinced me about him as a player was the Senior Bowl,” Gettleman says. “I watched [Jones’] three series. The first series, he was three-and-out. Series 2 and Series 3, he takes them right down the field for touchdowns. And he just looked like what a professional quarterback should look like.”
A formal interview in Mobile, plus that game exposure, were the first but hardly the last points of contact between Gettleman and Jones. Along the way, Gettleman:
• Interviewed Jones at the combine.
• Made a trip to Durham, separate from pro day, to sit down with Jones.
• Assigned coordinator Mike Shula and college scouting director Chris Pettit to go with Senior VP of player personnel Chris Mara to Jones’s pro day, which Gettleman couldn’t attend because it conflicted with the owners meetings.
• Had Jones up to New Jersey for a “30” visit this month.
And as those boxes got checked, a thread became obvious. “He was always the same guy,” Gettleman said. “We spoke with him at the Senior Bowl, I spoke to him in Indy. We had him here for a 30 visit. I went down to Durham to visit him, not work him out, just visit with him. He was the same guy every time. The same mature kid.”
What did mean to the Giants in the end? Here’s what it meant.
Jones would be fine playing in a pressure-cooker. As Gettleman said, not every situation is the same, and “being a quarterback in New York’s not easy.” Add that to the fact that whoever the next quarterback was going to be—and the Giants vetted Haskins, Murray and Drew Lock (Jones’ fellow Senior Bowl quarterback) this way—would eventually replace a franchise icon, and makeup was always going to be significant.
“That’s just part of picking a quarterback—being able to handle his surroundings,” coach Pat Shurmur told me. “That’s what’s going to come with playing here. But again, you stay in the moment. Here’s your locker, here’s your helmet, here’s the iPad, here’s the playbook, here are your coaches, let’s get to work. Just stay in that realm, don’t worry about the other stuff, and be very genuine about your approach.
“That’s something we really saw in Daniel.”
He could handle bumps. The Giants liked the fact that Jones, like Baker Mayfield last year, was going from college walk-on to NFL first-round pick. “He had to fight for everything at Duke,” Gettleman said. “Nobody handed him anything.” And even after he became entrenched as the starter, there were a lot of Saturdays where he found himself in situations that would be untenable for most quarterbacks.
“It’s Duke playing Clemson, and the Clemson guys are banging him around, and he showed toughness, a stick-to-itiveness,” Gettleman said. Shurmur added, “The nice thing about Dan is he’s had to deal with some adversity. When you do that, you develop a mechanism for when you face it later on, how you’re going to handle things.”
The team would set itself up for a smooth transition. When I asked Shurmur how Cutcliffe described Jones, he answered, “Some of it’s private, but just how competitive he is, and don’t mistake his calm demeanor for not being able to get after it. I think that’s a good thing.” I told Shurmur that sounded like Eli. “In some ways, yeah,” he responded. “In a lot of ways, actually.”
The end’s usually not pretty with franchise quarterbacks, particularly when there’s an appointed successor on the roster. And therein lies what Shurmur and Gettleman see as a bonus to the fact that Jones and Manning have a pre-existing relationship— there’s a pretty good shot the Giants’ avoid Rodgers/Favre-style awkwardness.
“It’s because of the two people that we’re talking about,” Shurmur said. “Number one, I think Eli does an outstanding job of staying in the moment and worrying about the task at hand. Right now he’s worrying about getting himself ready for the 2019 season. That’ll be his focus. And then I expect Daniel’s going to come in and try to learn as much as he can as quickly as he can, and try to prepare himself to play.
“Along the way, because there’s a healthy respect for one another, they’ll both be able to do their jobs. Like I told Eli, it’s not Eli’s job to train Daniel Jones. It’s Eli’s job to do what he has to do to get himself ready for the season and help us win games.”
Or as Gettleman said, as the Giants were on the clock, “I was on the phone with Eli. I told him, ‘You’re our quarterback, let’s go. And by the way, we’re drafting the Jones kid, and your job is to be the best quarterback you can be and help us win. It’s his responsibility to crawl up your fanny and learn.’”
For all the talk about fit, the Giants do believe in Jones’s talent, by the way. Both Gettleman and Shurmur raised his 4.65 speed to me. And I’m told that he was the No. 1 quarterback on the team’s board, ahead of Murray and (as was made obvious on draft night) everyone else. Bottom line—he doesn’t get there unless the evaluators in house think he’s got a chance to be really, really good.
That’s what set Gettleman up to pull the one big surprise in all this: taking Jones with the sixth pick rather than the 17th (which he got from Cleveland in the Odell Beckham trade). Part of that was information the Giants had that two other teams (Washington was one, I believe) could take Jones. Another was that they just felt too strongly about Jones to risk it.
So in essence they traded Josh Allen, who would have been their pick at 6 (he went at 7 to Jacksonville), for Dexter Lawrence, whom New York got at 17, for the assurance they’d get their guy.
“People can speculate all day long, ‘Oh, nobody would’ve taken him.’ You don’t know that,” Gettleman said. “There are no guarantees. So the bottom line is, if you believe this kid can get you to the promised land, why wait? You have to have confidence in what you’re doing. You’re drafting players. The team will be better.
“Now, what happens next year? What if you don’t take him this year, and next year you’re picking 22? You’re going to have to move heaven and earth. This is the closest we’re going to get. It made the most sense.”
For his part, the GM knows a lot of people don’t agree with that, nor do they think the team will be much better than it was in 2018. But Gettleman’s strength when he was GM in Carolina was his willingness to do what might not have been popular—it’s how he cleaned up a dumpster fire of a salary-cap situation there—and he clearly hasn’t shrunk to all the heat that goes with doing similar things in the New York market.
Do I think he could’ve landed Allen and Jones with minimal maneuvering? I think it’s possible he could have. But I know the reality of this situation as well as he does.
That is to say, if Jones hits, the 11-pick price for making sure Gettleman got his man won’t look prohibitive at all. And if Jones doesn’t, everyone will be gone anyway.
The Dolphins had background on Josh Rosen, having evaluated the quarterback ahead of last year’s draft. But as it’s been explained to me, they went deeper into Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen because it seemed at the time that those two were more likely to make it to 11, where they scheduled to pick in 2018, than Rosen or Sam Darnold.
That’s one reason why the way Friday unfolded was pretty great for Miami GM Chris Grier, with unsolicited call after unsolicited call coming in on the 2018 Cardinals QB.
“It was all day Friday,” Grier said late on Saturday night. “It was just weird. It was people we know, and then even after the trade was done, they were like, ‘Really good guy, smart, you’ll love being around him.’ They talked about how he’s had change in his life, as far as all the different coordinators he’s played for. People spoke very highly of him, and recommended him to us.”
So Grier and the Dolphins wound up taking the swing on Rosen that was anticipated for the previous 24 hours or so. And that’s just what it was—a swing—which we’ll explain in a minute. First, from Grier’s point of view, here’s how this all came to be:
• Miami started work on Rosen around the combine, and it wasn’t because they had some inside track on what the Cardinals would do. It was more just hearing what the rest of us did. “People were saying it after Murray weighed in— ‘Oh, he’s taller than I thought’—and you kept hearing the rumors,” Grier said. “We just said, Hey, we’ll take a look at him on our end, in-house. We watched film and studied, and then whenever Arizona was going to open up the option to talk people, we would do that.” Grier and Cardinals GM Steve Keim did briefly talk in Indy, but Keim didn’t raise Rosen’s name. In general terms, Grier asked Keim to keep him apprised of any player who might come available.
• Grier saw a report about 20 minutes into the draft, after Murray was taken, but well before the Dolphins picked Christian Wilkins at 13. He called Keim and asked about Rosen specifically this time. They’d talk again later in the night, but both sides were entrenched in their position. Keim and Grier agreed to keep lines of communication open.
• And then, as Grier recalls, “We really didn’t hear from each other until sometime late afternoon, when all the stories started breaking saying that we had a deal for 48 [Miami’s second-rounder]. We were laughing because we never talked to each other. I’m sure Steve was doing the same. But we were in the building going, ‘Where this coming from? Forty-eight? We haven’t even talked today.’”
The teams re-engaged early in the second round. Both stood their ground, and Miami went forward with another plan for the 48th pick. “We’d fielded some calls from some people asking if we were willing to move down in the second round,” Grier said. “Our goal before the draft was, if we’re able to pick up a first or a second in 2020, that was something we’d consider. But we were more than willing to take a player at 48. There was a player we really liked. And we had a couple calls.” In the end, the Saints gave Miami the 2020 second-rounder they wanted, plus a six this year, to flop second-round picks. New Orleans got the 48th; the Dolphins would have 62.
As the draft moved into 50s, the Cardinals and Dolphins started talking again. Having gotten real value out of 48 with that future second-rounder, Miami was open to moving 62 for Rosen. But obviously, the 62nd pick is different from the 48th pick. So this new negotiation went to the buzzer. “We were ready to pick at 62,” Grier said. “And I’m telling you, Steve was pushing hard for what he wanted, and so were we. So we were to a point there where I wasn’t sure if it was going to get done or not.”
In the end, throwing a fifth-round pick in with the 62 was enough to push the deal over the goal line—and get the Dolphins a quarterback who is just 82 days older than Dwayne Haskins and 178 days older than Kyler Murray, and is exactly three…