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Mike Lupica: This NFL Draft for Joe Schoen and the Giants is still all about Daniel Jones



It was as if the Giants drafted Daniel Jones all over again this past Thursday night, even if Jones was nowhere near the stage at Cadillac Square in Detroit.

Oh, sure. The Giants drafted Jones all over again before they got around to taking the star LSU wide receiver, Malik Nabers, with the same No. 6 pick they once used on Jones. They did not move up to take one of the quarterbacks who went with the first three picks. They chose to pass on J.J. McCarthy, choosing to still ride with Jones. Again.

In so doing, they kicked the can down the road one final time with Jones, hoping against hope as they did that it doesn’t turn out to be a tomato can. That’s not the way to root, for sure. Jones has never done anything to make you root against him. I grew up a Giants fan, and still hope every year is going to be the one for the Duke guy.

“We do feel Daniel can play,” John Mara said the day Joe Schoen was introduced as the new Giants general manager, replacing Dave Gettleman, the general manager who selected Jones with the No. 6 pick in the 2019 draft. “We’ve done everything possible to screw this kid up.”

Here is what Schoen said that January day two years ago:

“I know [Jones] is a great kid. I’ve talked to him, the kid has physical ability. There’s not anybody in this building who has said a bad word about his work ethic, passion, desire to win. The kid has talent, physical ability. He’s got arm strength, he’s athletic, he can run.”

Then he showed all of that when the Giants went on the road and won their first postseason game since they beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl of February 2012. Jones got paid right after that, is still getting paid, next season he’s going to be paid $36 million to be the Giants quarterback for a sixth season.

We are told now that the Giants tried to move up to draft Drake Maye out of North Carolina, who went to the Patriots with the third pick. But then why wouldn’t the Giants have been interested? Maye looks the part, does have the arm strength, is athletic, can run. Maybe Schoen fell a little bit in love with this ACC quarterback the way Gettleman did with his.

Didn’t matter in the end. QB 1 with the Giants is Jones, something he has been, when healthy, since he took over for Eli Manning in Eli’s last season, bringing the Giants back from 18 points down against the Bucs in his first career start, completing 23-of-36 passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns, and finally winning the game with a 7-yard touchdown run with 1:18 remaining. In so many ways, at least until the playoff victory against the Vikings, it’s as good as Jones has ever looked as the Giants quarterback. Not only did he make the hearts of Giants fans stand still that day, he really did look like the heir apparent to Eli.

Now, in the fall, will come another in what feels like a long line of make-or-break seasons for him. Except that if he doesn’t finally throw more than 15 touchdown passes in a season for the third time in his career, if the “break” part of make-or-break turns out to be him breaking down again, then the Giants will have to cut him.

The Jets have finally given up on Zach Wilson, whom they drafted even higher in the first round than the Giants drafted Jones. Wilson did end up lasting those three years with the Jets, but they gave up on him after two, making the trade for Aaron Rodgers when they did. The Giants are about to go twice as long with Jones as the Jets did with Wilson, who turned out to be one of the biggest mistakes in Jets history, which is saying plenty. And that he will remain unless Aaron Rodgers, trying to come back from Achilles surgery, gets hurt again in the season when he is going to turn 41, after the Jets haven’t just built a team around him, but practically an addition to the practice facility at 1 Jets Drive.

The Giants? They remain all-in on Jones as they say prayers of their own that McCarthy — the Michigan quarterback who was still on the board when the Giants took Nabers — doesn’t haul off and become the kind of star for the Vikings that the Giants are still hoping Jones can become for them.

There is simply no point in talking about what a really nice young man, and solid football citizen, Daniel Jones is. Across his career in Jersey the Giants have done everything except hire a skywriter to drum home that message. We have seen, in flashes and fits and starts, that he can throw it and run it when he can stay on the field, and when he can hold on to the ball. But he hasn’t stayed on the field lately. There were two different neck injuries and finally the knee injury that took most of last season for him.

After he was gone, the Giants didn’t lose enough games to give themselves a shot at either Jayden Daniels, the Heisman Trophy winner, or Maye, with one of the first three picks. In that way the Giants really did turn into the Jets, and show that they didn’t properly know how to lose. It was admirable the way Brian Daboll’s players kept fighting. The whole Tommy DeVito, Jersey Boys thing was fun while DeVito was winning three in a row. But if they’d ended up at 3-14 instead of 6-11 and behind the Commanders, they would have had their choice between Daniels and Maye on Thursday night.

There are no sure things at quarterback, not anymore, even if you draft No. 2 or No. 3, just ask the Jets (Hey there, Sam Darnold; hey there, Zach). Even people in outer space know that the Chiefs got Patrick Mahomes, one of the greatest players of all time, at No. 10. But Joe Douglas loved Wilson the way Gettleman loved Jones. Gettleman is gone, Jones is still here, coming back from knee surgery, and it’s like the old song says: If the Giants can’t be with the one they love, they’re going to love the one they’re with, at least for one more season.

Once and for all, Jones will stay on the field and be what the Giants hoped he would be, and maybe even take them back to the playoffs. Or he turns out to be the kind of quarterback who gets people fired.

LEBRON SHOULD TURN UP THE HEAT, SOTO HEARS THOSE STADIUM BOOS TOO & ROOTING FOR RAFA …

If LeBron thinks he has one more stop in him, I’ve got a thought for him:

He should think about taking his talents to South Beach.

Put him on that team, and he might just get one more title, for the Heat and for himself.

By the way?

There is no better NBA coach anywhere than Erik Spoelstra, still so very much on his way to the Hall of Fame.

All this time later, I’m still trying to process the fact that the 76ers traded away Jimmy Butler.

You know who two of the real stars on draft night turned out to be, at least on television?

Bill Belichick and Nick Saban.

They turned into the 70-something version of Peyton and Eli.

It wasn’t just Aaron Judge who heard the Stadium booing him the other day.

Juan Soto, who has ears, could hear, too.

Every time there’s some complicated issue with science or politics or just about anything, I wish I had Aaron Rodgers — the Answer Man — on speed dial.

The officiating has been so sketchy in the Knicks-76ers series, I started to worry that Angel Hernandez might have switched sports.

Forget about being a tennis fan, if you’re a sports fan, you have to root that Rafa Nadal has the legs and stamina and game to make some kind of run at the French Open.

If he even makes it as far as the French Open, that is.

Scottie Scheffler is on the kind of run over the past two months that golf hasn’t seen since Tiger was young.

No one is suggesting that he is Tiger.

But right now, he’s playing like Tiger.

At the start of the season, people thought the Oakland A’s might lose about 500 games, and now they come into Yankee Stadium and shut down the Yankees twice in a four-game series.

Jeff Nelson is really good doing Yankee games on YES with my pal Michael Kay.

Is there some point at which even some of the greatest players in the history of UConn women’s basketball start showing Caitlin Clark a little more love?

Speaking of which: The Knicks and Sixers might not even need Ms. Clark to make the whole thing more interesting than it already is after just three games.

Here’s a pro tip for all the Draft People:

When the guy taken with the last pick ends up not just quarterbacking a team into the Super Bowl, but quarterbacking it into overtime of a Super Bowl, he’s no longer Mr. Irrelevant.

Finally today:

A birthday wish this week to our middle son, Alex, the executive producer in the family, one on whom his dad loves to brag.

His full name is Alexander Bene Lupica.

The middle name is after his grandfather.

It fits him like a glove, just because he is kind and good the way Bene Lupica was.

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