Monday, April 29, 2019

Going Viral at the 2019 Draft and being forever linked with Daniel Jones

For those that have read this blog for the past few years, I'd like to think that I've provided some insight, education, entertainment and scratched that nostalgia itch that we all have as we get older.  Particularly when the Giants have had a long stretch of losing as we have seen since the 2011 Super Bowl ended with Kenny Phillips batting down Tom Brady's Hail Mary that was inches outside Rob Gronkowski's reach. 

From that point in 2011 to the 2019 NFL Draft, there are some unavoidable facts that Giants fans have to accept

  • 47-65 record
  • Double digit losing seasons 4 of the last 7 years
  • 3rd place finishes twice and finished last in the NFC East that past two seasons
  • 2016- at 11-5 and a playoff appearance was clearly a fluke
The Giants are an also-ran.  A doormat.  All the jokes that the NFL fans lobbed at the Jets and Browns for years have landed, rightly, on the Giants feet.

So, now that has been established, there has been very little for NY Giants fans to enjoy for 7 years.  When you have a track record like this, you have to look at the team and decide who is worth keeping, and honestly, as I looked at the roster coming in, I was speaking with a friend and I told them "unless you came from the 2018 draft class (Saquon, Hernandez, etc), I"m not really attached to any of these guys".  Apparently Dave Gettleman agreed.  So when they let Landon Collins walk to the Redskins and trade Odell to Cleveland, while still shocked that they did it, I understood it.  And perhaps that's the theme.  We all knew what the Giants were going to do.  The hints were there.  But we were surprised they did it anyway.  And that's a perfect transition to Daniel Jones, the QB prospect out of Duke.

7 years is a long time in the NFL.  That's a lot of losing.  There is lots of turnover, and the Giants saw it, as they are on their 3rd head coach in this span, and 2nd front office.  But there is one name who was the same.  Eli Manning.  7 years is far longer than the average NFL career, yet represents less than 50% of Eli's actual career with the Giants, starting back in 2004 and now going into the 2019 season, with the exception of a the highly controversial Geno Smith start in 2017, which was the final straw for Ben McAdoo and Jerry Reese, Eli has been the man.  

Eli, for a generally boring guy, no twitter account, good family man, an charitable enough to be named the NFL Man of the Year, he has a great deal of controversy.  Whether it was his handling of the 2004 draft to force himself away from the Chargers, in which no doubt his last name provided the privilege to do something that other players could never dream of that made him an enemy for some people who have never forgotten.  For others, the issue was just around Eli's play.  Eli can make dumb plays with the best of them.  Horrible red zone INTs.  Fumbling when any pressure comes near him.  Not waiting for guys to come open and dumping off the pass immediately.  But he also was a man who won two Super Bowls, beating Belichick and Brady in their prime (which also never seems to end).  When you think of the Patriot dynasty and how it is probably the best in NFL history, Eli beat them when they were at their 18-0 apex.  That counts.  His number will be retired by the Giants, he will go in the Ring of Honor, and he will end up in the Hall of Fame (probably).

But it is also time to face reality.  Eli is 38.  Eli, who never could move, is pretty much a statue at this point of his career.  Eli has taken such a beating the past 7 years with the awful offensive lines that Reese constructed that it has taken a toll on him.  It would any QB.  Eli is also in the final year of his contract, and his career earnings are such that Eli Manning has earned more money in his NFL contracts than any player in NFL History.  But the rumblings have been out there for a while about how his play has slipped, or at the very least, how his younger peers have passed him bye.  Ben McAdoo really was the first to do it.  He called out Eli's inability to play without a clean pocket, noting that isn't how the NFL works.  That Eli needs to stand in and deliver passes and not dump off so quick.  Essentially, he said what most were thinking.  But McAdoo was a poor messenger.   And as he lost the team in 2017, McAdoo tried to use Eli to blame for the teams' failures.  Eli was part of the problem, but not THE problem.  McAdoo got fired.  

The Giants front office has always had kid gloves with Eli.  Gettleman in particular has been a vocal cheerleader, noting an end of season meeting with Eli in which he said Eli "took him to the low post and won".  He said Eli had a great year.  Eli can still play.  Eli can make all the throws.  But still, the rumblings were there that the Giants were ready to make a move from him.  The 2018 QB class was considered talented but had questions.  The Giants decided to bypass all of it and take Saquon Barkley, who won the NFL Rookie of the Year and he's now the face of the team with Odell gone.

Teams and scouts looked at the 2019 QB class and said that it's actually not as strong as the 2018 class.  And the 2020 QB class is considered far superior.  Jake Fromm, Justin Herbert, and Tua Tagovalioa are all considered top 5 picks.  In 2021, Clemson's Trevor Lawrence will come out with astounding hype, with several scouts saying he's the best prospect since John Elway in 1983 (and at that time, Elway was considered the best QB prospect that most scouts had seen.  Ever.)

So who was in the 2018 draft class?  A group of QBs, that all were considered average at best, or with significant red flags for one reason or another.  Kyler Murray, the top pick and Heisman Trophy winner out of Oklahoma, on the heels of his teammate Baker Mayfield going to the Browns at #1 the year before has his own concerns.  First, he was 5'10", and though we've seen the success of Russell Wilson in Seattle, Murray has a slighter frame.  Oh, and he has a contract to play baseball with the Oakland A's and he might decide to go that route if things get hard in the NFL.  Dwayne Haskins came out of Ohio State, has a big arm, and threw 50 TDs in his one year as a starter.  But there were other rumblings.  He was out of shape at the combine, and his frame seemed to carry more weight than you would like.  And, if possible, he was actually slower than Eli Manning.  Drew Lock has the best arm in the draft.  Can make all the throws.  But he also had a Ryan Mallett/Jay Cutler vibe to him.  Meaning, plenty of talent, but desire and maturity a big question.  Will Grier out of West Virginia had a scattered past after some things that happened at Florida which led to his transfer to the Mountaineers and some simple questions about his arm strength that made him a 3rd rounder and more of a backup projection in the NFL.

And then we have Daniel Jones from Duke.  For Giants fans of a certain age, when we think of a Duke QB who has a very average sounding name, we immediately think about Dave Brown.  I've done other reviews about Dave Brown and how his career didn't work out, and how it wasn't all his fault.  You can go find that and read it.  But now let's get to Jones.  Jones is a polarizing figure for someone who is, on the surface, boring.  He played at Duke, which meant he didn't see the top competition in the NCAA consistently (Clemson aside). His team didn't have a great deal of talent around him.  But his whole story revolves around one man, his coach David Cutcliffe.  When you talk about the QB whisperers in the NCAA, Cutcliffe's name tends to be at or near the top of the list.  But that's because his 2 main students are well known to even non NFL fans.  Cutcliffe was Peyton Manning's coach at the University of Tennessee where Manning was considered a can't miss prospect in the NFL (he didn't miss).  And then Cutcliffe went to Ole Miss as the head man where he coached another overall first round QB, someone named Eli Manning.  Cutcliffe has been linked to the Mannings for many many years.  Cutcliffe helps lead the Manning Passing Camp in the offseason, in which the best college QBs go to run drills which are all meant to prepare them for life in the NFL.  Eli Manning holds offseason workouts in Duke every Spring with Cutcliffe.  Cutcliffe ended up at Duke with his latest project, Daniel Jones.  Jones looks the part.  He's 6'5' and about 225 pounds.  He's smart.  He can run a little too (much better than Peyton or Eli, which isn't hard), as he put up a 4.6 40 time.  But the general consensus among NFL scouts is that Jones projects as a solid NFL starter, maybe a borderline backup, an the dreaded "game manager" label, one of the most backhanded compliments in sports, up there with "he's fast for a catcher" in baseball.  Jones is a dink and dunk QB who will execute a coach's gameplan and doesn't take chances, because he knows his limitations, namely his lack of arm strength.  NFL comps range from Ryan Tannehill to a top end of Matt Ryan.  In all, Jones is safe.  He is probably NFL ready to come in and execute a game plan, and will not wow you anywhere.  Cutcliffe has prepared him in an NFL style offense and how to study defenses and game plans.  So your floor is pretty much set that Jones can come in and do the job.  But the bigger question is, what is his ceiling?  For most scouts, their answer is "not very high".

Now, this story has another wrinkle.  Remember the 2018 QB draft class, the Giants passing on all of them to get Saquon.  The Arizona Cardinals blew up their coaching staff after 1 year, firing Steve Wilks as their team was a complete mess.  But they took one of those top QBs in 2018, Josh Rosen out of UCLA.  Rosen, by all accounts, might well have been the most talented of all the 2018 QBs, when it came to actual arm strength, movement, etc.  But he slipped to #10 overall.  There were rumblings that he had a bad personality.  Some teams wanted to avoid anything political, as Rosen was seen with some anti-Trump leanings.  Rosen also came from money and had suffered injuries in college, including concussions.  When Kliff Kingsbury took over as head coach, it was known he wanted Murray.  Which meant Rosen was on the block.  The indications were that the Giants liked Rosen in the draft, and Gettleman in particular.  But Saquon was too good.  Everyone in the NFL knew that to get Murray, Rosen could be had for a song.  They had to trade him, and they already ate his signing bonus, so his salary would be lower.  

Now we come to draft day.  The noise in the weeks leading up to the draft was the Giants had put feelers out to the Cardinals, but seemed to zero in on 2 of the 2019 QBs, specifically Jones and Lock.  Thanks to the Odell trade, they had picks at #6 overall and #17 overall as well.  With scouts and others saying Jones was a late first rounder, maybe a 2nd rounder, most Giants fans had come to the conclusion that the Giants were going to make a move for a QB in this draft and not wait until 2020.  But the noise around Jones had grown louder.  The first sense was they'd get him at #17, and fans wouldn't like it, but might accept it.  However, further rumbles started that they might use #6 on Jones, which seemed like a complete reach.  No one else reportedly had him that high.  Some had him in the 50s talent wise, let alone top 10.  And the Rosen rumors were swirling.

So that bring us to April 25, 2019.  As a Giants season ticket holder, you are given "free" tickets to go to the NFL draft party, held at MetLife Stadium.  Since the Jets and Giants both play there, they try to have 2 separate entrances to keep the fans away from each other (most of the time).  I started going in 2016, when the Giants got Eli Apple (and that didn't work).  Anyway, the field level was not accessible because of a motor cross event on the field.  So the Giants fans were on one side of the bowl, and Jets on the other.  In 2017, when the Giants got Evan Engram, it was the same thing, I headed up to the Giants suites to eat and watch the draft.  Last year, it was actually a perfect scenario.  Nice weather.  No motor cross so the field was open, and the Giants picked Saquon at 2, and the Jets took QB Sam Darnold at 3.  Both fans were happy (though the RB vs. QB argument rings to this day).  

Going into 2019, while Saquon was the Rookie of the Year, Darnold had a strong year for the Jets and he looks to be the real deal at QB.  All things being equal, as great as Saquon is, if you can get a franchise QB, that is the best route.  So the Giants helped put Darnold to the Jets.  Jets fans, sensing the Giants implosion and seeming disfunction all over and after the Odell trade, decided to rub it in.  So they started wearing a "thanks Giants" tee shirt with Darnold on it.  The Jets retweeted it.  This annoyed me, so I sent my first tweet of the night to the Giants Insider and Big Blue Interactive website, in which I noted the line for the Jets fans to get in was empty, and the Giants had a huge line and wait to get in.  You can see it here

So after finally getting in, I met up with some friends to sit and watch.  Since it was a little cold and drizzle/rain, most people were packed inside the mezzanine, and we decided to go outside on the last row of seats and was under the overhang and dry.  Since the Giants picked 6th, we had some time to discuss strategy and I gave my own personal take if I was the Giants GM.  Here is what I wanted to do:
  • I wanted to go defense.  This was a defensive heavy draft, particularly at edge rusher.  The Giants had no pass rush.  They needed help.  Several big names, including in particular Kentucky's Josh Allen who were thought of as a top 3 pick at the end of the NCAA season looked like they might slip to the Giants in a mock.  Or LB Devin White from LSU.  In my mind, the Giants had to go defense
  • I also was not blown away by the QB class.  My preference, if they had to get a QB, was trade for Rosen.  With #37, the 2nd round pick, probably the price tag to make it happen.  Let Rosen sit behind Eli for a year and then let him play of the season comes apart.  If it turns out Rosen isn't any good, you dip back in for one of the Big 3 in 2020 and your risk is limited since he only cost a 2nd and less cash.
  • If the Giants were going to go QB, I wanted it at #17, or maybe a trade up from there, or perhaps a trade into the late first round and get a Jones or Lock, but land 2 defensive starters (more on this in a bit).
So there is the set up.  We sit there and watch.  Murray goes #1 (as expected).  Which means Rosen is on the block and the Cardinals destroyed their leverage (also as expected).  The Niners get Nick Bosa, DE from Ohio State (also expected).  The Jets luck into Quinnen Williams, possibly the best player in the draft as a DT from Alabama, even though they almost Jets'ed themselves and tried to trade the pick for too much and it fell to them.  The Raiders came up at 4.  Mike Mayock, the former Giant and NFL Network Analyst was in his first year at GM.  There were rumblings they would take a surprise pick.  Josh Allen was there for them.  But they took Clelin Ferrell, DE out of Clemson.  A surprising pick because of all that talent on the Clemson DL which made people wonder how good he really was with the others (including Dexter Lawrence) around him.  So up comes Tampa.  Rumors were that they wanted White, but could go for Allen.  Either way, I shouted over to my friend that the defense run had begun and the Giants were going to get White or Allen.  This is perfect.  White's name is called and the Giants are on the clock.

Now, at this point in time, I did something that I haven't done in previous drafts I've gone to.  A few other friends were supposed to come with me to this draft, but got caught up at work.  So I decided to record the pick on my iPhone and send them the video afterwards so they can see what they missed.  I didn't expect much, but just a quick snapshot, point in time.  However, something hit me..what if they go Jones?  I shouted down to my friend as the Giants were on the clock "This has fallen perfectly, Allen is sitting there, they have to go for Allen.  If they draft Daniel Jones, I'm walking out of this place!"  I hit record....

So that was the context and lead up to this now infamous video.  My exasperated shout of "OOOOHHHH NOOOO!" was only G rated because I saw the group of kids sit in front of me just before the pick and decided to censor myself.  I couldn't believe they passed on Josh Allen.  The rest of the crowd was of a similar thought process, though a few more profane and that poor confused kid in front of me.

I sat for a little while in disgust.  My friends who weren't there and I recorded the video for texted me to ask what happened, started cursing on their own, and asked what the scene was at the Stadium.  I sent them the video.  And after I sent it to them, I remembered the pictures I tweeted earlier to the Giants Insider and BBI.  So I fired off a quick tweet to them again, not thinking too much about it.  They would see it, probably respond with some level of shock/disgust and we all move on.  But what happened was Eric Kennedy, who is the owner of BBI and someone I've known since 1997, retweeted my tweet.  And that is when all hell broke loose.

Now, I've heard about going viral on line.  And you can see how it happens, but nothing like that has ever happened to me.  I'm not much of a big tweeter.  I send out things sporadically.  Mainly something about the Giants or responding to an inquiry, or to show some new review I've done.  Maybe I'll get a like here or there, a response.  Well, BBI has almost 8000 followers, and it's one of the long time Giants fan sites on the internet, where I post as Matt in SGS (meaning Shadows of Giants Stadium).  I made up that nickname years ago because I grew up in the same town as Bill Parcells, and if you go back and look at videos talking about his upbringing they usually say "he grew up in the Shadows of Giants Stadium."  So if it works for Parcells, it works for me.  BBI is also well regarded and followed in the media and by the Giants front office as well.  Every beat writer follows BBI.  Including one former beat writer, Mike Garafolo, who was the Giants beat writer for the NJ Star Ledger in the mid 2000s before moving on to the NFL Network as an insider/reporter.  Garafolo took my tweet and responded the the BBI retweet noting the girl cursing.  And then everything blew up.

I started getting alerts all over my phone.  Darren Rovell at ESPN retweeted it, probably seeing Garafolo's tweet.  And so did Yahoo Sports.  And Bleacher Report.  And Deadspin.  The video was put on ESPN.  It was on CBS, ABC, and FOX.  I started getting requests for permission to show the video from all these news agencies, including some in Brazil and Japan.  All night long my phone was buzzing and that when a thought crossed my mind.

Having watched Giants highlights for about 35 years, you start to notice the overused but applicable term "narratives".  I have said on this blog that some of my favorite viewings come from NFL Films, and in particular the Inside the NFL, or truncated This Week in Pro Football videos.  I'd point out that the Giants 1986 and Giants 1990 championship videos are 2 in which I nearly broke my VCR and the tapes themselves watching and re-watching them.  Now, you cannot watch any video about Phil Simms in his run to his MVP performance in Super Bowl XXI and not see the highlight from 1979 when Commissioner Pete Rozelle announces the Giants pick of Phil Simms in the first round and hear the grumbles, groans, and boos from the fans.  Who the hell was this guy from Morehead State?  Now, lost in all of this, Bill Walsh, only one of the main founders of the West Coast offense and a pretty well regarded offensive mind who sprouted a coaching tree that included several Super Bowl winners including through this day (with Pat Shurmur himself a branch down the line), also wanted Phil Simms in his offense with the 49ers.  Walsh would pick some guy named Joe Montana out of Notre Dame in the 3rd round of the same draft.  But that reaction stuck with Simms his entire career.

Over the years, there have been many NFL Draft reaction videos, including the amazing compilation of Jets draft picks over the years (passing Dan Marino for Ken O'Brien and the Roger Vick pick with a fan shouting "ohhh nooo!"...well, who knew).  Donovan McNabb being booed by Eagles fans and eventually leading them to several NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl.  

Now I had unwittingly joined this group.  Like it or not, this would now be linked to Daniel Jones for the rest of his career.  And to be honest, I started to feel bad about that.  You don't reach the level of success Jones did at Duke, coming in as a walk-on, and become a starter at a Division I school and do enough for talent evaluators to see you as not only a draft pick, but worth a first round grade (now top 10, can be argued, but regardless).  He's a 21 year old kid (turning 22 in May), so this is one of his most exciting moments of his and his families life.  And the media is killing him and the Giants for this pick.  The fans are sending in reaction videos.  And it turns out my video got the most publicity and most press.  My "OHHHH NOOOO!" is one of the sound bytes which has defined his entry into the NFL and the Giants organization.  But the context was not right.  My motivation was not to crap on Jones, but rather shock/disgust the Giants had passed on a guy in Josh Allen who was a supposed defensive stud.  Enough so that the next pick, old friend Tom Coughlin, ran his name up to the podium with the #7 pick for Jacksonville.  I already said I wanted a Rosen trade, but I had come to the conclusion Jones would be a Giant, I just never thought it would be at #6.  I thought it would be at #17 or perhaps a trade up from 17 or maybe a trade to get into the late first and take him assuming he slipped.  The Giants actually did do this, trading with Seattle at 30 but did so to take Georgia cornerback Deandre Baker.  It's not Jones "fault" he was taken at 6, in a spot that most would call a reach.  It wasn't fair to take it all out on him.  And as the tweet was surging well past 500k views in a matter of an hour and I realized how widespread it was, I wanted to send some encouragement to Jones and the Giants, noting that the initial reaction wasn't great, but we are Giants fans and will root for him when gets his chance to play.  So I tweeted this

However, the horse was out of the barn.  The anger machine had taken hold and the feeding frenzy was on killing the Giants and Jones.  My video was all over on TV and the internet the next morning.  It was part of radio shows, with WFAN specifically talking about my tweet and me with Boomer Esiason saying essentially "Poor Daniel Jones, if I had to hear that you might want to kill yourself, that's awful".  It wasn't until Sunday that the retweets and comments finally slowed down on Twitter for my post, with it coming in at now about 925k views as of April 29th.  

But I wanted to see what I could do to make this right.  I put up a post on BBI explaining myself, knowing it would reach the Giants organization, and I hoped Daniel Jones himself.  I want Daniel Jones to take the mantle from Eli Manning and lead the Giants back to the playoffs and Super Bowl.  I hope Dave Gettleman and David Cutcliffe are right about him.  If he turns out to have a great career, then they would be vindicated, and all the blowback, and specifically my video/tweet can be looked at another case of fans not knowing what the hell they are doing.  As former NBA executive with the Utah Jazz Frank Layton once said "the moment you start listening to the fans is when you will end up sitting next to them."  Well, here is my hope.  Sometime in the next 10 or so years (hopefully sooner), the NFL will do a retrospective on Daniel Jones as a Super Bowl champion and show what he overcame, and they will likely feature my video/tweet since it has become the representative view of the Giants fan against the pick.  And I would hope that it looks something like this which was put together in the 1986 Giants Among Men video where they talked about Phil Simms.  To Daniel Jones, for both our sakes, let's hope we can have something like this done for you and me in the future.  Go Giants!