Backup quarterback for the Giants used to be among the cushiest jobs in America.
The responsibilities included throwing extra passes in practices, wearing a headset on game days and golfing on off-days with iron man Eli Manning. It hasn’t been that way since Daniel Jones replaced Manning as the starter, but it has never been a more glaring weakness than it has been during the past month.
When Jones went out with what is now a season-ending neck injury, the Giants had a 4-7 record after a 3-2 “hot” stretch and sat 1 ¹/₂ games back of the last NFC playoff spot, with wins over three teams ahead of them. Since then, however, the Giants are 0-4 in games started by Mike Glennon and Jake Fromm, both of whom played this past Sunday against the Eagles and ranked No. 37 and No. 38, respectively, among the 38 quarterback performances graded last week by Pro Football Focus.
“I like the way Mike puts the team first and comes out and works,” head coach Joe Judge said as he waited on inevitably naming Glennon as his starter for Sunday against the Bears. “There are some things collectively that we have to do better as an offense all-around. Mike comes in with a positive attitude every week and stays ready.”
How did the Giants wind up in a dire situation behind the injury-plagued Jones?
Colt McCoy went 1-1 as Jones’ backup in 2020, keeping the team’s playoff aspirations afloat in the lowly NFC East. He was offered, during the season, a contract extension for 2021, with the expectation for both sides to keep open communication lines, according to league sources. Something got lost in translation.
At least one other interested team was told McCoy planned to return to New York, but the Giants decided to go in a different direction shortly before the March 15 start of free agency. The change in thinking behind the scenes was two-fold: Save money against a tight cap as the Giants targeted a couple of big-money playmakers and pursue a stronger-armed quarterback to fight the northeast winds after McCoy’s Week 15 performance in a 20-6 loss to the Browns (19-for-31 for 221 yards) raised concerns.
So, McCoy did not have an offer to accept in March. Expiring offers are not an uncommon NFL practice — one former Giant shared a similar experience during the Jerry Reese-Tom Coughlin era — and it barely registered a blip on the radar at the time to sign Glennon and swap in one veteran journeyman backup for another.
But Giants fans will never forget again: All backups are not the same. Eleven days after Glennon signed a one-year, $1.375 million deal, McCoy signed a one-year, $1.21 million deal with the Cardinals. McCoy made $2.25 million with the Giants, who sang his high-character praises to the beneficiary Cardinals.
Backup quarterbacks across the NFL this season are 21-42-1 as injury- or COVID-19-related fill-in starters, not including the Texans’ Davis Mills (2-7) who took over for a benched Tyrod Taylor. The Giants’ season-opening second- and third-stringers from last year, McCoy and Cooper Rush (Cowboys), are a combined 3-1.
It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, of course. McCoy and Rush are playing behind top offensive lines. The immobile Glennon is a sitting duck behind the Giants’ porous blocking.
Of the eight teams that have had to go at least three-deep at starting quarterback, only the Giants are winless without their starter, highlighting Jones’ value. Only the Panthers’ Cam Newton (0-5) and the Saints’ Trevor Siemian (0-4) have more starts without a win than Glennon (0-3).
It is fair for the Giants to have expected better from Glennon, who registered an 80.1 quarterback rating last season (Jones’ was 80.4) when he completed 62 percent of passes with seven touchdowns and five interceptions for the Jaguars during five starts in a 15-game losing streak. Of all the backups with more than one start, Glennon’s 55.7 passer rating for the season is the lowest, while McCoy’s 101.4 is the second-highest. Fromm’s 37.6 is the lowest for single-game starters.
“I think if we could pinpoint one thing, then we’d already have that answered and be playing at a higher level,” Glennon said. “All across the board I think we need to execute better.”
Life as a Giants backup quarterback isn’t what it used to be.
— Additional reporting by Paul Schwartz