Justin Herberts rise with Chargers a reminder of dashed Giants dreams – New York Post

Justin Herberts rise with Chargers a reminder of dashed Giants dreams – New York Post

TUCSON, Ariz. — There is no way to know it absolutely, positively would have happened. But it very likely would have happened. It was headed that way. And there is no reason it would not have continued in that direction. And if it did, Justin Herbert would be wearing blue and the Giants would absolutely, positively have their guy at quarterback.

Imagine that.

You can bet the Giants imagine that as they sit here, 4-8 this season, knowing Daniel Jones will miss another game this week, sidelined with a strained neck that will keep him out of Sunday’s game against the Chargers in Los Angeles. Yup, the Chargers. The team that benefitted so greatly by Herbert opting to go back to Oregon for his senior year, a decision that changed the course of history for two franchises.

Herbert is the strong-armed, long-distance thrower who fired 31 touchdown passes as a rookie in 2020 and is at 27 through 12 games this season. He is big and strong and mobile and humble, the entire package wrapped up inside a 6-foot-6, 240-pound body built for speed and power. At 23 years old, he should be a star for years to come.

“In terms of arm talent, probably like him, [Patrick] Mahomes, those guys that can just throw the ball a mile and he throws it on a rope and pretty accurate,” Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said Thursday of Herbert.

Justin Herbert #10 of the Los Angeles Chargers warms up
Justin Herbert, once the Giants’ NFL Draft target, will line up opposite them on Sunday.
Getty Images

This is the Giants’ problem now. They were on the way to making him be their solution. If Herbert made himself eligible for the 2019 NFL Draft, the Giants were on him.

They were in the market for a young quarterback to sit behind and then replace Eli Manning. They owned the No. 6-overall pick. As the 2018 college season progressed, Herbert was rising to the top of the list with weekly exploits often too late for most East Coast viewers, playing at Oregon. Dwayne Haskins, amassing touchdown passes at Ohio State, and Daniel Jones, quietly working on his craft at Duke, were in the first-round mix.

Dave Gettleman, the Giants’ general manager, was dispatched to go see Herbert live and in person. He was impressed. Gettleman later in the process saw Jones at the Senior Bowl and scouted Haskins in person at the Big Ten Championship game.

It was growing clear to the Giants that Herbert’s “arm talent” — basically, the strength, accuracy and specialness of his arm — was greater than Jones’. It is natural to speculate Herbert, after a full evaluation, would emerge as the No. 1 quarterback on the Giants’ board. It seemed inevitable Herbert would be the first quarterback taken in the draft that year.

Quarterback Justin Herbert works out during Oregon football pro day
Justin Herbert would have been a post-Eli Manning solution for the Giants if he hadn’t opted to return to Oregon.
AP Photo

One day after Christmas 2018, Herbert did what so few top prospects do: Stay. Oregon was set to face Michigan on New Year’s Eve in the RedBox Bowl and Herbert did not want to be a distraction.

He issued a statement the day after Christmas:

“The University of Oregon has been a special place for me as long as I can remember. Words will never be able to express my feelings of gratitude toward the people that have built and maintain our program. What I have come to realize, though, is nothing could pull me away from the opportunities we have in front of us.”

Just like that, Herbert to the Giants was a dashed dream.

Sure, the Giants had some questions about Herbert. He was a small-town kid from Eugene who never left home for college. He was quiet, reserved, floppy-haired and the Giants needed to find out if he was going to be the right fit in the big city. These concerns were never addressed. Pat Shurmur, the head coach at the time, never got involved with Herbert. There were no one-on-one meetings to get a better feel for Herbert. There was an extremely high opinion of Herbert among several Giants talent evaluators but the pursuit ended once Herbert returned to school.

The Giants pivoted, studied Haskins and Jones, and Jones was the pick. There is every reason to believe, if Herbert entered the draft, his grade would have been higher than the first-round grade the Giants assigned to Jones.

A year later, the Bengals took quarterback Joe Burrow with the No. 1-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. The Dolphins at No. 5 took Tua Tagovailoa. The Chargers sat back and watched as their target — Herbert — fell to them, at No. 6 — ironically, the same spot the Giants took Jones one year earlier.

New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones #8, throwing a pass
With their Justin Herbert dreams dashed, the Giants landed on Daniel Jones as their franchise quarterback.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

One year later, Brandon Staley was named the Chargers’ head coach and fell into a rare and golden opportunity, gifted a young quarterback to build around.

“To be with a quarterback that was at the beginning of his career, that was a really exciting thing for me so that we could both grow together,” Staley said this week. “As spectacular as some players are, at that position to me it’s so much more important about the leadership, the toughness, the example that you set every single day as a quarterback. There’s no one that lives the example of a Charger more than Justin Herbert. It’s been such a blessing and such a privilege to team up with him and there’s so much more that both of us can improve on, but I’ve enjoyed every second of it and I’m sure glad that we get to compete together.”

Staley and Herbert are now linked. Joe Judge, hired by the Giants in 2020, has Jones, for better or worse and everything in between. Herbert at this point is far and away the more productive player. The Giants wanted him and never got the chance to get him.