SHREVEPORT, La.—If you're around Duke enough, you probably knew how this situation was going to go.
With less than three weeks until the NFL Draft's declaration deadline, quarterback Daniel Jones has yet to decide whether he'll forgo his last year of college eligibility and head for the pros. Jones was predictably mum about his future plans after arguably the best performance of his Blue Devil career Thursday afternoon.
"I'll have some time to figure it out," Jones told reporters after the game. That was as far as the redshirt junior was willing to go.
Like Jones, head coach David Cutcliffe gave little indication whether his signal-caller would return to Durham for a fourth season.
But there is no decision to be made. Jones would be foolish if he does anything but take his talent to the NFL.
Remember, around this time four years ago, Jones was an 18-year-old at Charlotte Latin planning on heading to Princeton, without a single high-major scholarship offer. That same kid is now the only quarterback in Blue Devil history to start in two bowl victories and one of a select few Duke players to be a part of three bowl-winning teams.
It's also easy to argue that Jones' performance in the Walk-On's Independence Bowl was the best of his three seasons as a Blue Devil. He threw a career-best five touchdown passes—moving him into third on Duke's all-time list—ran for another and logged a career-high 423 passing yards to reach the 8,000-yard mark for his career. His 73.2 percent completion rate was his high-water mark against an FBS side while attempting at least 20 passes.
Recency bias, while relevant to draft pundits, matters much less to the NFL teams evaluating a potential future face of their franchise, but the circumstances favor Jones as well.
Many experts had labeled Oregon's Justin Herbert the top quarterback prospect in this year's class. But Herbert is now off the board after announcing Wednesday afternoon that he'll head back to Eugene for one more season with the Ducks.
That decision made the slim pickings atop the quarterback heap even slimmer. Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins will almost certainly declare for the NFL Draft, leaving the Buckeyes a year early. Missouri's Drew Lock and West Virginia's Will Grier are both out of eligibility, meaning they'll also be headed for the professional ranks.
At worst, Jones is the fourth-best option at a position that is always in high demand, especially with at least five pro teams in dire need of a new man under center.
Given that this crop of quarterbacks is about as bad as any since 2014—a class headlined by Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr—there is a real possibility that the 6-foot-5 Jones could ultimately wind up the first quarterback taken, maybe even in the first 10 picks, if the New York Giants or Jacksonville Jaguars decide to come calling.
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So what would that mean financially for Jones?
If he went at No. 10, his first contract would wind up paying a total of about $18 million over the course of four seasons. Even if Jones wasn't selected until the final pick of the opening round, he'd still earn around $10 million. No matter how you slice it, that would be a lot of cash to miss out on.
But what if Jones wanted to come back to Durham?
Well, he has already completed his undergraduate degree—Jones graduated as an economics major a few weeks ago, meaning he'd have to enroll in graduate school to play another season with the Blue Devils. As a pro, Jones would have the opportunity to practice every day instead of sitting in class, something he'd benefit from. For all his talent, Jones is still very raw.
Then there's the matter of legacy. Sure, Jones would probably shatter most of Duke's quarterback records, but the Blue Devils have little to no shot at accomplishing any more as a team. Their 2019 schedule is as tough as it gets—including a season opener against Alabama—and without most of his top targets, Jones would likely have a hard time carrying his team to an ACC title.
All of these facts lead to an inevitable conclusion, one that will almost certainly become official in the coming days: It is time for Daniel Jones to leave Duke.
Cutcliffe hasn't been here before—his top two protégés, Peyton and Eli Manning, both played four seasons at Tennessee and Ole Miss, respectively. Yet he couldn't have had higher praise for his latest young star after Jones played for what should be his final time as a Blue Devil.
"Daniel Jones to this point, has set the bar so high, not just playing well, but getting better as he goes. He’s gotten better and better every year, every game," Cutcliffe said. "He’s the most humble individual I think I’ve ever been around. You cannot get him to say something good about himself.
"Whatever he decides, I’ll be happy for him because it’s his decision. He doesn’t know right now. I don’t know right now. God bless him, because it’s a tough thing, but he’ll find the right spot.”