Jets' decision to start Joe Flacco a head-scratcher, but it's still Zach Wilson's job when fully healthy

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Robert Saleh close shot black hoodie puffing out cheeks
Robert Saleh close shot black hoodie puffing out cheeks

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Robert Saleh was right the first time. Mike White deserved better than this.

That is literally what he said back on Monday, when the Jets coach took a shot at the reactionary critics in the New York “market” for jumping off the Mike White bandwagon as fast as they did. He wanted the world to know that even after White threw four interceptions in a 45-17 loss to the Bills, “I haven’t lost faith in Mike at all.”

Then, two days after lamenting how “everyone wants to throw him away” after his bad game, and insisting that “He deserves better than that,” Saleh summoned White on Wednesday morning to tell him he was benched. And it wasn’t because Zach Wilson, the franchise quarterback, was ready to return either. It was because Saleh felt 36-year-old Joe Flacco gives the Jets a better chance to win.

That’s quite a 18-hour reversal for a coach who was positioning himself as White’s No. 1 fan.

“I’ll be very, very clear on this one,” Saleh explained on Wednesday. “My comments on Monday were because people wanted him out of New York. What Mike has done in three weeks as a starter has proven to this entire organization, and in my opinion, to the entire New York fan base, that he’s a capable quarterback that can play in this league and can do a lot of good things.”

That’s quite a spin, since no one was actually trying to run White “out of New York” considering he was one of the best football stories this city has had in years. Also, while those words about White are nice, Saleh’s actions said something else.

On the surface, this all actually does make some sense. First, it’s understandable that they wouldn’t want Wilson, their franchise quarterback, to return before he’s 100 percent. Also, next week’s game in Houston, against a 1-8 team with the 30th-ranked defense in the NFL, is a much better re-entry point for the 22-year-old Wilson anyway.

And the Dolphins do run a blitz-heavy defense and they did just beat and frustrate Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. And after seeing how confused White seemed at times against the Bills, it’s easy to see why Saleh thinks the experienced Flacco would have more success.

“Joe’s kind of been there, done that,” Saleh said. “And (he’s) just kind of a steadying experience that we thought would put us in the best position to win.”

OK, but first, the Dolphins aren’t exactly the Bills. They rank 29th in the NFL and were ripped apart by the Falcons and the Jaguars. Brian Flores is a pretty good defensive coach, but until the last two weeks against the Texans and Ravens, his team hadn’t exactly had a string of good defensive games.

Second, this is quite an organizational flip-flop for the Jets on the importance of having a veteran quarterback. Saleh and GM Joe Douglas were peppered by questions all offseason about why the Jets didn’t have a veteran backup behind Wilson, and they kept insisting they were comfortable with what they had – i.e. White. They were so uninterested in adding a veteran quarterback that it took Wilson’s injury three weeks ago for the Jets to reverse course and send a sixth-round pick to Philadelphia for Flacco. But now, at the first sign of trouble for White, they turn completely around and Saleh even says “This is kind of why we brought in a guy like Joe, for situations like this?"

That’s all head-spinning enough. But the biggest head-scratcher is this: Saleh is playing for the win in a season when wins don’t mean anything. This is all supposed to be about the growth of an extremely young team. Flacco is not going to be part of the Jets’ future. But Saleh on Wednesday said White “has solidified his stay here as a Jet and we’re excited to work with him for as many years as possible.”

So why not let the guy who’s going to be here in the future play?

Saleh did make one good point, after being asked about it: That if Flacco, with all his veteran wisdom and calmness, can settle down the offense it can help everyone else on that side of the ball.

“You’ve got a very young offense that’s trying to develop, you’ve got a young coordinator who’s trying to develop, you got a lot of people trying to develop,” Saleh said. “And if the guy holding the ball can’t get it to the people trying to develop in a timely manner, then you could struggle, right?

“Not that we don’t have faith in other guys, but Joe again, with the defense that we’re facing, his experience, it just was a decision that we felt with his calm and his experience, he can get the ball to our playmakers and they go and make plays.”

Of course, that’s exactly what White did in his win against the Bengals, and in the partial games he played against the Patriots and Colts. He was lauded for calmly making the right reads, the quick throws, and making everyone around him better.

Then he messed up against the Bills and now, to borrow a phrase, “everyone wants to throw him away.”

In the long run, none of this matters. It’s a confusing decision that makes Saleh look reactionary and indecisive, and it puts a Jet-like spin on a quarterback situation that was already a little weird. But in the end, it is almost certainly a one-week distraction before Wilson returns.

That, though, is another reason why White should’ve been allowed to keep his job. It is most likely only one more week. He’s had only one bad game. He should’ve been given the chance to prove he could learn from his mistakes.

He certainly seemed to deserve it. It even sounded like his coach once thought so, too.