Jets not ready to give up on Zach Wilson, even if team adds veteran starting QB

Oct 16, 2022; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) during the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
Oct 16, 2022; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) during the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. / Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

FLORHAM PARK — The Jets have made their intentions with Zach Wilson abundantly clear: They plan on sticking with him. They want to develop him in hopes he realizes the potential they believed he had when they selected him second overall. They do not want to quit on him, which means they do not want to trade him.

Zach Wilson had not made his intentions clear, though. This is a world where an athlete usually gets what an athlete wants. Just because the Jets wanted to keep Wilson didn’t mean Wilson didn’t prefer a fresh start far, far away.

Wilson ended his media hiatus as Jets players cleared out their lockers a day after their season ended in Miami. So, he was asked, does he want to remain in New York?

“Absolutely,” he said.

But what if the Jets acquire a veteran quarterback to start over him?

“I’m going to make that dude’s life hell every day in practice,” he said.

And so the Summer of Zach begins.

There’s no point in sugarcoating this: Wilson’s second year with the Jets was a colossal disaster. Quarterbacks usually enjoy their true ascension in Year 3, but there are almost always tangible signs of improvement in their sophomore seasons. There was undeniable regression for Wilson.

The BYU quarterback completed 54.5 percent of his passes in nine games. He threw for 1,688 yards, six touchdowns and seven interceptions. According to ProFootballFocus, Wilson’s passing grade (43.1) ranked 41st of 41 qualifying quarterbacks — those who played at least 20 percent of their team’s offensive snaps. The Jets benched him for Mike White after a disastrous performance against the New England Patriots (9 of 22 passing, 77 yards). He returned four weeks later when White suffered an injury, only to get benched again after two starts.

Wilson inadvertently threw teammates under the bus after that loss to New England, saying he didn’t believe the offense let the defense down. Wideouts Garrett Wilson and Denzel Mims showed visible frustration when Wilson struggled on the field. Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur admitted the Jets should have sat Wilson to begin his career. The last time Wilson played in a game (against the Jacksonville Jaguars), fans ferociously booed him off the field in favor of practice-squad quarterback Chris Streveler, to which the coaching staff obliged.

It was bad. It was really, really bad.

“A lot of learning,” Wilson said of his 2022. “A lot of ups and downs, of course. A lot of good. A lot of bad.”

Amplifying Wilson’s struggles were the fact that the “Baby Jets,” as head coach Robert Saleh affectionately called them, matured at a near unprecedented rate. Most believed the Jets to be a young and developing team that would take its lumps throughout 2022. Instead, very quickly, the Jets showed they were ready to win now. The problem was that their quarterback was not ready to win now.

So instead of reaching the playoffs for the first time in over a decade, the Jets fell short, losing their final six games to finish 7-10.

The Jets will add a veteran quarterback this offseason. It’s very likely that veteran is handed the starting job. Jimmy Garoppolo and Derek Carr are the two most likely candidates. The Jets will be on Line 1 if the Baltimore Ravens entertain calls for Lamar Jackson. That would send Wilson to the bench to develop.

He’s not OK with that. He wants to start, as every player does, he said on Monday. But it might be the best thing for him.

“We're going to explore every avenue that we have to upgrade this team," GM Joe Douglas said of acquiring a quarterback via free agency or trade.

Wilson, at the moment, is a fundamentally broken quarterback. His upper half is disconnected from his lower half, which is leading to so many of his accuracy issues. Basically, he can’t hit the layups. His attempt to fix this in real time has led to the catastrophic disaster you’ve seen on the field. He’s basically trying to fix his golf swing on the tee box when he needs months at the range.

Talent is not one of Wilson’s problems, though. Not even close. He has elite arm talent. He has an uncanny ability to play off script. He has sneaky athleticism and mobility. If the Jets can find a way to marry proper fundamentals, clean mentals and all that physical talent, they won’t have a good quarterback on their hands — but a great one.

The Jets still see that potential in Wilson. Giving up on it for a fifth- or sixth-round pick doesn’t make much sense, so they won’t.

Instead they’ll work with Wilson. And Wilson said he’s willing to work with them.

“We've never been a team that's given up on talent early,” Douglas said. “We still believe in Zach.”

It’s not easy to analyze this season for the Jets. If you handed anyone their list of 2022 accomplishments back in August, just about anyone associated with this team would have signed up for it. The Jets increased their win total by three. They played meaningful games in December. They made their presence felt in the division. Their playoff lives lived through the new year.

The dark cloud hovering around Florham Park is because of how dramatically expectations changed once the Jets started 7-4. To end the season on a six-game losing streak? This isn’t something anyone imagined.

A big-picture view tells you the Jets are getting closer to where they want to be. They just need to get the quarterback situation fixed.

It’s not going to be Wilson to begin next year.

But neither Wilson nor the Jets are willing to give up on the chance the job can’t eventually be his once again.