Jets need to start QB Mike White, not Zach Wilson, against Bills

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Mike White black jersey helmet off, hat on, fist up
Mike White black jersey helmet off, hat on, fist up

Zach Wilson is expected to return to practice this week and there’s at least a chance that he’ll be healthy enough to play on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. That’s good, because he’s still the Jets’ Quarterback of the Future. The more experience he can get, the better.

But right now is not the best time.

It is a delicate and weird quarterback situation that the Jets are facing this week, after Mike White and Josh Johnson both showed they can run the offense better than Wilson has this season. Robert Saleh’s dilemma is that what’s best for the future isn’t what’s best for the now. There has been no flinching inside the Jets’ organization. Wilson is still their franchise quarterback.

The best decision for this Sunday, though, is to keep Wilson on the bench.

And honestly, that’s exactly what it sounds like Saleh intends to do. At first, he said on Wednesday that when Wilson is “fully healthy, for sure” he’s still the Jets’ starting quarterback. He hedged a bit on that later, but he also made it clear the Jets don’t think Wilson is fully healed yet.

“We’ll see how he is,” Saleh said. “We’re not in any hurry to rush him back. If he’s not fully healthy it would be irresponsible for us to throw him out there.”

Yes it would, and that’s the biggest reason why Wilson’s return to the lineup can wait. That sprained PCL he suffered when he “felt a pop” up in New England on Oct. 24 may have been a “best-case scenario” for the Jets at the time, but it’s still a significant injury. The general projected recovery time is two-to-four weeks, though depending on the severity it could be more.

The Jets did not put Wilson on injured reserve, which would’ve required a three-week absence, because they felt he could return to practice before the three weeks were up. That appears to be true. But that doesn’t mean he’s fully healthy, either. He’s still barely into his third week of recovery. There’s no harm in giving him another week or two to fully heal.

And that would also allow Wilson to avoid what could be an ugly scenario in a game against the NFL’s top-ranked defense. Imagine if he continues to struggle. Imagine the reaction if the Bills’ defense confuses him and he throws a couple of interceptions. He’ll be playing in front of a home crowd still riding high from what they watched White do in front of them two weeks ago.

It’s not hard to imagine them booing Wilson and then chanting “We Want Mike!”

Why would they want to expose Wilson to that?

That’s not to say they should let Wilson live inside a bubble, either. A certain toughness is required for a quarterback in New York. Like it or not, he’s going to hear plenty of boos in his career, and it won’t be the last time people outside the organization clamor for someone else to take his job.

But he’s still only 22 and still developing. As tough as he may be, he surely knows that White and Johnson have succeeded where he’s failed. In five-plus games, Wilson has thrown for 1,168 yards with four touchdowns and nine interceptions, while directing what was one of the worst offenses in the league. In two-plus games, White and Johnson have combined to throw for 1,036 yards with eight touchdowns and five interceptions, while running an offense that suddenly looks like it could keep pace with any in the league.

On some level, that’s got to hurt.

Maybe it’s not all Wilson’s fault, but for whatever reason, the offense has just worked under White and Johnson. The players on offense responded to the way both of them operated in the huddle and the pocket. Their ability to make quick, correct decisions helped the offensive line and the running game. And it did wonders for offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, who quickly morphed from a coach who looked like he was in over his head to the aggressive play-caller he always wanted to be.

Mike White and Zach Wilson
Mike White and Zach Wilson

So it’s in everyone’s best interest to ride this wave a little longer. Why not see how far White can take the Jets? Let the young offense and offensive coaches continue to develop without having to worry about developing a young quarterback, too. Maybe the Jets can win a few games and make everyone feel a little better about the direction of the organization. Maybe Wilson can learn a few things, too.

Yes, this situation will get dicey if White beats the Bills on Sunday, or even if he lights it up and the Jets still lose. If White really does continue to play like a franchise quarterback then the Jets will have a heck of a problem down the line – even if it’s a nice problem to have.

“I know you guys have a job to do with regards to controversies and quarterback play,” Saleh told the media on Monday. “I get it. But it would be really cool if you guys were able to take a moment and appreciate what Mike is going through, and the opportunity he’s been presented and the heck of a job he’s done. Now, does it mean anything for the future? I don’t know.

“I just think it’s really cool that Mike has been able to take advantage of this opportunity, and let’s just see how he does.”

In other words, everyone should calm down and have patience because the Jets haven’t reached a point where they absolutely have to make a decision. And who knows what the situation will be when they get there? In the moment, though, it shouldn’t be difficult. The Jets have made it clear since draft day that they’re playing the long game with Wilson. So there’s no reason to rush him back into the lineup right now.