Robert Saleh entered his Wednesday press conference clearly knowing what was going to happen but had a little fun to start by saying “I know you guys are all here for the injury report” before getting into some injury notes.
But everyone could see from a mile away what was coming. The news had already broke that the Jets were benching second-year quarterback Zach Wilson. So why waste anymore time? The first question Saleh was asked was “Who’s your quarterback, Robert?”
“We’re going to roll with Mike White,” said Saleh.
“It’s the same things we talked about when we elevated him to the second spot. It feels like three or four weeks ago. We know he’s fully capable. He’s started in this League. He’s won games for us, and we just want to give him an opportunity.”
It was also just a few weeks ago Saleh expressed the utmost confidence in Wilson and there wasn’t any sign of a quarterback change. Heck, even Sunday he was still saying he wasn’t considering a quarterback change.
Three days later, Saleh is hoping to give Wilson a “reset.” Not only is Wilson not starting on Sunday, he won’t even be active. For the time being, Wilson is QB3 behind White and Joe Flacco.
Saleh wanted to make it clear that this is not the end for Wilson. “Zach’s career here is not over,” Saleh said.
“The intent, the full intent, is to make sure Zach gets back on the football field at some point this year. When that is, I’ll make that decision. I’ll take that day-by-day. The biggest thing with Zach and the same things we’ve talked about is, the young man needs a reset.”
That reset includes Wilson “focusing on himself and finding ways to reconnect all the basic fundamentals that we’re seeing in the game that’s been showing up for the last four or five weeks and practice.”
The comparison that is understandably being brought up is Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. In November 2020, Tagovailoa struggled in a game against the Denver Broncos and was replaced during the game by Ryan Fitzpatrick and eventually rode the bench for a period of time.
Fast forward to 2022, after given time to develop and working with new head coach Mike McDaniel, Tagovailoa has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, leading the league’s No. 3 overall offense and the Dolphins lead the AFC East at 7-3.
So now it’s up to the No. 2 overall pick from 2021 to decide how he’s going to move forward with his benching. He may not reach the level of Tagovailoa but he has a chance to improve himself and take a lesson from this benching. He almost has to or his time in the NFL may not be as long as he may have once thought.
Wilson also had to repair his image with the rest of his teammates after his post-game comments following the Patriots loss where he claimed he didn’t let his defense down. However, Saleh does not believe Wilson lost the locker room.
“For Zach and his teammates, maybe there was a little irritation at the moment, but I don’t think there’s a grudge, I don’t think there’s hate, I don’t think there’s lingering effects when it comes to that. So, to answer your question, it had no bearing on this decision.”
Saleh also noted that Wilson addressed the team regarding his post-game comments and Wilson was very humble when speaking to the media and discussing those comments.
“The way I handled that situation wasn’t right. I’ve got to be a better football and I’ve got to be a better leader for these guys,” Wilson said. “I have an opportunity to turn the page as a player and as a leader and take a step forward.”
Wilson sounds like a player ready to take the steps needed to get back and Saleh echoes those sentiments that he will respond positively.
“Obviously, he’s going to be frustrated,” Saleh said. “Not going to get up and lie and say, ‘Hey, it was a party.’ He’s just got the right mindset. You guys talk to him everyday, and you see how important this is, and sometimes he does wear it on his sleeve, but at the same time, the guy works his tail off. He works as hard as anybody. I know that we’ve got a great plan for him with regards to practice and what we’re trying to get accomplished, and I know he’ll attack it.”
“Well, you have to include work ethic, you got include everything within his body of work,” Saleh added to his thoughts that Wilson can turn things around. “You see him at practice, I mean he’s got tremendous arm talent, he’s very good in the room and talking to him with regards to football and watching tape. There’s a lot of flashes that happen that you know that normal quarterbacks can’t do, can’t make. It’s just a matter of him regaining that consistency and with regards to the basic fundamentals, and at the end of the day, the truth is no one ever knows anything, but at the same time, I got faith in him, I think he can do it.”
So for now, it’ll be Mike White trying to keep the Jets on track for the playoffs. They enter Week 12 against the Chicago Bears with a 6-4 record and sitting in the No. 8 spot in the AFC playoff standings, losing a three-way tie with the Patriots and the Bengals. White is the short-term answer. Wilson can still work his way back into being the long-term answer. But it’s now not as simple as just walking in as the No. 2 draft pick. Wilson will finally need to earn his keep.