Why Jets need to fix their backup QB situation -- and who might be available

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Zach Wilson with Mike White and James Morgan during Jets OTAs
Zach Wilson with Mike White and James Morgan during Jets OTAs

One of the biggest lessons the Jets learned – or should have learned – from the Sam Darnold era was about the importance of backup quarterbacks. Darnold was sick or hurt often enough that a backup had to start in his place 10 times over three seasons.

And surely the Jets saw there was an enormous difference between being forced to start a veteran like Joe Flacco or Josh McCown, or a young, untested player like Luke Falk.

That makes what the Jets are doing with their quarterback room right now even stranger. They are committed to starting rookie Zach Wilson as much as he’s able and capable this season. But their Plan B at the moment isn’t good. The only players behind Wilson on the depth chart right now are second-year quarterback James Morgan and fourth-year quarterback Mike White.

Neither of them has thrown an NFL pass.

That’s risky at best, disastrous at worst, and has to change some time before the start of the regular season -- preferably before training camp opens on July 27. The Jets have to add a veteran backup before the market dries up completely -- although at the moment, it’s pretty dry.

Their options at this point just aren’t good. Players like Matt Barkley, Robert Griffin III, and the well-travelled Josh Johnson are all that’s left. Or they could wait to see what happens with Nick Foles, who is stuck behind Andy Dalton and rookie Justin Fields in Chicago. Presumably, the Bears will at some point trade him and the two years and $12 million left on his current deal (including $5 million guaranteed).

But the Jets have to do something, and they seem to know it. They made a run at veteran Brian Hoyer even before the NFL Draft, but he eventually signed with the Patriots – though he too could eventually be trade bait considering he sits in a crowded quarterback room with Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham, and rookie Mac Jones. The Jets were also thought to be interested in Nick Mullens, who started eight games for the 49ers last season. But on Monday, he signed with the Eagles instead.

That leaves the Jets right back where they’ve been since they traded Darnold and drafted Wilson -- with a quarterback room completely devoid of any meaningful experience. And that’s probably not the best way to help a young quarterback along.

Maybe having an on-field replacement doesn’t matter in a season that will be far more about Wilson’s development than it will be about winning games. He should get every rep possible, start every game, and only get pulled when he’s hurt or looks completely lost.

But it couldn’t hurt to have someone in the quarterback room who’s been there, done that, and willing to hold both the clipboard and Wilson’s hand. McCown was a valuable friend and mentor to Darnold when he arrived. Plenty of mediocre-to-bad quarterbacks have made a second career out of shepherding young quarterbacks.

White and Morgan simply don’t have the experience to do that. If Wilson runs into something in a game that he’s never experienced before, there’s no one he can lean on who has done it, either.

The Jets’ position on this right now seems to be that there’s no rush -- and that seems to go for adding veterans at any position. Saleh has been clear that he wanted to use the spring, and possibly even the early part of training camp this summer, to get his young players all the reps they can get. It can only help Morgan and White to take more snaps, instead of ceding them to a veteran.

But by August, the situation will change. They’ll need that veteran in place and ready for when the preseason opens on Aug. 14. Not just for insurance in case Wilson gets hurt or runs into a rookie wall at some point this season, but for an experienced voice in the quarterback room who can only help his development, to tell Wilson what a veteran eye sees.

Maybe Wilson can thrive without one. Other quarterbacks certainly have. But adding one couldn’t hurt, and will only help on the field with the development of other players if Wilson ever has to sit.

Douglas knows the value of a veteran backup from his experience with Foles, who came off the bench to lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl in 2017 when the Jets GM worked in Philadelphia. And Saleh knows it from his experiences with the often-hurt Jimmy Garoppolo in San Francisco. Maybe they’re just waiting for a guy like Foles to become available. Maybe they’ll be ready to jump at the right quarterback and the right opportunity.

But they can’t afford to wait much longer, especially since there aren’t many more options left.