While Aaron Rodgers is recovering from Achilles surgery, the supposedly rehabilitated Zach Wilson is threatening to scuttle a third consecutive Jets season. He led them to 39 yards in the first half of Sunday’s 15-10 loss to the New England Patriots, who have beaten their supposed AFC East rivals 15 times in a row and are 5-0 against Wilson. He wound up with 157 yards passing for a constantly stalled offense and wasted another strong defensive showing from the Jets, something he did twice last year against New England.
Head coach Robert Saleh continues to seek a positive spin but has little alternative.
"We're still early in the season," Saleh said. "We knew, even with Aaron at quarterback, there was going to be some hiccups along the way because of a new offense, a new play caller, new O-line, just new players on the offensive side of the ball.
“Now you’ve got this curveball that was sent to us, and so they’re acclimating. They’re gonna get better, but it’s still very early in the season.”
“Right now, Zach is the best (quarterback),” said Saleh, “he’s who gives us the best chance to win.”
Right now – even Saleh making the qualifier
He can praise Wilson’s improved pocket presence, fundamentals and decision-making all he wants – there was nowhere to go but up in those areas. What’s unchanged are the results, Wilson’s career record now 8-16. And his talented supporting cast again appears frustrated with Wilson at the helm, this franchise looking ever more likely to waste another season of needed progression for its young core while Rodgers heals.
Among qualified passers, Wilson's was the NFL's lowest rated in 2022 (72.8). This year? He's at 57.0. Since his rookie year in 2021, his 69.2 QB rating, 54.9% completion rate and 17-22 TD-to-INT ratio are all worst in the NFL. The league's least-efficient passing game prevented the Jets, who started 7-4 last year, from reaching postseason.
So why not send Wilson, 24, and, say, two third-round picks – the Jets spent next year’s second-rounder on Rodgers – to the Vikings for Cousins, 35, who’s scheduled to be a free agent at season’s end? With Rodgers vowing to return better than ever, there’s no reason to believe the Jets will pick up Wilson’s fifth-year option next spring. Yet there is reason to believe a quarterback of Cousins’ caliber – at least as it pertains to regular-season play – could reroute this entire organization in a positive direction culturally, if even as a substitute teacher.
Cousins wouldn’t necessarily have to drive the bus for a team that’s (yet again) just seemingly a quarterback away – and you wouldn't expect him to immediately if he parachutes in. Yet he surely could relatively soon given how well he’s generally played in 2023, “KFC” becoming the fifth player in league history with at least 325 passing yards and multiple TD passes in the first three games of a season. He’s also got a big brain – yes, prone to occasional vapor lock on the field – but one that can synthesize a playbook quickly enough and a former Vikings teammate (running back Dalvin Cook) who could help with the onboarding process. And pulling the Jets (1-2) out of what has all the appearances of another nosedive would be great free agency marketing for Cousins, who – no matter what you think of him as a player – has proven he's one of the greatest businessmen the league's ever seen.
Isn’t that a much better alternative than Wilson – or Carson Wentz or Matt Ryan, free agents whom Fox Sports reported Sunday have reached out to the Jets (Ryan later denied interest) – for a squad that needs to learn how to win, not go 7-10, ahead of Rodgers’ expected return?
As for the Vikings … right now?
They’re 0-3 following Sunday’s crushing defeat to the Los Angeles Chargers, Minnesota consistently losing heartbreakers – all of its defeats by six points or fewer – after going 11-0 in one-score affairs in a charmed voyage to the NFC North throne in 2022. Based on a sample size going back to the NFL’s last expansion in 2002, the probability the Vikings won’t reach the playoffs this season now stands at 99%.
So why not deal Cousins, whom the team opted not to re-up contractually over the summer? He can’t be franchised, his restructured deal voiding after the 2024 deadline to tag players. Besides, the Vikings have already been maneuvering out of veteran contracts (Cook, Adam Thielen, Eric Kendricks) to extend core players like Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson, knowing full well they’ll almost certainly be backing up a Brinks truck for generational wideout Justin Jefferson next year.
And with this season effectively over? You immediately get useful draft capital from the Jets rather than lose Cousins for nothing more than one eventual compensatory pick while giving Wilson a change of scenery, the best receiver in the league, a reliable tight end and a leader, Kevin O’Connell, who made his bones coaching up quarterbacks. Maybe Wilson finally puts it together and morphs into the player he was projected to be as the No. 2 pick of the 2021 draft – a long-term win for the Vikings. Maybe Wilson’s spiral continues, and he drags the Vikes to a 3-14 record – quite likely a long-term win for the Vikings if it puts them in position to draft 2022 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Caleb Williams.
J-E-T-S. Skol. For two franchises currently taking differing routes to a similar destination – mediocrity – this is a deal that could be a win-win course correction for both.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on X, formerly Twitter @ByNateDavis.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kirk Cousins trade could save both New York Jets, Minnesota Vikings