Why it's time for Zach Wilson to be the Jets' starting quarterback again

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Mike White Zach Wilson at practice 2021
Mike White Zach Wilson at practice 2021

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Robert Saleh was convinced from the beginning that eventually the resolution to the Jets’ quarterback situation was “going to happen organically.” He never seemed to think he’d face a tough choice between the upstart in Mike White and the franchise quarterback in Zach Wilson. He believed that at some point the answer would be obvious.

And so it is.

Unless Wilson is still hurt and unless the doctors say that sending him out there with a sprained PCL in his knee would be too much of a risk, then Saleh’s decision is as clear as it’s ever going to be. He needs to make Wilson his starter again, beginning next Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.

And then he needs to leave him on the field for the rest of the season, for better or for worse, no matter what.

It is the only choice in a season that is now clearly lost after the Jets fell to 2-7 with a thud – a 45-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. Their defense is a train wreck, having given up at least 45 points and 489 yards in three of the last four games. They’re going to be lucky to even be competitive over the final eight games if they keep playing like that.

Which means the rest of this season now is not at all about wins, but solely about the thing that this entire season was supposed to be about from the beginning: Developing the franchise quarterback, getting Wilson as much experience as he needs, so when next year starts he might actually look like the savior they expect him to be.

For what it’s worth, Saleh was non-committal about that in the moments after this disaster of a game, in which White’s bubble burst with a four-interception pop. Saleh wouldn’t even criticize White after the game, saying only “Give those guys credit. They’re the No. 1 defense in football (and) a championship-caliber football team.”

Yes they are, and it’s incredibly unfair to judge White on his 24-for-44, 251-yard, four-interception performance against them – especially considering it was just two weeks ago that he fired up New York with his 405-yard performance in a wild, come-from-behind win against the Cincinnati Bengals. He had been nothing but terrific in the eight quarters he played since Wilson got hurt on Oct. 24 in New England. He’s proven to everyone he’s good enough to have a future in the league.

But life in professional sports isn’t fair and White’s heroics never made the Jets blink. While praising White publicly, they remained committed as ever privately to their heavy investment in Wilson, who just six and a half months ago was the second overall pick in the draft. They were willing to roll with White as long as his magical ride lasted. Saleh even hinted they were willing to let it ride all the way into next year.

But at the same time, they always knew that they’d have to seize the first opportunity to get back to their original plan. Now is not the time for second-guessing that, either. Wilson remains their long-term man.

And really, White knows it, too, though he insisted in the aftermath of the first real adversity he’s faced in the past month that he hadn’t looked that far ahead. “No,” he said. “Not at all – especially after what just happened. My thoughts are solely on what just happened and how to get better.”

But when he was asked about the possibility of returning to his old life as the backup to the 22-year-old Wilson, White didn’t display any of the bravado he’s displayed over the last few weeks. There was nothing about how his teammates used to chant “Mike White” when he entered the room, or how he once thought he should’ve been the first player taken in the 2018 NFL Draft, where he lasted all the way until the fifth round.

There just seemed to be a quiet resignation that his days in the spotlight were coming to an end and that he would soon have a different job – his old job – to do.

“I’ll support him, just like I did in the first couple of games of the season,” White said. “He’s a good kid. I want him to do well. Whatever my job is, I’m going to do it to the best of my ability, 100 percent.”

No one doubts that he will. And now everyone knows that, if he’s ever needed again, White can step in and do the job. He’s almost certainly earned himself a multi-million-dollar offer from the Jets when he’s a restricted free agent in the offseason, and his play the last few weeks has probably earned him a long-term future at least as a backup in the league.

Wilson, though, is the Jets’ long-term future and it’s time for the Jets to get back to that. He showed flashes of brilliance through the first six games, mixed in with a whole lot of awful. Then he got hurt and the Jets hoped that White would be able to show him how it’s done.

White did that, right up until Sunday when he admittedly “got a little too aggressive” when the Jets got behind and got caught thinking “we can get it all back in one play.” Ironically, that’s exactly the kind of thing that plagued Wilson’s thinking much of the first six weeks, when he too often passed up the safe, easy efficient options in the passing game for high-risk plays that he wasn’t quite able to make.

Up until this game, at least, White showed Wilson the right way to get the job done. He ran the Jets’ new offense better than it had been run all season. He did exactly what a good veteran backup is supposed to do for a growing, young quarterback.

He’s just done now. It’s time for Wilson to show what he’s learned, as long as he’s healthy. And after that, there should be no turning back.

There shouldn’t be any doubt. It’s Zach Wilson’s team now – and again.