In 2021, I wrote an open letter here to the New York Jets begging them not to draft Zach Wilson with the second overall pick. I wrote this because the Jets are to quarterbacks what Hollywood is to marriage. I suggested they let Wilson fall to the 49ers, who had the third pick.
Did the Jets listen?
No, they didn’t.
They drafted him anyway, and here we are in Year 2 and the kid looks lost. On Wednesday he was benched.
That didn’t take long, did it? One and a half seasons. That’s the life of a Jets QB.
I rest my case.
Last Sunday he reached the nadir of his young career, completing 9 of 22 passes for 77 yards against the Patriots. The Jets totaled 103 yards of offense and three points. A week earlier he threw for a meager 154 yards and one TD. The week before that he threw for 354 yards, but also had three interceptions.
In seven games he has thrown for an average of just 183 yards per game and totaled four TDs and five interceptions. He’s averaging 6.8 yards per attempt and is completing only 55% of his passes. Among the NFL’s starting quarterbacks, only Pittsburgh rookie Kenny Pickett has a lower rating than Wilson, who has been sacked 60 times in 20 career games.
According to Tru Media, among 34 qualifying quarterbacks, Wilson ranks 34th in completion percentage, 32nd in touchdown rate (2.1%), 26th in interception rate (2.6%) and 32nd in his rate of off-target throws (16.4%). Maybe the most disturbing thing is that he put up similar numbers last year, which means there has been no progress. Other quarterbacks from Wilson’s draft class — namely, Trevor Lawrence, Mac Jones and Justin Fields — are showing signs of developing into franchise quarterbacks.
Anyway, three weeks after saying Wilson would be the starter for the rest of the season, coach Robert Saleh demoted him to third string Wednesday, behind new starter Mike White, a 2018 fifth-round draft choice, and 37-year-old Joe Flacco .
“Zach’s career here is not over,” Saleh said. “I know that’s going to be the narrative and I know that’s what everybody wants to shout out, but that’s not even close to the case. The full intent is to make sure Zach gets back on the football field this season. When that is, I’ll make that decision. I’ll take it day-to-day.” He added, “The young man needs a rest.”
Saleh continued, “There are some basic fundamental things that have gotten really out of whack for him. This is just an opportunity for him to sit back, focus on those things and find a way to reconnect with all the different things we fell in love with during the draft process. It’s something I feel like he’ll be able to do.”
Saleh’s decision to bench Wilson reflected the popular sentiment since last week’s game.
“Robert Saleh Must Bench Zach Wilson as Rest of Jets Deserve Better,” read the headline in this week’s New York Post. The CBS headline was similar: “Jets May Have to Sit QB to Stay in the Hunt.” The Jets, at 6-4, are in a playoff hunt. They might have more patience with Wilson if they were 2-8.
Wilson has not helped his cause. After the Patriots game, in which the Jets defense played heroically, Wilson proved impolitic at the very least when he was asked if he felt like he let the defense down.
“No,” he told reporters after the game.
The media spoon-fed him his line and he flubbed it. That didn’t endear him to his teammates. He lost the game and then he lost the locker room. He should have done what Fields did after he threw for just 153 yards in the Bears’ three-point loss to the Falcons last week. Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer tweeted that in the locker room after the game, Fields apologized to his teammates, saying, “The defense gave the offense a chance, and the offense didn’t get it done.” Before Fields could continue, his defensive teammates stopped him and offered their support.
According to the New York Post, Wilson’s father Mike saw the press conference and realized instantly that his son had made a mistake. He informed Zach of this before he even reached the team bus and sent him a video clip of the press conference. Wilson said it was only then that he realized what he had done. He apologized to the team Wednesday, saying his emotions had gotten the best of him.
“I just wanted to make this thing right,” he told reporters. “I had a sick feeling in my stomach. The way that I handled things is not what a leader should do — especially the quarterback of the football team in that situation.” He called his benching “deserved.”
Time will tell if the damage control was enough. Connor Hughes of SportsNet New York reported earlier in the week that, “Sources inside the Jets’ losing locker room told SNY that Wilson was walking around after the game like he isn’t the problem. It rubbed more than a few the wrong way, frustrating several others.”
Post columnist Ian O’Conner wrote, “Zach Wilson has played and talked himself off the field, and so the man behind center Sunday against Chicago should be Mike White, or Joe Flacco, or anyone not named Zach Wilson.”
The New York media is tougher than any defensive line in the league.
So here we go again. Another Jets quarterback is faltering. It’s easy to blame Wilson, but the Jets have a gift for chewing up promising quarterbacks. If Tom Brady had fallen in their laps as a rookie, he’d be another Sam Darnold or Christian Hackenberg.
In the last 16 years, the Jets have drafted 12 quarterbacks, six in the first two rounds. That works out to one drafted quarterback every 1.3 years.
Zach Wilson, first round, 2021.
James Morgan, fourth round, 2020.
Sam Darnold, first round, 2018.
Christian Hackenberg, second round, 2016.
Bryce Petty, fourth round, 2015.
Tajh Boyd, sixth round, 2014.
Geno Smith, second round, 2013.
Greg McElroy, seventh round, 2011.
Mark Sanchez, first round, 2009.
Erik Ainge, fifth round, 2008.
Kellen Clemens, second round, 2006.
Brad Smith, fourth round, 2006.
The common denominator for the failure of those quarterbacks to succeed is the Jets. In between draft picks, the team also tried free agents, at one point switching quarterbacks a dozen times in the five seasons before drafting Wilson. By now they should have found a solid quarterback just by accident.
The Packers have had two starting quarterbacks in three decades. The Chiefs, Saints, Patriots, Cowboys, Vikings, Falcons, Seahawks, Giants and Steelers, among other teams, also have stability at the position. Even the hapless Lions have had stability at the position. Some teams have a knack for nurturing quarterbacks; the Jets aren’t one of them.
The Jets and quarterbacks have never been a good marriage.