WARNING: This won’t be a popular shot, not what you want under your tree or in your stocking for Christmas.
The Jets should start Zach Wilson as quarterback for the final two games of the season — even though Mike White is medically cleared to play with his fractured ribs.
Thursday night’s moribund 19-3 home loss to the Jaguars essentially eliminated the Jets from the playoffs. Even if they’re not mathematically eliminated this weekend, their playoff chances are “far-fetched,” head coach Robert Saleh admitted on Friday.
In that case, what else do the Jets have to play for than using the last two games to make a future decision about Wilson?
Finding out more about Wilson and figuring out if the 2021 No. 2 draft pick really is a franchise quarterback was one of the Jets’ quests this season, after all. His rookie season has been uneven, to be polite, and the Jets had to figure out how far he would get in his sophomore season.
While no one in the Jets wants to admit it, the reality is that Wilson hasn’t shown any tangible signs of progressing from Year 1 to Year 2, and that’s never been more evident than watching Thursday’s performance of Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence is same period.
Saleh is in an impossible situation because he wants – has to – win games. He’s seen a 7-4 start evaporate to 7-8 thanks to the 0-4 free fall. And to argue that Wilson gives the Jets a better chance of winning than White is folly.
That leaves Saleh in the difficult and tricky position of deciding whether it’s more important to win games over the next two weeks or find out more about Wilson … unless Saleh and the Jets think they know enough and have seen enough .
And that is very possible.
Saleh, whether unwitting or calculated, dropped breadcrumbs on Friday and hinted that Wilson – whose confidence is damaged, even by his own admission – could be shut down for the season.
The head coach went from a vow after Thursday night’s game: “We didn’t see him last” to saying on Friday that “there are downsides to playing against someone like Wilson when his confidence is drained.”
“You have to think about the player and where they are and whether you’re doing more damage or helping them,” Saleh said. “You just want to make sure you’re making the best decisions for the team and not just say, ‘Hey, let’s just get this guy rep just to get this guy rep.’ ”
That sounded like a strong indication that Wilson is done — at least for 2022.
But I think Saleh should start Wilson against the Seahawks a week before Sunday in Seattle — unless the organization is already convinced they’ve seen enough of him.
I don’t know if I would have the same attitude if the next game was at home because Jets fans are done with Wilson and it has gotten to the point of him being booed during the pregame warm up. But the Jets are out for the last two games, which would make life a lot more manageable for him psychologically.
When asked Friday if he still thinks Wilson is his “quarterback of the future,” Saleh danced around the question.
“I have faith in all of our guys,” he said. “I just feel like every year there’s a kid that just struggles and everyone wants to stop with him and this might not be their year but that doesn’t mean next year can’t be their year .”
Another serious indication that Wilson is done for the season.
Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, asked Friday what he knows more about Wilson in the 16 weeks this season than he did before the season, said, “That he’s resilient.”
“He’s grown a lot in the last two years,” LaFleur said. “He’s faced more adversity than he’s likely ever faced in his entire life, and he keeps showing up to work looking for ways to get better. I think he’s a better quarterback. I know it won’t show up.”
Saleh, when asked if Wilson’s biggest problem was physical or mental, said, “I think confidence. For Zach, and it doesn’t take long to turn around. He just needs a good run of back-to-back games, quarters, games to put together good football. And once you get into a groove, everything just starts clicking and moving faster.”
The only way Saleh and the Jets will find out is by playing Wilson the last two games. Curiously, they know more about White, who has only started six games in the last two years, than Wilson, who has started 22 games.
Wilson is the player they have to make the final decision for. So play him the last two games. What do the Jets have left to lose?