FLORHAM PARK, NJ — New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas is set to begin Phase IV of his ever-evolving quarterback plan. The name of this phase is “The Hedge” — a half-commitment to Zach Wilson, the embattled former No. 2 overall pick from 2021. Douglas doesn’t want to toss Wilson after only two years, but he won’t rule out acquiring a veteran starter.
This will be Douglas’ fourth offseason in the big chair, and he has yet to solve the Jets’ quarterback problem, which makes him no different than the Jets’ previous GMs. This isn’t how he envisioned it when he was hired in June 2019. Let’s review:
Phase 1: Protection and playmakers (2020): Douglas inherited a still-developing Sam Darnold from the previous regime, vowing to improve his supporting cast, but that never materialized. He conceded that he did a poor job of building around the 2018 No. 3 overall pick. Well, Breshad Perriman — the big offseason addition — wasn’t the answer at wide receiver.
Phase 2: The Big Swap (2021): Douglas thought long and hard about giving it another go with Darnold, but he became smitten with Wilson during the pre-draft process. Goodbye, Darnold. He was traded to the Carolina Panthers, and the Jets pivoted to Wilson, who underwhelmed as a rookie.
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Phase 3: The Zach Attack (2022): Douglas went all-in on helping Wilson, drafting wide receiver Garrett Wilson and running back Breece Hall and signing tight ends Tyler Conklin and CJ Uzomah in free agency. The Jets had legitimate skill-position talent, but Zach Wilson still struggled and got benched … twice.
And so now the Jets head into the offseason with a major question at quarterback. Douglas and coach Robert Saleh say they want to continue to work with Wilson, but they’re in a precarious position because, after two losing seasons together, they probably can’t afford to sacrifice wins for on-the-job quarterback training in 2023 .They’re a win-now team that needs a win-now quarterback, which explains all the speculation about San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo and Las Vegas’ Derek Carr.
On Monday, Douglas provided no clues as to how he will attack the offseason, except to say he’s not giving up on Wilson.
“Philosophically, we’ve never been a team that gives up on talent early, and we all know the talent that Zach possesses,” Douglas said, adding, “We’re all committed to helping him reach his full potential as a player. “
Douglas said the decision-makers will have “tough, hard conversations” as they formulate a quarterback plan. One thing seems clear: They’re not going to hand the starting job to Wilson, who ranks 33rd out of 34 qualified passers in QBR (34.6) over the past two seasons. The only quarterback with a lower QBR is Baker Mayfield (33.6).
“One thing I can promise him is that he’s going to have an absolute chance to go in and compete,” Saleh said of Wilson, who slipped so far this season that the coaches preferred Mike White and his five fractured ribs over him in a must -win, Week 17 game at Seattle.
So Wilson will get a chance to compete, but against whom? White? There’s no guarantee he will be back; he’s said free agent. Joe Flacco? He will be a 38-year-old free agent. If the Jets make a big move for Carr or Garoppolo or someone else, the team would be committing to that player, eliminating an open competition and relegating Wilson to backup duty.
The Jets’ top football men, Douglas and Saleh, seem to be in agreement that it’s too soon to punt on Wilson. What they have to figure out is how he fits into the master plan, which could lead Douglas to his second major quarterback acquisition. A lot of GMs don’t get a second chance; Douglas will, if he wants to take it.
And how does Wilson feel about this? After a humbling season, he’s really in no position to make demands or issue bold edicts about the QB1 job. On Monday, he said all the right things, saying he “absolutely” wants to remain with the Jets because it’s a “special place.” Asked how he’d feel about backing up a proven veteran, he smiled and said: “I’m going to make that dude’s life hell in practice every day.”