FLORHAM PARK, NJ — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. Cloudy future: The Jets are bucking an NFL trend with their plan for quarterback Zach Wilson. Team officials have been steadfast in saying, despite two disappointing seasons, they want to retain and develop Wilson behind a proven starter they have yet to add. General manager Joe Douglas reiterated that stance this week at the scouting combine, saying they “still feel strongly” that Wilson will hit his “very high ceiling.”
Thing is, it’s highly unusual for a highly drafted quarterback to begin his career as a starter and then transition to a long-term backup role on the same team. The last first-round quarterback (taken 16th overall in 2013) to get that treatment was the Buffalo Bills’ EJ Manuel, an opening-day starter in his first two seasons (2013-14) who spent his final two-and-a- half seasons in Buffalo as a backup. It also happened to Robert Griffin III (drafted No. 2 overall in 2012), a three-year starter for Washington before getting a permanent seat on the bench in 2015. Neither player became an established starter elsewhere.
Wilson will be relegated to long-term backup duty if the Jets sign Derek Carr, still young in quarterback years (he turns 32 on March 28). The situation could be different if they trade for the 39-year-old Aaron Rodgers, perhaps a two-year fix, but it’s hardly a guarantee that Wilson would return to a starting role in 2025. By then, he’d be a free agent, assuming his fifth-year option (2025) isn’t exercised. Either way, his future with the Jets appears mostly cloudy.
This week, coach Robert Saleh spoke for the first time of a Jets future that does not include Wilson.
“Whether we bring in a guy who’s in his early 30s and you know he’s going to be here for a while, the focus is to just help [Wilson] get better, as best as he can,” Saleh said. “If his best gets to be showcased here as a New York Jet, awesome. If not, it’s still awesome because all we want is what’s best for him and his development, no different than any other player on our roster.”
There’s a business aspect to this, of course. Right now, Wilson, the No. 2 overall pick in 2021, is a depreciated asset. If his value increases at some point over the next year or so — a promising preseason, perhaps — the Jets can trade him with the hope of recouping at least some of their original investment. That makes more sense than developing him and letting him walk in 2025, receiving no compensation. We’ll know more in the coming weeks as the QB dust settles.
2. Crowded QB room: Saleh indicated the Jets are open to re-signing Mike White, a pending free agent, but White could have better opportunities elsewhere as a clear-cut QB2. That won’t be possible with the Jets as long as Wilson is on the roster.
3. The players speak: The NFL Players’ Association conducted a leaguewide survey that graded working conditions for each team. Let’s just say the Jets didn’t receive a report card worthy of a refrigerator display. Players rated their respective teams in eight categories. The Jets’ grades ranged from C- (food service/nutrition) to B (strength coaches and training staff). Overall, they finished 19th.
“The player respondents don’t feel like the coaching staff is efficient with their time as they are routinely at the facilities much later than other teams in the league,” the NFLPA said of the Jets, adding that longer hours aren’t correlated to winning.
Defending his work-day schedule, Saleh said, “Selfishly, I’d say it’s in line with about 10 other teams that I communicate with on a daily basis, but again, if it’s a challenge from our players, I’ll definitely always take a look at myself. I’ll look inward to see if we can make things a little bit better.”
4. Feel the draft: Offensive line might be the Jets’ biggest need (aside from QB), so they could take an offensive tackle with the 13th pick. The consensus top three are Peter Skoronski (Northwestern), Paris Johnson Jr. (Ohio State) and Broderick Jones (Georgia). There’s a decent chance that at least one will be available. Anton Harrison (Oklahoma) and Darnell Wright (Tennessee) are pushing to get in the top group.
In a perfect world, you have to believe the Jets would like to bolster the offense, which finished 29th in scoring, but what happens if the top tackles are gone? Do they pivot to tight end? It’s a really strong class, but that’s high for a tight end. Wide receiver? They invested three high picks on receivers in the last three drafts, so that might be overkill.
In this case, they could turn to defensive tackle. It can’t be ruled out if there’s value on their board, considering they only have two tackles under contract — Quinnen Williams and Tanzel Smart. Saleh and Douglas want to be strong on both sides of the line. When in doubt, they will go with a big man.
5. Jersey boy: If the Jets don’t address their center need in free agency, they might be able to draft a player from their own backyard — Ohio State’s Luke Wypler, who attended St. Joseph Regional High School in Montvale, New Jersey. He’s the No. 3 prospect at center, according to ESPN draft analysts Matt Miller and Jordan Reid.
Wypler grew up a serious Jets fan, so serious that he named his dog “Chez,” after former quarterback Mark Sanchez. An admirer of former center Nick Mangold (a former Ohio State standout), Wypler wore Mangold’s No. 74 during his high school career. His closet included jerseys from his favorite players, notably Darrelle Revis and Brett Favre.
Being drafted by the Jets “would be a childhood dream come true,” Wypler told ESPN. “It would be so surreal to play for the Jets. They were my team growing up.”
Sound familiar? Tight end Jeremy Ruckert went from a childhood Jets fan in Lindenhurst, New York, to Ohio State to Jets draft pick in 2022.
Wypler (6-foot-3, 300 pounds) is known for his movement skills. As he said, “I tell people that I’m an athlete who plays offensive line.” And he plays center because “I like to be in charge.” He’s projected as a second- or third-round pick, which could be the sweet spot for teams in the market for a center.
6. Compliments: Scouts always like to use player comps when evaluating prospects, so it was interesting to hear NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah mention two players on the Jets’ roster when describing prospects.
Speaking of Skoronski, Jeremiah said, “He reminds me a lot of Alijah Vera-Tucker. Remember with Vera-Tucker, the talk when he was coming out (in 2021) was, is he a guard? Is he a tackle? It turns out he can do whatever the heck you want him to do. He is really, really good.”
Commenting on Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter, Jeremiah said, “I think he’s better than Quinnen Williams coming out (in 2019), and I loved Quinnen Williams. So that’s the type of player you’re getting.” (Jeremiah made his comments before Carter’s legal issues came to light.)
That the Jets have players worthy of comparison is a sign of progress, right?
7. Historic performances: Wide receiver Garrett Wilson has received plenty of accolades, including NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. You will have a greater appreciation of his 83-catch, 1,103-yard season after digesting this:
Wilson’s primary quarterback was Zach Wilson, who led the Jets with a mere six touchdown passes. None of the previous 22 rookie wide receivers to reach 1,000 yards played on a team where the leading quarterback had as few as six scoring passes in that season. In that respect, you could make the argument that no one had it tougher than Garrett Wilson.
The next-closest was the 1986 Indianapolis Colts, which had rookie Bill Brooks (1,131 yards) and quarterback Jack Trudeau (eight TD passes). In case you’re wondering, Brooks didn’t win OROY. It went to future Pro Football Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson of the Los Angeles Rams.
8. This explains a lot: Seven different players have started at quarterback for the Jets since the start of 2018. None of them has had a winning record or a QBR above 50, which is considered league average. And that’s why they’re trying so hard to upgrade the position.
9. Rodger that: Maybe no one else finds this interesting, but the name of Carr’s father is Rodger Carr. Less common than “Roger,” it makes you think of Aaron Rodgers, who will be forever linked with Derek Carr because of what has been unfolding the past couple of weeks.
10. The last word: “Duane is a freaking rock star, man.” — Saleh on left tackle Duane Brown, 37, who is back in the weight room after playing last season with a torn rotator cuff that was recently repaired