WARNING: This is not going to be a popular take, not what you want for Christmas under your tree or in your stocking.
The Jets should start Zach Wilson at quarterback for the final two games of the season — even if Mike White is medically cleared to play with his cracked ribs.
The moribund 19-3 home loss to the Jaguars on Thursday night essentially eliminated the Jets from the playoffs. Even if they aren’t mathematically eliminated this weekend, their playoff chances are “farfetched,” head coach Robert Saleh conceded Friday.
That being the case, what else do the Jets have to play for other than using the final two games to help formulate a future decision on Wilson?
Finding out more about Wilson and whether the 2021 No. 2 overall draft pick truly is a franchise quarterback was, after all, one of the missions of this season for the Jets. His rookie season was uneven, to be polite, and the Jets needed to find out how much he’d progressed in his second season.
Although no one on the Jets wants to admit it, the reality is that Wilson hasn’t shown tangible signs of progression from Year 1 to Year 2, and never has that been more evident than watching Thursday how far Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence has come in that same time period.
Saleh is in an impossible situation, because he wants — needs — to win games. He has watched a 7-4 start evaporate to 7-8 thanks to the 0-4 free fall. And to make the argument that Wilson gives the Jets a better chance to win than White does is folly.
That leaves Saleh in the difficult and delicate spot of deciding whether it’s more important to win games the next two weeks or try to find out more about Wilson… unless Saleh and the Jets believe they know enough and have seen enough.
And that’s highly possible.
Saleh, whether it was unwitting or calculated, dropped bread crumbs Friday hinting that Wilson — whose confidence, even by his own admission, is damaged — may be shut down for the season.
The head coach went from vowing after the game on Thursday night, “We haven’t seen the last of him,” to saying Friday that “there are also cons” to playing someone like Wilson when his confidence is shot.
“You got to think about the player and where he’s at and whether or not you’re doing more damage or you’re helping him,” Saleh said. “You just want to make sure that you’re making the best decisions for the team and not just say, ‘Hey, let’s just get this guy reps, just to get this guy reps.’ “
That sounded like a strong hint that Wilson is done — at least for 2022.
But I believe Saleh should start Wilson against the Seahawks a week from Sunday in Seattle — unless the organization is already convinced that they’ve seen enough of him.
I don’t know that I’d have the same take if the next game was at home, because Jets fans are done with Wilson, and it has gotten to the point where he’s booed during pregame warm-ups. But the Jets are on the road for the final two games, which would make life much more manageable for him psychologically.
Asked on Friday if he still believes Wilson is his “quarterback of the future,” Saleh danced around the question.
“I’ve got confidence in all our guys,” he said. “I just feel like every single year there’s a kid who’s just struggling, and everybody wants to quit on him, and this might not be their year, but it doesn’t mean that next year can’t be their year.”
Another serious hint that Wilson is done for the season.
Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, asked on Friday what more he knows about Wilson through 16 weeks of this season than he did before the season, said, “That he’s resilient.”
“He has grown a lot in the last two years,” LaFleur insisted. “He’s faced more adversity than he probably ever has in his entire life, and he keeps showing up to work looking for ways to get better. I do believe he’s a better quarterback. I know it’s not showing.”
Saleh, asked if Wilson’s biggest problem is physical or mental, said: “I think confidence. For Zach, and it doesn’t take long to flip. He just needs a good string of consecutive games, quarters, plays, of putting together good football. And once you get in a groove, everything just starts clicking and moving faster.”
The only way Saleh and the Jets will find that out is by playing Wilson the final two games. In a weird way, they know more about White, who has started only six games in the past two years, than they do about Wilson, who has started 22.
Wilson is the player they need to make the most definitive decision on. So, play him the final two games. What more do the Jets have to lose?