Zach Wilson has gone from the future of the New York Jets franchise to an underachieving benchwarmer.
Coach Robert Saleh announced Wednesday the decision to place Wilson and replace him with Mike White as starting quarterback on Sunday against the Chicago Bears.
“Zach’s career here isn’t over yet,” Saleh said, adding that the plan is to have the sophomore quarterback “reset” with hopes of Wilson playing again this season. “This is not hitting a nail in his coffin.”
Joe Flacco will serve as backup to White and Wilson will be inactive against the Bears.
“We have not wavered in our belief that he is going to be the future of this franchise,” said Saleh.
Saleh vowed Monday not to have Wilson at center this week after the sophomore quarterback’s dismal performance in the Jets’ 10-3 loss to the New England Patriots. The No. 2 overall pick in last year’s draft was 9 of 22 for a measly 77 yards with several wayward throws. The Jets managed to score just two yards on seven possessions in the second half.
Many Jets fans wanted their team to draft Justin Fields instead of Wilson in 2021. Fields eventually fell to the Bears at No. 11, and has been in impressive form this season, with plays in the rushing and passing game.
Saleh said he will evaluate the quarterback position day by day, adding that the whole offense needs to be better.
“His decision-making was fine, his practice habits and all that stuff was fine,” Saleh said of Wilson. “But there are some basic fundamental things that have really gotten out of hand for him. This is just a chance for him to sit back, focus on those things, find a way to reconnect with all the different things that we fell in love with during the design process. And it’s something I think he’s going to be able to do.”
Wilson has received a lot of criticism this week, not only for his on-field play, but also for how he handled his post-match press conference. When asked if he thought he and the offense let down the defense that sacked Mac Jones six times, Wilson curtly replied, “No. No.”
It seemed like a lack of accountability and rubbed some the wrong way in the Jets locker room. Rookie wide receiver Garrett Wilson aired after the game, without using names, saying the offense was a “sorry” performance and “hopefully this is a wake-up call for some people at the facility.”
Saleh acknowledged there may have been “a little bit of irritation,” but insisted Zach Wilson’s comments had no bearing on the decision.
On Wednesday, the quarterback said he regretted his comments over the weekend and had apologized to his teammates. He also said that he understands the criticism that has come his way.
“It’s deserved,” Wilson said of the criticism. “The way I handled the situation was not right. I have to be a better football player and then I have to be a better leader for these guys. I have the opportunity here to turn the page as a player and as a leader.”
Saleh’s lack of effort on Monday to keep Wilson as the starter was the first time the Jets pivoted on their public support for the young QB. The main focus for the franchise this season has been Wilson’s continued development.
Wilson is 5-2 this season as a starter for the Jets, who have a surprising 6-4 start and are in the middle of the playoff hunt. But he struggled with consistency and failed to show the progress expected of him. Wilson has just four touchdown passes and five interceptions in seven starts.
“I have to do better for him,” said offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. “I have to do my best for the attack.”
Flacco, who started the first three games while Wilson was sidelined with a knee injury, still leads the Jets in five touchdown throws despite not playing since Sept. 25. Flacco was dropped to No. 3 behind white on the team’s depth chart a few weeks ago.
“He’s more than capable of pulling it off,” LaFleur said of White.
White briefly became somewhat of a folk hero for the Jets last season during a four-game span, including three starts and one that landed his jersey and a game ball in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
His first NFL start against Cincinnati on October 31, 2021, in place of an injured Wilson, White completed 37 of 45 passes for 405 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions in a 34–31 win.
White, a 2018 Dallas fifth-round pick from Western Kentucky, joined Cam Newton (2011) as the only players since 1950 to pass for at least 400 yards in their first career start. White’s 37 completions were the most by any player in his first start.
He injured his right forearm early in his next start and was forced out of the Jets’ 45-30 rout in Indianapolis. White made the start in New York’s next game against Buffalo, but was intercepted four times in the 45–17 loss. Since then, he has not played a single moment in a regular-season game.