There are teams, coaches and general managers who should feel some semblance of shame and remorse for effectively harpooning a young quarterback’s career by benching him, trading him for his rookie contract, or giving him up altogether. These are instances of utter neglect, schematic rigidity, and emotional stubbornness that we know all too well from the NFL.
But while the Jets prepare for Sunday’s game against the Bears without Zach Wilson in the lineup — a source with knowledge of the situation confirmed an ESPN report that Wilson was benched Wednesday — their coach should have nothing to apologize for . The Jets did everything they could for Wilson over the course of his first two seasons at Florham Park. Only then did Wilson make it clear that this experiment would not work. As entertaining as it might be to base this on a terse answer to a post-game question following the 13-3 loss to the Patriots (do we really expect theatrical level grief or remorse from someone who might just be a private or someone , who is uncomfortable in front of the media?), the Jets had already reached that point with Wilson, though he did make a grand, performative gesture listing all the failures of his life.
We should seize a quick opportunity to rein in the rhetoric that has passed about Wilson This guy plays bad to This guy was raised by parents with money so he has no ability to run a football team, That’s what ESPN’s Booger McFarland previously said about the QB Monday night soccer. Wilson, and really, every kid who’s barely out of college and experiencing the real world for the first time needs time to figure themselves out. We all take time to understand ourselves, and the astonishing ease with which some analysts feel they can psychoanalyze a person they know nothing about is disturbing (not to mention the utterly idiotic claim that their children are unable to assume responsibility simply because someone’s parents have earned a comfortable living).
We don’t know if Wilson is a bad person. We do not know if he is not responsible. We don’t know if he’s a great leader. Wilson may not know these things about himself until he’s in his 50s. I would be thrilled to know this much about myself when my own children are alone.
We know that despite the Jets’ best efforts at his position, he recorded substandard output. We’re pretty sure they’d have about two more wins if someone was something better in the lineup. And in that context, it’s perfectly fine that Robert Saleh has moved on.
The Jets surrounded Wilson with legitimate playmaking talent (if Garrett Wilson is on another team, I don’t even think we’re arguing about offensive rookie of the year). They have constantly strived to mend even the smallest hole in their offensive line. They brought in trusted veterans to fill the leadership gap around Wilson and help the team grow. Last season, they paid for Wilson’s personal quarterback coach and brought him into the workforce to help him learn offense better.
And at the schematic level, they design games that produce open wide receivers. They operate an offense that has reignited the dying careers of several NFL quarterbacks.
When you look at it that way, it’s less about who Wilson is as a person and more about the hard facts, the acceptable facts. He wasn’t good enough. This team has thrived with or without him, and the level of talent and ability on offense hasn’t kept up with the growth of the rest of the roster. Saleh’s vision has always been egalitarian, and simply shoving Wilson onto the field to protect the reputation of those who drafted him would go against everything he preached to the other 52 players during that massive turnaround.
Corresponding outsiders in football, Wilson is basically a reserve-level quarterback, slightly worse than other reserve-level quarterbacks (think Cooper Rush, Andy Dalton, Marcus Mariota) who have adapted better to their offense. Substitute level players will be replaced if they perform interchangeably.
Because that decision is being made in New York, because the Jets were once a freewheeling organization that, I swear to God, once had the idea of starting Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow, and Greg McElroy at the same time, and turned the whole ordeal into one bustle, Real Housewives–Type Promo (I was in the dressing room that day and it still brings the agita) we will make more of this than we need. Because this franchise has a history of harpooning the careers of young quarterbacks and not taking responsibility, we’re going to put one event after the other and tie up the loose ends.
But that’s not some kind of failure. This is a process that we can normalize and accept when a team is doing everything for a player and a player isn’t performing. We don’t know if Wilson is good or bad, immature or stoic, friendly or distant — and it doesn’t matter either. This was a business decision born of good deals.
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