Jets situation with Zach Wilson shouldn't have come to this

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Zach Wilson Treated Image, red jersey green MetLife in background
Zach Wilson Treated Image, red jersey green MetLife in background

The sight of quarterback Mike White taking the first snaps of training camp was certainly not something new Jets coach Robert Saleh envisioned. This is supposed to be Zach Wilson’s team now and he was supposed to be there for the first practice.

It’s a disappointment and a failure of both parties that the Jets had to muddle through a practice with White and James Morgan throwing passes instead.

In the long run, of course, this will only be a blip on the radar of what the Jets sure hope will be a long and successful career for Wilson. No one will remember this silly standoff when the regular season begins. Heck, if he shows up in the next day or so, no one’s going to care about this next week.

For now, though, it’s the story of camp – and the only story that really matters. Wilson is the last remaining unsigned pick from the entire 2021 NFL Draft.

It should never have come to this.

“Obviously, from the business side of it, there’s a lot of things that come into play,” Saleh said. “So when he signs, he signs. There’s 89 other guys that deserve our attention and that’s where all our focus is right now.”

That’s a standard line from coaches about absent players that really dates back decades. They want the focus to be on the players in camp, not the ones that aren’t. And the last impression Saleh wants to give is that he’s worried about this situation at all.

That’s understandable. But it’s still just different when it’s a starting quarterback, and more so when that starter is a rookie. Wilson is 21 years old and needs every rep he can get to make sure he’s ready to start the regular season opener – which, as long as he’s healthy, he undoubtedly will do. And it’s not just about him, either. Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur are installing a brand new offense with a bunch of new players. They need to learn it and work on the timing with the quarterback they’re going to play with all season.

With all do respect to Morgan and White, there’s no chance that’s going to be them. And the longer they’re running the show, the less real work the Jets can really do.

And Saleh knows it. That’s probably why, when he was asked when Wilson absolutely needs to be in camp, he said “Ask me tomorrow.”

Quarterbacks James Morgan, Mike White and Zach Wilson participate in practice as the New York Jets held OTA's this morning at their practice facility in Florham Park, NJ on June 4, 2021.
Quarterbacks James Morgan, Mike White and Zach Wilson participate in practice as the New York Jets held OTA's this morning at their practice facility in Florham Park, NJ on June 4, 2021.

There’s no excuse for this not to be done by tomorrow. It should’ve been done by yesterday. It’s far past time for Jets GM Joe Douglas and Wilson’s agent, Brian Ayrault, lock themselves in the proverbial room and stop this avoidable staring contest that should’ve been settled long ago. The basics of Wilson’s deal are done. He’s going to get a four-year, $35.1 million contract that is fully guaranteed and includes a $22.9 million signing bonus and a fifth-year team option.

The other details? They’re really not that important. A big one, according to a source, is the Jets’ insistence on an offset clause, which would reduce the amount of money they’d have to pay Wilson if they cut him before the end of his contract and he signed somewhere else. The Jets don’t want to give it to him, because then they might have to give it to Marcus Maye or Quinnen Williams when they sign their next deals.

If Wilson is really missing practices because of that, it’s just ridiculous. Players rarely win that fight. In fact, 30 of 32 teams put offset language in their contract. Also, spoiler alert: Unless Wilson turns out to be worse than Christian Hackenberg, the Jets just aren’t going to cut him before the end of his deal. So this offset nonsense will never come into play

Even the other possible reason for a holdout makes little sense. According to a report, the Jets want to split up the payment of his $22.9 million signing bonus, deferring a good chunk of it until next year. But you know what? Three years ago, the Jets gave Sam Darnold his $20 million signing bonus 15 days after he signed his contract. There’s no good reason for them not to do that for Wilson, too.

It’s a good bet the Johnson family can afford it.

It’s pretty to see how this is going to end and where each side will give in. Yet the standoff continues. The latest salvo was the Jets leaking that they plan to workout a couple of veteran backup quarterbacks – the 35-year-old Josh Johnson who last threw an NFL pass in 2018, and the 29-year-old Sean Mannion whose last pass came in 2019. This came out just hours after Saleh seemed to make it clear he didn’t want to add a veteran backup to his roster just yet

“You have two guys that you have time invested in, in terms of development,” Saleh said. “And you see talent, you see potential, you see all that stuff. So to give up on those guys just for the sake of bringing someone in – call it a pacifier, if you will – call me crazy, I think sometimes that can be seen as a cop-out.”

So what changed a few hours later that the Jets were at least willing to consider a “cop out”? Probably nothing. But it does send a message to the Wilson camp that the Jets are preparing for his absence to last longer than anyone hoped.

But they just can’t let it come to that. They can’t continue to have a dark cloud hovering over the feel-good, high-energy camp that Saleh wants to have. This is even worse than it was three years ago when Darnold held out for three practices. Back then the Jets had Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater on the roster.

This year, no matter which veteran quarterback the Jets scrape off the scrap heap, there’s no doubt: Wilson is it.

In other words, that “tomorrow” Saleh mentioned? It’s coming quickly. It’s not a full-blown crisis yet. So far Wilson has only missed a very light practice. The pads won’t even go on for the Jets until next week.

But they have to end this before then, and the sooner the better. Because each day this silly, avoidable standoff goes on, they all get closer to the ugliness they wanted to avoid.

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