FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – When Woody Johnson last was the active owner of the Jets, Ryan Fitzpatrick was their starting quarterback, Geno Smith was still on the roster, and Christian Hackenberg was supposed to be their Quarterback of the Future. He missed the entire era of Sam Darnold, who went from savior to castoff in three short years.
So maybe that’s why Johnson was so careful in his praise of Zach Wilson, the Jets’ latest franchise quarterback. He clearly thinks the 21-year-old has talent and has heard great things about him from the football people in his organization. But he stopped short of declaring that, after 50 years of searching for a quarterback who could lead them to a Super Bowl, the Jets finally had found the right one.
“Well you never know,” Johnson said in his first press conference in four years since leaving the Jets to become the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom. “Now we’re in shorts, so how is he going to look when we get to padded (practices) and then we start playing preseason (games)? Then you’re going to get a much better idea.
“But everybody’s hopeful about his learning curve. They like his quick release. They like a lot of elements. That’s why they drafted him No. 2. I don’t think they’ve seen anything to discourage us in any of the elements that we picked him for.”
If that sounds like Johnson was trying to dampen some of the hype, it’s certainly understandable considering the number of franchise quarterbacks the Jets have gone through since Johnson first bought the team 21 years ago.
The list runs from veterans like Vinny Testaverde and Brett Favre, to promising young players like Chad Pennington, Mark Sanchez, and Smith, to big misses like Hackenberg. Only Sanchez, Pennington, and Testaverde managed to lead the Jets to the playoffs in Johnson’s tenure, and none have done it since 2010 when Sanchez and the Jets went to back-to-back AFC championship games.
The Jets thought they had found the next one in 2018 when they drafted Darnold third overall. But that was under the substitute ownership of Christopher Johnson and since-fired GM Mike Maccagnan. Darnold was of course traded to the Carolina Panthers this offseason shortly before they drafted Wilson. But all that occurred under Christopher, too.
Woody Johnson does seem to like the quarterback he inherited – at least based on what he’s seen this spring. So he certainly wasn’t down on Wilson in any way.
“He’s a talent, for sure,” Johnson said. “I know he’s a hard worker. He’s obsessive about tape. He wants to watch tape all the time. … He looks as advertised.”
That’s good. And the Jets obviously hope Wilson will be far more than that. But he’s only two months and a handful of practices into his NFL career. So Johnson preferred to keep the expectations in check – at least for now.