FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Zach Wilson’s rough second season is over. When — or if — he plays another game for the New York Jets remains to be seen.
The struggling quarterback will be inactive Sunday in the team’s season finale at Miami, with Mike White starting a second straight game and Joe Flacco the backup. Still, coach Robert Saleh insisted Wednesday that Wilson still has a future with the franchise.
“Zach has got all the talent in the world and we have all the confidence in the world in him,” Saleh said. “It’s just like I’ve said from this ‘reset,’ we’re going to grind with him, we are.
“And through hell or high water, we’re going to figure out how to get him to where we know he can be.”
That’s the challenge Saleh and his coaching staff face this offseason, which also lends itself to the stark reality that the Jets still don’t know for sure what they have in Wilson.
Some fans and media have labeled the No. 2 pick in the 2021 draft a bust, and his miserable statistics could support that. Wilson has 15 touchdowns and 18 interceptions with a 55.2 completion rate and a 72.8 quarterback rating in 22 starts.
He also has been benched twice this season so he could, as Saleh called it, “reset” himself mentally and physically.
But Wilson also has shown flashes of the off-schedule playmaking ability that made the Jets and others drool leading up to the draft.
“Again, we’re not wavering,” Saleh said. “We believe in the young man and the biggest thing for Zach, it’s not his talent. We want to make sure that we reconnect with Zach and regain his confidence, and regain his confidence in himself and us, and us in him, just all of us. Just to make sure that he’s back on track, get his footwork down right, get his mechanics right, get his mind right.
“So, it’s not a talent thing for Zach, I don’t believe that. I just think, like I said, when it’s a reset, we’re going to work our tails off to help him. We’re committed to him.”
That doesn’t mean, however, Wilson will be the starter next season. Or that he’s a sure thing to even be on the roster — although that would appear likely.
Wilson’s four-year, $35 million rookie contract is fully guaranteed, which means the Jets would take a massive financial hit if they cut him after this season. Wilson will count $9.6 million against the salary cap next season and cutting him would cost New York nearly $20.8 million in dead money. So it would cost the Jets more to cut him ($11.2 million) than keep him.
A trade could be a possibility, but it’s unlikely teams would be willing to give up much to acquire Wilson.
White and Flacco are free agents after this season, so it would make sense for general manager Joe Douglas to try to either sign or acquire a veteran quarterback and keep Wilson as a backup — with the hope he can become more.
“You just see it all over the league where these quarterbacks hit, and especially this year,” said Saleh, who referred to two former Jets. “When you look at what Sam (Darnold) is doing in Carolina, doing a really nice job, and Geno (Smith) just from a relatable standpoint, these guys take time.
“And we’re going to give him that time.”
One narrative is that perhaps Wilson isn’t a perfect fit in offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s scheme.
“There’s always going to be a challenge,” Saleh said. “There’s a patience aspect to it and I get it — if you love patience, why did you put him down? I get it, there’s things a lot deeper than it. But you can look back and say a lot of things on what ifs, but at the end of the day, a quarterback’s got to be able to sit in the pocket and he’s got to be able to deliver the football.”
That’s an area where Wilson needs to improve, Saleh said, and something he showed at times early this season before getting off track.
“It just slowly got away from him a little bit, for one reason or another,” Saleh said, “and how do you find that consistency?”
Wilson taking a true mental break when the season ends might be the first step in him getting back on track.
“Get away from this game, just reset,” Saleh said. “I think the greatest strength and greatest gift you can give yourself as a human is to figure out what’s important to you, what do you value and how can you stick to those values day in and day out?
“That is the greatest gift you can give yourself, is to discover yourself and I think Zach needs to get away, read a book and figure that out.”
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