NFL

Zach Wilson Benched: Has He Thrown His Final Pass for the New York Jets?

Zach Wilson’s tenure as the New York Jets‘ starting quarterback is over, at least for the time being. Following a dismal effort against the New England Patriots in Week 11, the Jets are benching Wilson in advance of their game against the Chicago Bears, according to ESPN. Head coach Robert Saleh announced today that Mike White will get the start on Sunday.

The Jets had to make this change. Not only was Wilson constantly erratic on the field, but his lack of accountability following the loss to New England reportedly rubbed the locker room the wrong way.

Now that he’s been sent to the bench, what does Wilson’s future with the Jets look like, both for the rest of this season and into 2023? Will he ever throw another pass for Gang Green?

New York Jets Bench Zach Wilson

Both of Wilson’s 2022 losses have come at the hands of the Patriots, but he completely bottomed out on Sunday. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft completed just nine of 22 attempts for 77 scoreless yards while absorbing four sacks. He repeatedly missed on easy throws and didn’t look like an NFL-caliber quarterback.

This isn’t exactly a new phenomenon for Wilson. In 20 career starts, he’s posted a QBR over 50 just five times.

MORE: Zach Wilson, A Cautionary Tale of Betting on the Wrong Traits

Over the last decade, only four first-round quarterbacks have managed worse adjusted net yards per attempt over their first 20 appearances than Wilson: Josh Rosen, Blaine Gabbert, Kenny Pickett, and Dwayne Haskins. That’s not a list you want to be on!

On Sunday, the Jets will go up against the quarterback they could have selected last year in Justin Fields, who’s bounced back from a rough rookie season to become a dynamic signal-caller over the second half of 2022. Fields has shown so much more growth than Wilson — both as a passer and as a pure athlete — that Week 12’s game will become a damning indictment of Jets general manager Joe Douglas’ decision to select the BYU product over the Ohio State alum.

Is Wilson’s Career as a Jet Over?

At this point, Wilson may have thrown his last pass for Gang Green. That’s a shocking statement to make about a player chosen with the second overall pick just last year, but barring injury, Wilson probably won’t play again this year.

The Jets still have a legitimate chance at making the playoffs — 48%, according to FiveThirtyEight. Their defense and run game are good enough that they can’t afford to play a quarterback who can’t generate any sort of offense.

New York’s locker room might revolt if head coach Robert Saleh turns back to Wilson at any point this year. Plus, White or Flacco could have success over the rest of the season, as the Jets are set to play the easiest remaining schedule of pass defenses.

So, where does that leave Wilson? His four-year, $35 million rookie contract is fully guaranteed. The Jets can’t cut him after the season. By doing so, they’d take on more than $20 million in dead money, and it would cost them $11 million more to release Wilson than to keep him on the roster.

New York could try to trade Wilson, although they’d lose a bit of cap space by doing that, too. Despite his struggles, there might still be a trade market for a quarterback of his draft pedigree. The Cardinals managed to extract second- and fifth-round picks from the Dolphins in exchange for Rosen even after his disastrous rookie campaign, but he came with an extra year of team control.

More likely, the Jets will bring Wilson back in 2023 while adding significant competition. In this case, “significant competition” has a wide range of meanings.

New York could make Wilson a clear-cut backup and bring in a veteran starter. Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Derek Carr may all be available via the trade market and would represent obvious improvements over Wilson. The Jets have already traded a few late-round 2023 picks but still have selections in Rounds 1-4 the organization could deal.

Alternatively, the Jets could target a quarterback in the 2023 NFL Draft. But given their success this season, New York isn’t likely to have a pick inside the top 10. That doesn’t mean they can’t find a new signal-caller, but the odds will be stacked against them drafting an immediate starter.

Douglas, Saleh, and Co. have done an excellent job with the Jets’ roster. They’ve made shrewd free agent signings, and their 2022 draft class has the potential to be legendary. They missed at the most important position, but their swift decision to bench Wilson could save their season.

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