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Robert Saleh Opens Door to QB Controversy; Where Do Jets Go Now with Zach Wilson?

David KenyonFeatured Columnist IVNovember 23, 2022

Robert Saleh and Zach Wilson
Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Editor's note: this article was published before ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the news that Zach Wilson would be benched for the New York Jets' next game.

As the dust settled on an ugly 10-3 loss to the New England Patriots, second-year New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh made a few simple statements—equal parts vague and authoritative—that craned a few necks around the NFL.

"We're keeping everything on the table," Saleh told reporters in his Monday press conference.

He also wouldn't commit to Zach Wilson as the team's starter for Week 12.

"Not right now. Not until I'm done evaluating everything," he said. "... I've gotta be able to sit back—I think we've all gotta be able to sit back—and just look at what's best for this organization and this team."

Right or wrong, Saleh has achieved two things.

First, he's reasserted full control of this roster. Saleh acknowledged the Jets' offensive struggles are not entirely the young quarterback's fault, but Wilson—the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 draft and a team captain—isn't gifted a starting spot.

Second, he's inviting the questions to come. Because, friends, he's about to address this topic on a weekly basis from New York media well-known for its, uh, calmness and patience.

Everyone please welcome the Jets back to QB Controversy Land. It's been a long 19 months without them, hasn't it?

Zach Wilson
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

The Jets have reentered the chat because Wilson has played mediocre at best. They are 5-2 since his return from a knee injury in Week 4, but he's averaged just 6.8 yards per attempt—tied for 20th in the league—while the offense has mustered 21.0 points per game.

The subpar performance peaked in Week 11 as New York totaled a ghastly 103 yards in the defeat to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Wilson completed only nine of his 22 passes for 77 yards, also taking four sacks.

Yet he doubled down in the worst way following the game.

Wilson told reporters to account for the weather being "windy as hell out there" and, in a word, said he didn't believe the offense—which totaled two yards in the entire second half—let the defense down.

If that's not concerning enough, SNY's Connor Hughes reported Wilson walked around the locker room "like he isn't the problem."

Contrast that to rookie receiver Garrett Wilson, who unloaded on New York's failures after the loss. He repeatedly called the offense a "sorry" unit and said the Jets "got our ass beat on offense, and the results showed."

Rich Cimini @RichCimini

Saleh says he has no issue with Garrett Wilson's comments. Was just telling the truth, he says. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Jets?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Jets</a>

More frustratingly, the easiest retort for Wilson redirecting the blame to the weather is that Patriots QB Mac Jones was able to finish 23-of-27 for 246 yards. But the greater issue is his disregard for the reality of the AFC East. Unless you're playing at the Miami Dolphins, you'd better be prepared to perform on cold, windy days as the calendar hits November.

Call it ignorance, immaturity, inexperience or something else, but none of those words are positive.

"This kid doesn't get it," former Jets head coach Rex Ryan said on Get Up.

At this point, it's only sensible to agree. Throw in Wilson's comments before the Patriots clash that "nobody outside of this building knows what they're talking about," and he's showed an aura of superiority.

Look, Aaron Rodgers has been defiant about the Green Bay Packers' issues in 2022. Whether you agree with Rodgers' explanations or not, a four-time NFL MVP has earned a right to push back.

With career numbers of 6.3 yards per attempt and 13 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, however, Wilson is nowhere close to that benefit of the doubt.

Saleh seemingly recognized that fact and served Wilson a grandmother-sized helping of humble pie for Thanksgiving.

Wilson is a problem in New York right now. He did let the defense down Sunday. He must learn to accept or deflect any level of blame—fair, unfair or in between—if he's to survive as an NFL quarterback. That's the nature of the position.

There is no perfect solution, of course.

Mike White became a fan favorite after throwing for 405 yards and three scores in a 2021 upset of the Cincinnati Bengals. He also tossed four interceptions in a loss to the Buffalo Bills. White is a speculative option.

Then there's Joe Flacco, who the Jets recently demoted to the third-stringer behind White. The veteran is a low-ceiling QB who doesn't elevate the offense consistently. Going to Flacco would effectively be waving the white flag on dreams of playoff contention.

Joe Flacco, Zach Wilson and Mike White
AP Photo/John Minchillo

The right choice is to stick with Wilson for the rest of 2022.

Doing so provides him a full chance for valuable reps as a quarterback and potential team leader. He's still only a second-year player with obvious talent in his best moments, even as mounting criticism and long-term worries are justified.

Plus, the critiques are heightened because the Jets are ahead of schedule, riding a rapidly improved defense into the postseason discussion. Wilson was never considered an elite starter from Day 1, yet New York's unanticipated success has made the spotlight brighter.

It is, however, his responsibility to handle the situation.

Wilson will either improve as a player and figurehead or prove he's not deserving of the QB1 and franchise-face labels. Sticking him on the bench doesn't show if the latter is true.

The proverbial leash is short.

Wilson's performance suggested it should be, and Saleh wisely pulled on the rein Monday to demand his quarterback's attention. Wilson can no longer hide behind a defense surrendering a meager 15.0 points per game in his starts.

This is his wake-up call. If Wilson doesn't start moving in a positive direction both on and off the field, Saleh and the Jets will likely be taking a different one at quarterback in 2023.

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