Why the Jets Have NFL's Toughest QB Decision with Zach Wilson, Other Options in 2023

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxCorrespondent IFebruary 6, 2023

Jets QB Zach Wilson
Jets QB Zach WilsonMichael Owens/Getty Images

The 2023 NFL offseason will be dominated by quarterback chatter. Several intriguing passers, including Jimmy Garoppolo, Derek Carr, Sam Darnold and maybe even Aaron Rodgers, are likely to be available. Several more teams will be looking to solidify their quarterback situations.

Many of these teams will face difficult decisions in the coming weeks, but the New York Jets face a tougher decision than any of them. They have multiple options, and they also must figure out what to do with 2021 second overall pick Zach Wilson.

There's only one piece of the puzzle that will be easy for New York to figure out: It cannot go into the 2023 season with Wilson as the starter.

It's Time for Wilson to Take a Seat

The Jets came ever so close to earning the No. 1 pick and a shot at Clemson phenom Trevor Lawrence during the 2020 season. They won one more game than the Jacksonville Jaguars, though, and settled on Wilson as their consolation prize.

While the BYU product wasn't viewed as a "can't-miss" prospect like Lawrence was, he did offer enticing physical upside.

"He has the arm talent to consistently make throws at all three levels from controlled settings and while off-platform. He is a good athlete who shows the ability to create and ad-lib plays when initial reads are covered, which is coveted from the QB position in today's NFL," Nate Tice of the Bleacher Report Scouting Department wrote at the time.

While the physical side of Wilson's game was impressive, he was not viewed as a finished product.

"Wilson is a legit franchise QB prospect who will add excitement and explosive plays to whatever offense he joins, but might take some time to adjust to what he can—and can't—get away with at the NFL level," Tice added.

Things have played out as many might have expected. Wilson has shown the occasional flash of greatness but has been woefully inconsistent and unreliable. Through two years and 22 starts, he has completed just 55.2 percent of his passes, posted a 70.9 quarterback rating and posted an 8-14 record.

Though the Jets had a playoff-caliber roster in 2022, they decided that they couldn't win with Wilson under center. He was twice benched for Mike White, and New York cannot trust that Wilson will make a significant and immediate jump before his third season.

Wilson's mechanics have not improved since early in his rookie season, his confidence has dissipated, and it's going to take time to rebuild the 23-year-old into a different version of himself.

Connor Hughes @Connor_J_Hughes

Fundamentals were what was wrong with Zach Wilson. That's what led to his benching. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Jets?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Jets</a> said it: His upper &amp; lower half were operating out of sync. <br><br>You don't fix that in three weeks. The QB out there now isn't just dealing with fundamental problems, but overthinking now, too

The Jets, who do appear a quarterback away from being legitimate playoff contenders, must find someone else to be the Week 1 starter. That's not a revelation. The challenging part will be deciding what to do with Wilson moving forward.

New York could pull the plug on Wilson and let another franchise deal with his development—something they did with Darnold after his third season. For now, though, they seem content to keep him on the roster.

"The Jets don't intend to trade their 2021 first-round pick because there's hope he can develop while learning more in a backup capacity," Jeff Howe of The Athletic wrote on Saturday.

With Wilson carrying cap hits of only $9.6 million and $11.2 in 2023 and 2024, respectively—money that is fully guaranteed—keeping Wilson isn't a huge financial obstacle. However, the Jets must decide how they view Wilson as a backup asset because that will impact their search for a 2023 starter.

New York's QB Options and How Wilson Plays a Role

With the 13th overall pick in the draft, the Jets could roll the dice on a rookie quarterback once again. However, New York should be seeking a proven veteran and an obvious upgrade over Wilson.

With all due respect to prospects like C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young, there's no guarantee that they could provide the Jets with improved quarterback play.

Instead, we can expect New York to focus on the free-agent and trade markets. While the Jets are projected to be $3 million over the salary cap, they have paths to creating financial wiggle room. General manager Joe Douglas can restructure some deals and outright terminate others.

C.J. Mosley, for example, is set to carry a cap hit of $21.5 million and would be a prime restructure candidate. Carl Lawson is set to carry a cap hit of $15.3 million, and New York could save $15 million by releasing him.

The Jets have made it clear that they'll do whatever is required to turn the team into a contender next season.

"I'll try to get [the fans] wins," franchise owner Woody Johnson said, per The Athletic's Zack Rosenblatt. "I'm going to do everything I can to make it happen for them. No stone unturned."

Quarterback options for the Jets include Garoppolo, Carr, Rodgers, White, Daniel Jones, Jacoby Brissett, and maybe even Geno Smith or Lamar Jackson—though the latter two feel unlikely to become available. Jackson is a likely franchise-tag candidate, while the Seattle Seahawks are making progress on a contract with Smith.

Jones could be available, but the New York Giants feel likely to re-sign or franchise-tag him. Garoppolo and Brissett will be free agents, while Carr is expected to be traded or released before February 15—when his 2023 base salary hit of $32.9 million and $7.5 million of his 2024 salary become fully guaranteed.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Green Bay Packers are open to trading Rodgers.

Who should the Jets target? That's the hardest part of the decision-making process. Everything hinges on how they view their roster and Wilson.

Making a play for Rodgers only makes sense if New York believes it's a quarterback away from title contention. The 39-year-old declined this past season (from league MVP to missing the Pro Bowl) and appears to have a year or two, at most, left in the tank.

Do the Jets believe that Wilson is close to breaking through and perhaps can improve quickly under new offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett? Then a bridge quarterback like Garoppolo or Brissett or even bringing back White could make sense. This would give New York improved quarterback play while leaving the door ajar for Wilson to emerge.

And Wilson insists that he won't fade quietly into the background.

Jets Videos @snyjets

How will Zach Wilson react if the Jets sign a veteran quarterback?<br><br>"I'm going to make that dude's life hell in practice every day" <a href="https://t.co/hy1IMJNB2a">pic.twitter.com/hy1IMJNB2a</a>

If the Jets have internally given up on Wilson and are only looking to keep him because he's relatively inexpensive and would offer no cap relief if released or traded, going after Carr or Jones (if he becomes available) would be the logical choice.

Jones had his own breakthrough campaign in 2022, helping to lead the cross-town Giants to the divisional round of the playoffs. If the Giants let him get away, he could be the Jets' new quarterback of the future.

And while the Las Vegas Raiders are turning the page on Carr, he's a four-time Pro Bowler who, at just under 32 years old (in March), could provide New York with a long-term answer.

Carr and Jones are quarterbacks who would be employed long past the end of Wilson's rookie contract. They're logical options but less so if the Jets still believe Wilson can develop into an elite passer.

How the Jets' Decision Stacks Up with Others Around the League

Let's be clear: None of this year's quarterback-needy teams face choices that are exactly easy. However, many of them are at least straightforward.

The Raiders are moving on from Carr and must find an upgrade through free agency or the draft. They've already made the difficult decision to move on, though, something that became apparent when Carr was benched for Jarrett Stidham in Weeks 17 and 18.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have to find a replacement for the recently retired Tom Brady. Facing a $55.7 million cap deficit, they'll likely take whoever they can afford. The San Francisco 49ers are set to dump Garoppolo, but if both Trey Lance (ankle) and Brock Purdy (elbow) are healthy by camp, they should have a thrilling quarterback competition.

The Packers may be willing to move on from Rodgers because they need to finally get an extended look at 2020 first-round pick Jordan Love. The Baltimore Ravens and Giants will keep Jackson and Jones, respectively, if they can make it make sense financially.

The Raiders, Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts all have picks within the top seven of the 2023 draft and have reasonable chances of finding their next quarterbacks on opening night.

This is where the Jets were in 2021, when they decided to pull the plug on Darnold. However, things aren't as easy this time around. Smith's emergence in Seattle this year should serve as an argument against giving up on Wilson too early.

Smith, a 2013 second-round pick out of West Virginia, was the Jets' starter for two seasons before he was relegated to a backup role. Five years after he left New York, he became a Pro Bowler for the Seahawks and led the league with a 69.8 completion percentage.

Just because Wilson is an ineffective quarterback now, that doesn't mean that he'll never develop into a star.

The Jets' quarterback decision is more difficult than others because the franchise is at a crossroads. New York appears to have a solid head coach in Robert Saleh, who kept the team together through the QB turmoil of 2022. It has the league's fourth-ranked defense and great young players like Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall.

The Jets aren't a fully rebuilding team like Las Vegas or Tampa Bay. They're not trying to replace a future Hall of Famer like the Packers or eyeing a top-five draft pick like the Texans and Colts. They're not looking to lock up a reliable starter in free agency, and they're not coming off an appearance in the conference title game like the 49ers.

What the Jets are is a team that could be a perennial contender if it can get its quarterback situation just right—for 2023 and well beyond. How do the Jets do that? Well, a lot of it hinges on how the franchise views Wilson, and if it were an easy decision, we'd be the first to let you know.

Cap and contract information via Spotrac.