It is Week 4 in the NFL.
Time to talk about the New York Jets’ future at quarterback.
Alas, the Jets find themselves in a quarterback conundrum, one that has felt never-ending for the last few … decades. Zach Wilson is clearly not the solution, now or in the future. This season feels like it could go off the rails quickly, if it hasn’t already, should he remain the starter. The Jets are 1-2 and face the Kansas City Chiefs, the defending Super Bowl champions, on Sunday night.
There is a lot of discussion about what the Jets should do at quarterback right now — sign Carson Wentz, trade for Gardner Minshew, etc. — but that would only provide a temporary fix. They signed Trevor Siemian to the practice squad on Tuesday, but he’s not exactly a playoff-caliber quarterback, either. Siemian, 31, lost the battle to be Joe Burrow’s backup to Jake Browning over the summer.
There are legitimate questions about what the Jets’ future looks like at quarterback, whether Aaron Rodgers returns in 2024 or not. Right now, he seems to want to play next season.
With Rodgers out with an Achilles tendon tear, the Jets are clearly no longer contenders in 2023, like they were supposed to be. If this season goes poorly enough, it’s fair to wonder whether it will cost anyone (like coach Robert Saleh) their jobs. That also factors into the equation. There are a few different ways this can go.
Maybe it ends with the Jets finally figuring out the quarterback position. History says: Don’t bank on it.
But here is everything to consider: from Rodgers, to Wilson, to potential 2024 free agency targets and whether the Jets might consider drafting a quarterback in the first round (again).
The Aaron Rodgers factor
When Rodgers spoke to Pat McAfee in his first interview post-Achilles injury, he threw down the gauntlet: “Give me the doubts. Give me the timetables. Give me all the things that you think can, should or will happen, because all I need is that one little extra percent of inspiration; that’s all I need. Give me your timetables. Give me your doubts. Give me your prognostications, and then watch what I do.”
Clearly, he’s highly motivated. Rodgers also didn’t say anything definitive, though, and is prone to changing his mind. Remember: By his own admission, he was 90 percent sure he would retire until his “darkness retreat” in February.
Rodgers has a lot of time to sit around and think about his future. Right now, he’s lying around his home in Malibu, waiting for the clearance to fly back to New Jersey to be with the Jets as he rehabs.
If Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas want to find solace in anything, it’s that the promise (or theoretical promise) of Rodgers returning in 2024 should keep their jobs safe, unless this season truly turns into a disaster. If the Jets fall short of the playoffs, again, despite having a playoff-caliber roster, it wouldn’t be out of character for owner Woody Johnson to call for some sort of major change. The Jets’ offense has been the worst in the NFL by most metrics, which would presumably put offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett on the chopping block.
But remember: Rodgers has publicly stated since his introductory news conference that Hackett was the top reason why he ultimately decided to join the Jets. If they moved on from Hackett, would that change Rodgers’ plan? Rodgers has also spoken highly of Saleh. This all begs the question of how committed Rodgers actually is to playing for the Jets — and no one else — in 2024.
The Jets probably will be 1-3 after Sunday’s game against the Chiefs. In a worst-case scenario, what if they win somewhere in the range of four to six games?
That’s not even factoring in the other side of the Rodgers equation: He was already viewed by some around the league as on the decline, as a 39-year-old quarterback coming off his worst season with the Packers. In 2024, he’ll be a 40-year-old quarterback coming off Achilles surgery. And even if it goes well, would Rodgers actually want to keep playing beyond next year?
These are all unanswerable questions right now, but all things the Jets will need to factor into their decision-making next offseason — and to start thinking about sooner than later.
Maybe Rodgers’ future is unclear. But Wilson’s is not.
He is not an NFL-caliber starting quarterback, no matter what Saleh said after Wilson’s latest stinker, a 15-10 loss to the Patriots.
“Sometimes the box score doesn’t always tell the story,” Saleh said.
Saleh benched Wilson twice last season — first for Mike White, then for Chris Streveler during a Week 16 loss to the Jaguars. Saleh didn’t even consider playing Wilson in Week 18 against the Dolphins, a meaningless game after the Jets had already been eliminated from the playoffs.
Now, Saleh seems to be in less of a rush to bench him again. Until Tuesday, Tim Boyle was the Jets’ only other option at quarterback, as Douglas had confoundingly declined to sign anyone else in the weeks since Rodgers’ injury.
“I think he’s playing with confidence,” Saleh said of Wilson. “I think he’s delivering, he’s throwing the ball accurately when it’s in timing and rhythm, and his foot hits his backstep and he lets that thing rip, it’s pretty. He’s doing a really nice job in that regard.”
Per TruMedia, Wilson ranks last among 34 qualifying quarterbacks in completion percentage (52.4), passer rating (57) and EPA per dropback (-0.30), and his average time to throw (3.12 seconds) is the longest in the NFL. He also ranks 31st on pass attempts traveling 20-plus yards, 31st in touchdown-to-interception ratio and 32nd in yards per pass attempt. Pro Football Focus ranks him 32nd of 34 qualifying quarterbacks with only one “big time throw” in 84 pass attempts.
Joe Namath: ‘I’ve seen enough of Zach Wilson’
The Jets shouldn’t be playing another game with him as their starting quarterback, and they certainly can’t go into 2024 with the risk of having to play him again. Ultimately, one of the biggest mistakes the Jets made this offseason was not bringing in a veteran quarterback to compete with Wilson to be Rodgers’ backup. It looks especially bad after other quality backups signed elsewhere for cheap, like Minshew (one year, $3.5 million), Teddy Bridgewater (one year, $3 million), Josh Dobbs (one year, $2 million) and White (two years, $8 million).
Wilson can’t be the Jets’ starter in 2024. He also can’t be their backup. Cutting him would be costly — $11.1 million dead cap, zero savings — so maybe they can convince someone to take Wilson off their hands for a conditional late-round pick. Baker Mayfield (the 2018 No. 1 pick of the Browns) was traded to the Panthers for a fifth-round pick in 2022, but he’d accomplished more than Wilson has to this point. The Jets might have to settle for a seventh.
If Rodgers stays …
The Jets still need to make some moves at quarterback. The No. 1 priority this offseason would be to add a better No. 2 quarterback, and also determine if it is worth drafting a quarterback to develop for the future. I’d heard the Jets were even willing to pick a quarterback in 2023 if the right one had fallen to them (none did).
If the Jets simply add a veteran backup, some projected free-agent options include Tyrod Taylor, Jameis Winston, Jacoby Brissett, Drew Lock, Tyler Huntley, Minshew and Dobbs.
As for the NFL Draft: What if Rodgers sticks around? The Jets will keep their first-round pick in 2024 since Rodgers won’t play 60 percent of the team’s snaps this season. Instead, the Packers get the Jets’ second-round pick as part of the Rodgers trade.
NFL Draft order 2024 projections: Will the Bears claim the No. 1 pick again?
I asked Nick Baumgardner, one of The Athletic’s draft writers, for their quarterback options next spring. Here’s what he told me:
“With the roster so strong elsewhere, the Jets can enter the Caleb Williams-Drake Maye sweepstakes if they wish. It would cost a lot, of course — a bunch of future picks (including multiple firsts and likely a sweetener). New York could do this with or without a healthy Rodgers, though sitting a player like Williams or Maye for a year doesn’t really feel worth it.
“A more reasonable situation could be to just stick and pick. This draft class is the best we’ve seen at the QB position in years, and not just at the top. The depth here is terrific. Williams and Maye will be gone early, but Texas’ Quinn Ewers, Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy or even Duke’s Riley Leonard could be reasonable options to sit behind Rodgers for a year before walking into a great situation. All would fit the Jets’ current system and are flexible enough to play in others. These are young passers who have first-round traits in terms of arm talent and athleticism but might require some time before finding their groove in the NFL. The talent outweighs the bad habits, but bad habits exist here. Learning under Rodgers would be terrific for any of these guys.
“The Jets could also just wait and play the board, especially if Rodgers is back healthy for one more year. The idea of snagging Oregon’s Bo Nix or LSU’s Jayden Daniels in a later round is also intriguing. Losing Rodgers is a disaster and this season is going to be really hard for Jets fans, obviously. But there is hope here thanks to the depth of this upcoming QB class.”
If Rodgers goes …
Well, then the Jets almost certainly would look into drafting a young quarterback. If Rodgers not returning also means Douglas and/or Saleh were fired, that would become more likely. If Rodgers didn’t return and Douglas was retained? Then the Jets might be more willing to pursue a veteran who can help them win right away.
In terms of free agents, the Jets could try their hand (again) at signing Kirk Cousins. The Jets looked into Matthew Stafford this offseason before getting Rodgers. And the relationship between Kyler Murray and the Cardinals bears watching.
Ultimately, though, if Rodgers doesn’t return, it’s possible the Jets simply turn to another rebuild.
(Top illustration: Samuel Richardson / The Athletic; photos: Patrick McDermott and Al Bello / Getty Images)
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