New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh isn’t fearful of the quarterback drama that could possibly come.
After all, this is the league. It’s not your typical 9-to-5 job that has an early-rising employee unconcerned about public feedback—while looking in the mirror at 6 a.m. ET. This is the national football stage, the league that rules all leagues, and the sport that “out-sports” all sports.
And usually, the Jets are the only team that can “out-Jet” the Jets, no matter the coach, general manager or quarterback currently at the helm.
On Wednesday in Florham Park—otherwise known as Jets quarterback judgment day 2021—“out-Jetting” the Jets merged onto a complicated road when the head coach announced to the world that Mike White would make his third-straight start when the Buffalo Bills visit MetLife Stadium.
“Mike is starting, Mike White,” Saleh quickly and confidently answered when the media fired its first predictable and extremely correct question.
It was as if he knew the question was coming. (The previous tongue-in-cheek sentence is brought to you by the obviously disappointing paperweight Christmas gift with a side stocking-stuffer men’s tie.)
“We had a feeling on Monday with Zach’s knee that he’s not fully ready to go,” Saleh said. “Mike, obviously, got all his strength back. He feels good (and has) no residual effects from Thursday, so we’re going with Mike.”
— Jets X-Factor (@jetsxfactor) November 10, 2021
Same old Jets.
Or, maybe, just maybe … Same Old Jets?
Mike White is starting, per Saleh. He cites that Zach Wilson’s knee is not yet fully ready to go. #Jets
— Robby Sabo (@RobbySabo) November 10, 2021
Robert Saleh is not shying away from the possibility that Mike White plays well and Zach Wilson sits for a bit. He's not afraid of a situation that sees White play tremendously, and he also cites the idea that there's also value in a young QB sitting/watching/learning. #Jets
— Robby Sabo (@RobbySabo) November 10, 2021
White, 26, represents the fly who’s improving the short-term ointment, so to speak. Although he’s destroying the tidy A-Z plan that featured Zach Wilson becoming the next big thing on Broadway (or the swamps of East Rutherford, for you unique Northern New Jersey folk), the Pembroke, FL native has injected much-needed life into an organization that has simply yet to figure it out.
On one hand, the “Same Old Jets” narrative that features the No. 2 overall pick as the scout team quarterback this week allows the pessimists to familiarly think clear-headed thoughts.
Joe Douglas trading Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers in order to pave the way for Wilson was a hotly-contested debate among fans last offseason. Anything that doesn’t follow that plan will be deemed sideways. (Oh yeah, things haven’t exactly worked out in Carolina since the fool’s gold first three games of the season against the Jets, a New Orleans Saints team without eight coaches, and the Houston Texans; but that’s a different story for another day.)
On the other hand, New York took the tougher yet much more unexpected road—an idea that flies in the face of “Same Old Jets.”
Which Jets regime of recent memory would have made such a fearless call? Mike Maccagnan’s caffeine-fueled cookie-cutter ways don’t support such a brave decision. The plan is the plan is the plan—no matter how many Dunkin’ Donuts cups are strewn about the table.
Teddy Bridgewater over Sam Darnold? No chance in hell—not even for a game or two.
This complicated road also opened up in a somewhat surprising way after Saleh’s words on Monday. The Jets rookie head coach said that Wilson would start if fully healthy.
“If he passes, yeah,” Saleh said. “If he’s fully healthy, for sure (he’ll start).”
Just two days later, Saleh surprisingly didn’t stick to that same script. Although the official word is that Wilson isn’t yet fully ready to go, Saleh’s overall mood, coupled with some of his previous quotes, makes for an interesting short-term future.
Remember, this is the same coach who told the football world that “anything is possible”—as it pertained to the quarterback situation—after White’s 405-yard, three-touchdown performance in the Jets’ 34-31 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. This is the same coach whose overall demeanor makes it feel as though this organization is currently smitten with the quarterback named Mike.
When asked if White’s starting status could linger into Week 11 against the Miami Dolphins, Saleh responded with a, “We’ll see.”
“It is a two-to-four-week injury, obviously,” Saleh added. “He’s trending in the right direction. We’ll see how he practices this week, which was always the goal, and see how he feels coming out of this week.”
Interestingly enough, Wilson’s healthy enough to practice in every regard of the Jets’ regular practice schedule right now.
“He’s going to run the show (scout) team,” Saleh said. “He’ll take reps with the offense (and it’ll) basically (be) a normal practice for him.”
Could anybody imagine the John Idzik-Rex Ryan or even Mike Tannenbaum-Rex Ryan regime making this choice with so little disregard for “proper” quotes intended to combat the quarterback controversy narrative sure to run wild?
Mark Brunell pulling out a game for a struggling Mark Sanchez? What are you nuts?
To even take the chance that White—a former fifth-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys circa the 2018 NFL draft—blows up this Sunday is to shatter everything that’s been written about the glorious and ambitious Zach’s Fifth Avenue plan.
To even point to a career backup when the franchise’s future is sitting right there is to demoralize the promised youngster before he’s even had a fair shake of it in the league.
If Zach Wilson is the genuine article, sitting out a bit should be the least of his concerns.
While it’s true that he’ll more than likely not follow the Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes path to potential quarterback stardom (sit at the start only to be injected when the time is right), not playing after starting the first six games of a rookie season is hardly a quarterback death sentence.
John Elway’s 1983 rookie campaign showcased that exact scenario. After throwing just one touchdown to five interceptions over his first six NFL games, the Denver Broncos benched the No. 1 overall pick who forced his way out of Baltimore.
Here's John Elway's rookie year. Benched after his fifth game, in favor of Steve DeBerg, Elway obviously rebounded.
— Robby Sabo (@RobbySabo) November 10, 2021
Steve DeBerg entered, while the young Stanford kid rested. It didn’t kill his career.
“Coach Dan Reeves said he was also reinstituting the complex multiple offense that he had simplified for Elway,” per the New York Times on Oct. 6, 1983. “Reeves had selected Elway as his starter because he believed that the rookie had more potential for improvement. Elway, the former Stanford quarterback who was the first player selected in the National Football League draft, had trouble reading defenses and completed only 38 of 83 passes for 420 yards, with 1 touchdown and 5 interceptions through 5 games. DeBerg led the Broncos to their only victories in their first two games after Elway was sidelined with slight injuries.”
In fact, Elway has since commented how the benching helped him.
“Really the four games I was benched, I learned a hell of a lot more than in the four games I played just because it’s such a big step,” Elway said in 2019 when discussing the Joe Flacco-Drew Lock situation in Denver. “Then Steve DeBerg got hurt and it gave me a second chance that year, so I was able to come back and had a different viewpoint of it after I sat for those four games.”
While there aren’t too many examples of a highly-drafted quarterback starting the season as the top gun, only to be forced to return later after riding the pine fully healthy, it has indeed happened before. And while the one Elway example is hardly enough evidence to assure the Jets fandom’s worrywarts, the potential positives far outweigh the negatives.
For instance, one of the worst places an NFL franchise can be is stuck in the middle without a clue. Trotting out a young quarterback that’ll never fulfill his promise is a terrible place to live. Obviously, even if Wilson sits on the bench for the rest of the season—which is highly unlikely—his NFL future is still very much there for the taking.
Simply put, the Mike White decision provides more options—a strategy that hasn’t been taken too often around these parts over the last decade.
If White wildly succeeds, great. Sure, controversy will run amok for the rest of the season, but having two valuable quarterbacks surely beats one or even none—especially when still mired in the early stages of program building. In the end, an organization will have to choose who its guy is, but there’d still be plenty of time for that.
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If White fails, Wilson takes back the mantle. Any accusations relating to the Jets ruining his confidence would equal hogwash, for any legitimate NFL quarterback requires an unflappable mind capable of overcoming difficult situations.
A short benching in favor of a hot quarterback (after a legitimate injury) certainly qualifies as an instance a stud quarterback should overcome.
“I think it’s going to happen organically” is how Saleh responded when asked how the Jets’ quarterback situation will ultimately sort itself out. “If Mike does phenomenal like we think he’s going to do, that’s not weird, that’s awesome to me, in the sense that quarterback is a precious commodity in this league, and we feel like we’ve got four really good ones. To answer your question, I think it’ll all take care of itself. We just have to let it play out.”
If Mike White never receives a chance, the wide array of routes Google Maps could provide is limited to just one.
More possibilities with two quarterbacks is a bit complicated, for sure, but it’s this exact mindset that’s also interesting and incredibly refreshing.
A regime worried about headlines and stricken with fear would have turned to Wilson the first moment it could. Officially, Wilson is still “injured,” as Saleh stated Wednesday. “Not quite ready” were his exact words.
Unofficially, however, the No. 2 pick is practicing without limitations as the show team quarterback. (He’ll assume Mr. Josh Allen of Buffalo design this week when the Jets’ first-team defense prepares for the Bills.)
It’s true that Saleh’s spoken words don’t technically commit to any one direction—surely set to muddy it up and provide ammo to each of the salivating sports tabloids—but exactly how the Jets currently feel isn’t complicated at all.
They really like this Mike White kid. They want to see what he has. They also want to win football games. They appropriately feel the need to win football games.
For all of Wilson’s talent, there’s no confusing the fact that he slipped into a dangerous place once Bill Belichick came to town in Week 2. The BYU product allowed his mind to turn him into an overthinking quarterback incapable of making routine throws.
If this other guy can run the offense much more efficiently while helping the younger offensive players develop more rapidly, that certainly still qualifies as part of the written-in-stone long-term plan.
It’s suddenly all about options in Jets land these days.
“If Mike is playing phenomenal football, it is what it is,” Saleh said. “You might call it a controversy or not, but I think I can pull up an article on every single one of you guys that has mentioned that the best thing for a young quarterback is to watch. So, there’s no harm in either way.”
Don’t think for one moment that the Jets are already regretting their choice last May, by the way.
“We have the utmost confidence in Zach when he gets ready to play and he gets back on the football field that he’s going to do a phenomenal job. His talent is undeniable.”
Also undeniable is the idea the New York Jets love Mike White.
As sticky as this situation is and will ultimately become, something refreshing happened on 1 Jets Drive Wednesday …
The New York Jets chose the tougher road that opens them up to unwanted headlines and criticism beyond belief. Most importantly, however, it also opened them up to more possibilities.
Sure, the Mike White path is the more complicated one; but it also dares one to at least rethink “Same Old Jets” just a bit.
It allows the once unthinkable and rewarding road to at least become a possibility.