The New York Jets have built a supporting cast that eliminates excuses for Zach Wilson
The five-year window of the NFL first-round quarterback has been well-documented in the last 10 years. With quarterback pay ballooning out of control in recent memory, it is even more pivotal for a team to win big while their young quarterback is still on that value-driven rookie deal.
This often leads to questions in a quarterback’s third or fourth year. Sometimes, the quarterback has had every opportunity to demonstrate their talent. Players such as Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Baker Mayfield had enough talent around them for evaluators to conclude that they were not the guy worthy of big money. (Unfortunately, they discovered it a year too late.)
Then you have other guys like Tua Tagovailoa, Daniel Jones, and Sam Darnold, who have never played with enough talent around them to know if it’s them or their team. You may think it’s them—how many first-round quarterbacks have become the guy after flaming out with their first team?—but there’s always the hope that the first-round pedigree was worthwhile.
Teams react differently to quarterbacks in that latter category.
The Giants are hedging their bets with Jones, given the lack of a better alternative in their cap situation, allowing him to start while declining his fifth-year option. They are saying, “Prove to us that you’re worth it, or we’ll go get Bryce Young next year.”
The New York Jets decided not to go that route with Darnold; they had seen enough.
They suckered Carolina into giving up a second-round pick for Darnold and are laughing all the way to Breece Hall. Meanwhile, Carolina eats crow and cries over having picked up Darnold’s fifth-year option while realizing that the Jets knew what they were doing, surprisingly.
In Tua’s third year, the Dolphins decided to get the answer once and for all rather than going the Jones or Darnold route: They loaded their roster, adding Terron Armstead to protect Tua’s blindside, traded a boatload of the future for Tyreek Hill (to pair him with Jaylen Waddle), added Cedrick Wilson as a nice third option, and franchise-tagged Mike Gesicki. There are no more excuses for Tua; it’s time to put up or shut up. If he fails this year, he’s done.
The Jets are not going to make the same mistakes with Zach Wilson that they did with Darnold. They want to have a good read on Wilson by the end of this year. He doesn’t have to figure it all out—not even the most optimistic Jets fan expects Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow or Justin Herbert—but this second year holds incredible evaluating value.
Joe Douglas went out and loaded his offensive arsenal. Jets fans are still praying he knows what he’s doing with Mekhi Becton, and the Jets are one injury away from having Chuma Edoga starting at tackle once again. But on paper, Wilson has legitimate weapons around him.
Wilson has two starting-caliber running backs, including the best running back in the 2022 NFL draft, Breece Hall. He has two tight ends who can actually catch the ball (C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin), and a third one who was amazingly productive in the few catching opportunities he had in college (Jeremy Ruckert).
At wide receiver, Wilson has a young big-play threat who showed tremendous potential last year (Elijah Moore), a veteran who has proven he can be a very solid number two option (Corey Davis), a rookie whose speed-hands combination reminds some analysts of Davante Adams and Odell Beckham Jr. (Garrett Wilson), and a slot/gadget guy who performed quite nicely when asked to step up last season (Braxton Berrios).
The Jets signed an anchor at guard in Laken Tomlinson and have an offensive line that was ranked 11th in the NFL by PFF last year—despite playing the likes of Greg Van Roten, Conor McDermott, and the aforementioned Edoga for large parts of the year.
As the Dolphins have done for Tua this year, so have the Jets done for Wilson in Year 2.
It’s no coincidence that Aaron Rodgers became Aaron Rodgers or that Patrick Mahomes became Patrick Mahomes. It’s also no coincidence that Josh Allen took a major leap in Year 3 when Stephon Diggs came aboard.
Most young quarterbacks cannot develop without talent around them. Deshaun Watson was able to prove himself on a 4-12 team with no one to protect him, but he’s a rare exception. (He was also in his third year after two prior seasons of showing his talents and learning with DeAndre Hopkins as his primary target.)
The time has come for Zach to show Jets fans why he was the number two overall pick. Wilson must show the team his ability to throw on the run, make off-platform throws, step up in the pocket, go through his progressions, and make big plays. He must learn to take the dump-offs and the easy throws instead of trying to play hero ball. He has the weapons around him.
Yes, the Jets have a brutal slate ahead of them. Yes, there are still questions, especially on the defensive side of the ball and with Mekhi Becton on the line.
But it’s not all about the win-loss record this year, though taking the over on the Jets is the most popular NFL bet in Vegas right now. It’s about Zach’s progress and hopefully not getting embarrassed along the way. It’s about going toe-to-toe with Mac Jones and not coming out looking like a mistaken pick. It’s about going into Year 3 saying, “We’ve got our guy.”
If Wilson does not do those things this season, if he looks as lost as he did earlier last year, maybe Brady Quinn is right. Maybe the Jets do need to go back to the drawing board next year.
It’s up to Zach to prove him wrong. Joe Douglas has given him every opportunity to do so.