Mike White’s days could be numbered with the New York Jets
It’s time to have a conversation that might be difficult for the die-hard White fans out there. Could his days as a Jet be coming to an end?
White, 27, entered the 2022 offseason as a restricted free agent. The Jets gave him an original-round tender to keep him on a one-year, $2.54 million deal. He’ll become an unrestricted free agent in 2023.
White is competing against Joe Flacco for the Jets’ backup quarterback job. To this point, Flacco appears to be the clear leader in that battle. In the early goings of training camp, Flacco has been very impressive.
Now, it’s not as if White is struggling. He’s been doing fine. But considering Flacco’s advantages in experience, production (Flacco’s 88.3 passer rating as a Jet versus White’s 75.1), and most importantly, guaranteed salary ($2.85M for Flacco versus $0 for White), White would have to significantly outplay Flacco in order to usurp him for the QB2 role. That has not happened yet.
Of course, there are still plenty of practices left, along with three preseason games. Regardless, things are looking great for Flacco so far.
In all likelihood, White will land in the No. 3 spot on the quarterback depth chart. That leaves us with one question: Would the Jets keep three quarterbacks?
The Jets only kept two quarterbacks on their roster heading into the 2021 season: White and Zach Wilson. But they didn’t have three good options like they do this year. White beat out a struggling James Morgan. Veteran passer Josh Johnson was also in the picture, but he had spent less than a month with the team. Johnson was released and signed to the practice squad.
This year, the idea of keeping three quarterbacks is more intriguing. Flacco is New York’s ideal fit for the short-term backup role, and the potential that White showed at times during the 2021 season makes him enticing to keep around.
The Jets could release White and attempt to stash him on the practice squad, but it seems likely that another team out there would claim him on waivers.
Quarterbacks are a hot commodity in the NFL. A 27-year-old signal-caller with untapped upside – one of his three career starts involved 405 yards and 3 touchdowns against the future AFC champions – is likely too tantalizing to be passed on by 31 teams. I can certainly see a handful of QB-needy teams in the NFL who would scoop him up.
Stashing White on the practice squad is the dream scenario. The Jets could keep their man while opening up a roster spot to use on another position. But White’s resume is good enough to the point where it seems there is a good chance he’d be claimed if released.
So, for the sake of this discussion, let’s assume that the Jets are only left with two choices: keep White as the third quarterback or release him and lose him.
Which way would they go?
I have to think that the Jets will lean toward releasing White and using that roster spot on another position. These are not the Jets of years past – this team is deeper than it’s been in a long time. Keeping three quarterbacks is a luxury decision that would result in the loss of a useful player, not some scrub that nobody would care to lose.
If a team is forced to turn to its third quarterback, their season is toasted anyway. Instead of keeping a player who would only be used in an already-doomed situation, wouldn’t it make more sense to keep someone who can be used on a weekly basis? Most non-quarterbacks can help on special teams or in a situational backup role every single week.
It’s also important to be honest about White’s talent level. Sure, the Bengals game was fun to a historic degree, but let’s take a step back for a moment and analyze the whole picture.
Despite being widely viewed as an optimal game manager, White was actually a turnover machine, finishing the 2021 season with 8 interceptions on just 132 passes. That is incredibly bad. His 6.1% interception rate was the worst in the NFL among the 42 quarterbacks who threw at least 100 passes.
Plus, White’s Bengals game (the sole basis of his allure) tends to be overrated by many fans. While White undoubtedly played a nice game, he was nowhere near 400-yards kind of good when looking at how he performed on an individual level. It was the remarkable YAC performance of the Jets’ weapons that lifted White to his gaudy numbers. Without it, his numbers would have been ordinary.
The Jets’ receivers racked up a whopping 280 yards after the catch against Cincinnati, making up over two-thirds of the Jets quarterbacks’ 422 passing yards (405 by White and 17 by Josh Johnson). Much of that YAC was self-created, as the Jets’ pass-catchers combined for an outstanding total of 9 missed tackles forced after the catch. For reference, the Jets’ season averages for YAC and missed tackles forced after the catch were 115.5 and 3.0, respectively.
White gained 311 of his 405 yards on passes that traveled fewer than 10 yards downfield. He did not attempt a single pass that traveled at least 20 yards downfield.
Ultimately, White was the NFL’s most conservative quarterback last year. He ranked 42nd out of 42 qualifiers with an aDOT (average depth of target) of just 6.4 yards throughout his four starts. Yet, despite his checkdown-loving nature, he still had the league’s highest interception rate.
All of this is to say that I’m not sure White has shown as much ability as many think. While I can certainly picture White carving out a long career as a respectable backup in the NFL, it would be wise to not overrate this player. His appeal is based much more on hype and sentimental value than substance.
Another important thing to keep in mind regarding the idea of keeping White is that the Jets do not have control of him beyond this season. He will be an unrestricted free agent in 2023. That means the idea of developing him into a long-term backup is not plausible.
White can go wherever he wants after this year. Most likely, he will look for a clearer path to a starting job.
There are better players to keep around if the idea is to use that roster spot on developing a player for the future. The Jets have multiple young players on the roster bubble who are under team control in 2023, such as Elijah Riley, Jonathan Marshall, Denzel Mims, Zonovan Knight, DQ Thomas, Nick Bawden, Isaiah Dunn, Kenny Yeboah, and more.
These are players the Jets can keep with the idea of developing. White is not a developmental piece anymore. He’s too old and not under team control. If you’re keeping him, it’s for him to help you win in 2023. And as a QB3, it’s hard to imagine that he will do anything to increase the Jets’ odds of making the playoffs.
Additionally, the Jets have plenty of potential roster-bubble players who offer better short-term impact than White. Vinny Curry and Justin Hardee are two notable veterans who might be in the cut conversation but would certainly help the Jets win games in 2022.
Would keeping White over someone like Curry or Hardee really be a smart move?
If you keep White over a veteran such as Curry or Hardee, it hurts your chances of winning in 2022. If you keep White over a young player such as Riley or Marshall, it hurts your chances of developing an impact player that can be used in 2023 and beyond.
When you piece everything together, it’s looking like the Mike White era in New York could soon be coming to a close. It’s difficult to picture the Jets keeping three quarterbacks. If released, there seems to be a realistic chance he’d be claimed by another team; despite White’s lackluster overall production, there has to be some team out there that would buy into the Bengals game and bring him in.
But if White can manage to clear waivers, I think the Jets would definitely welcome him back on their practice squad. Hey, if NFL teams around the league are as critical of his game as I was with the numbers laid out above, then maybe he will make it through waivers after all.
No matter how it all plays out, the fact that the Jets have to make these tough decisions with useful players is a major positive. Last year, White won the Jets’ QB2 job with relative ease. Now, he might not even make the team. It’s a sign that, after years of building, the Jets are finally filling out their roster with quality talent from top to bottom.