There seemed to have been a Zach Wilson disconnect from Day 1
Insight from within the Jets’ organization over the last couple of seasons leads to more troubling questions than answers.
Zack Rosenblatt, The Athletic‘s New York Jets beat reporter, wrote an in-depth piece covering what went into Mike LaFleur’s departure from the team. Some of it had already been publicly explored, such as Elijah Moore‘s midseason trade request and whether Woody Johnson forced Robert Saleh‘s hand in firing LaFleur.
However, the broader picture leaves many Jets fans and analysts wondering whether the Jets really know what they’re doing, a question that has frequently risen over the last half-century.
Here are a few of the key takeaways from Rosenblatt’s article.
1. Mike LaFleur was seemingly never on board with Zach Wilson as the QB.
This is troubling in light of the fact that LaFleur was hired when the Jets had the No. 2 overall pick and were, presumably, going to take a quarterback. You would assume that Joe Douglas spoke to Robert Saleh about his vision for the Jets’ QB position prior to hiring him as the head coach, and that question was certainly posed to LaFleur, as well.
Was LaFleur not part of whatever meetings the Jets did with Zach Wilson prior to the draft? Was there already a disconnect before Wilson was selected No. 2 overall? Or, as we have suspected all along, was LaFleur completely insistent on fitting a Wilson-sized peg into his round playbook hole?
According to Rosenblatt, “Over the offseason, LaFleur and quarterbacks coach Rob Calabrese studied what worked for Wilson in 2021 and what didn’t. There was some level of frustration. LaFleur would tell people how much more effective the offense looked with [other] quarterbacks. The stats backed it up.”
While this is something many Jets fans have commented on, the fact is that it’s the coach’s job to get the most out of his players. If LaFleur wasn’t happy that Wilson couldn’t get his scheme, it was up to him to find what did work. That’s what Brian Daboll is doing with Daniel Jones, and that’s what coordinators across the league are doing to get the most out of their young, inexperienced, or beaten-down quarterbacks.
Furthermore, it was noted last offseason that the Jets threw the entire playbook at Wilson and expected him to pick it up on the fly. Is it shocking that QBs with more experience with learning playbooks, regardless of how much playing time they had actually received, would have an easier time learning a new scheme than a rookie?
To be clear, I am not defending Wilson or saying that it was all LaFleur’s fault. But this definitely sounds like an offensive coordinator and QB coach who had no idea how to develop a young quarterback.
2. Either Wilson is uncoachable, or someone is lying.
According to Rosenblatt’s article, LaFleur told Zach Wilson that if his first and second reads were not there, he should run.
Watching Wilson play throughout this season, it is difficult to believe that this is actually what LaFleur told him. Throughout the first half of the season, Jets fans found themselves screaming at the screen, “Run it!” Wilson showed enticing elusiveness in his rookie season, and the opportunities were there for him to use his legs. Rarely, however, did he actually do so.
If LaFleur did tell Wilson to run and Zach simply refused, then this is quite a strong condemnation of the QB’s coachability. We see other young QBs take off every day of the week, and Wilson is as athletic and elusive as many of them, if not more so. Daniel Jones often scrambles after missing an open read, but he makes up for it with his legs. Wilson could have done the same.
It’s hard to know what the truth is here, but when you see a QB stubbornly remain in the pocket until the last game before his benching, it’s fair to wonder whether that was at the coach’s directive. We wondered repeatedly whether Saleh and LaFleur told Wilson to remain in the pocket to prevent injuries.
3. The Jets’ ownership can be a big problem.
As Rosenblatt noted, Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh were both hired by Christopher Johnson, not Woody. However, Woody has resumed his day-to-day involvement in the Jets’ organization, and he is far too responsive to public opinion and fans’ fickle moods.
It is apparent that even if Woody did not mandate that Saleh fire Mike LaFleur, there was clearly unspoken pressure to Make Changes. LaFleur stepped down to save Saleh from having to fire his best friend’s younger brother, but Saleh clearly did not want to remove him.
Although I was in the camp that Mike LaFleur should be fired, having an owner step in to go over the coach’s head is never a good thing. It appears that Saleh’s autonomy has been compromised, even if not outright or directly. Even if Douglas and Saleh are on the same page, having an owner bringing down the whip will not do them any favors.
Things can get even worse if Johnson meddles in who the next offensive coordinator should be. Remember, Woody’s last coaching hire was Adam Gase.
4. The whole saga has “Same Old Jets” written all over it.
So much of 2022 was about trying to get the “SOJ” vibe out of the building. Although most did not expect a playoff appearance heading into the season, fans craved respectability. The Jets appeared to be heading in that direction through nine games, but the way the bottom fell out left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth and the words “Same Old Jets” on the lips of the rest of the league.
Drafting a monumental bust with the No. 2 overall pick is bad enough, but the drama surrounding the exit of Mike LaFleur somehow makes it even worse. The Jets will need to hit a home run with their offensive coordinator pick and acquire a QB who can inspire confidence in not only the team but the fanbase.
2023 must be the year that the Jets are not just relevant, but a contender. 9-8 and backing in as the seventh seed isn’t good enough.
It’s go time for Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh.