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.
We will probably never know all the details, but I think there was more “mutual” in the separation of Lafleur than just making for a better sound-bite. Why would MLF want to stay here, given his issues w Zach and knowing that more than likely Zach will be here next year? The comments that GW and EM reportedly both made about the offense also paint a less-than-rosy picture.
I was in the “get rid of MLF” corner, especially after not scoring in the final three games. I don’t believe that Woody pushed the move. I think MLF wanted it as much as anyone.
There have been recent reports that Zach dealt w more injury issues than just the knee, I don’t know the credibility of those reports (we saw the late for meetings garbage). I’ve said before, it may be overly simplistic, but I think Zach played scared. Not scared or panicked by progressions, but viscerally scared by large, vicious men who wanted to do him harm. I don’t think you can coach that away. Zach still appears to be a boy amongst men, while Trevor et al is growing into the league.
I sincerely hope this playoff mandate plot line is wholly media created. Yes, Joe D seems to have missed on Zach, but he learned under Newsome w the Ravens and understands that success starts in the trenches. Injuries, and some of his own short-sightedness, precluded any success there this year. The culture change is REAL. We saw its birth and first fruits this year. Shed some cap space, get a QB and draft OL. Be patient w Breece, and get AVT back in the mix. I think there most definitely is a shared vision, we just need to allow it to be fully realized.
Yes, LaFleur likely was fed up with the Jets, but I don’t think he requested to move on. It’s not so simple for him to get another OC position this offseason.
I agree that Zach played scared.
Based on Woody Johnson’s track record, it’s unlikely that Douglas gets a sixth year as GM without a single playoff appearance. Also, his free agency record is pretty brutal.
I have been following the Jets since 1963, went to my first Jets game in 1966, even went to the AFL championship game in 1968. I read as much about the Jets as I can. I read the Zack Rosenblatt article when it first came out. For me, the Rosenblatt put many seemingly disjoined facts and observations into perspective.
In early 2021, a commentator on NFL Radio said that Joe Douglas was “gushing” over Zach Wilson at his pro day, even describing it as a “man crush.” The commentator even said the Jets observed all the off platform throws and thought they had found “Mahomes lite.” When the 49ers were trying to trade up to get Trey Lance a commentator remarked that the 49ers knew not to try to trade with the Jets since the Jets are taking Zach Wilson with the second pick. The decision to pick Wilson was made at the highest levels of the organization. LaFleur might have been part of the decision-making process but it was ultimately up to him to make it work.
In light of the Rosenblatt article, Robert Saleh’s comment about Zach Wilson that “it is okay to be boring” is very telling. The Jets were trying to get Wilson to play within a system which has been shown to work and which regularly schemes receivers open.
As for Zach’s not running, I noticed during this season Zach’s hesitation to take off and run, even when the opportunity is there. My first reaction was that Zach’s non-contact preseason knee injury made him reluctant to run. I don’t blame Zach for this. It must be very scary to a man who plays NFL football to have a non-contact knee injury. So, to a degree, I can understand someone not wanting to threaten their livelihood by running with what he may consider a tender knee and guys trying to take his head off.
The “take off and run” advice also makes sense based on a few disjointed facts. It explains why the third and fourth reads were not getting any opportunities. It also explained my observation that after quick reads, Zach Wilson looked confused about what to do. The “take off and run” advice may have been a way to cut down on turnovers or to avoid taking big hits while standing in the pocket not knowing what to do or maybe to just cut down on Zach’s tendency to play hero ball.
I think too many people are making too big a deal about LaFleur’s comment that the other QBs were having so much success running LaFleur’s system. No one should be faulted by saying what was obvious to anyone who watched the games.
It should not be surprising that different people in the Jets organization would have different ideas on how to use, or even not to use, Zach Wilson. There may be some denial on upper management’s part thinking we have invested so much in Zach Wilson, we have to find a way to make Wilson succeed and the current regime is not working. There may be some frustration on LaFleur’s part watching someone be unable to run his system and knowing that LaFleur would ultimately take the blame. This concern would be magnified when other QBs ran the system more effectively, even if not perfectly. There may be some frustration on Zach Wilson’s part that they were asking him to do more than he was able or felt comfortable doing. And there may be some frustration on Robert Saleh’s part trying to manage the strong personalities of players who saw their chances of success being undermined by poor QB play.
I am not placing the blame on anyone in particular. Like a car accident, there is usually more than one person at fault. Unless Zach Wilson turns it around quickly and with the Jets, his selection with the No. 2 overall pick will be viewed as a failure of biblical proportions. This will set the Jets back for years. Now they will have to trade draft capital to get Derek Carr because they cannot wait for him to go free agent and take the chance that some other team trades for him and pulls the rug out from under the Jets. This was and will be the same draft capital the Jets were going to use to build around Zach Wilson.
Same old Jets? I hope not and, as we all know, hope springs eternal.
I liked the way you summarized and distilled all this. Ultimately, only those in the building and at the highest level will really know what the plan is moving forward now (Johnson, Douglas, and Saleh). However, I thought your summary would seem to show that the fault lies with everyone from Douglas to Saleh to MLF to Wilson. And, for me, if that’s the case, then the fault starts at the top with Douglas and Saleh.
Douglas picked Wilson at number 2 but Douglas has been known to pick players that fit the scheme of his coaches.
So then, Saleh is also at fault. He picked MLF as his OC and knew they were going to pick a rookie QB at number 2. Saleh was also historically a defensive coach so everyone expected his defense to be good (like it was this year) but that also meant he would be more hands off the development and not intimately involved with Wilson and the offensive gameplan. Thus, for Saleh, all the pressure of getting Wilson developed and ready to play would fall on MLF and he was too stubborn to change his scheme to accommodate Wilson and he didn’t seem like he knew how to develop a young QB to reach their potential.
Again, lots of different factors at play here which why I think it’s lazy to just say this was all on Wilson or all on the coaches. I think it’s a bit of both that need to be blamed but Douglas and Saleh deserve most of the blame as this was the plan they decided to go with and they failed to execute that plan.
That was essentially my point, that it was a collective effort and collective blame. There does seem to have been a disconnect between Douglas/Saleh and LaFleur. I think Douglas likely picked who Saleh wanted to pick, but was LaFleur not brought in on the discussion?
Also, this goes back to the criticism of not hiring an experienced OC. LaFleur likely should have started out as an OC with a veteran QB. He did not know how to adjust when his system wasn’t working.
I just don’t see things as dire as people are portraying. There’s no question our locker room today is VASTLY superior to the one Douglas inherited. It is filled with high character guys with all the potential in the world. They have turned the D around to be one of the best in the league. They may have missed on the Zach pick, or maybe they missed on the Lafleur pick, and Zach can be salvaged by a QB guru like Greg Olsen.
Clearly, other articles on JetsXfactor are saying that, with decent QB play, this is a playoff roster. I would trade Moore and Tomlinson to Las Vegas for Carr. He would also love the Olsen signing as he has worked with Olsen before with good success. Then sign Allan Lazard to replace Moore, and draft a Tackle in the 1st round.
Then Carr can stick it to Raiders fans by playing in the Super Bowl in Las Vegas next January.
I think they whiffed on both the LaFleur and Wilson picks, personally. LaFleur, because he couldn’t develop a QB, and Wilson, because he was the wrong QB.
I would not trade Moore, and the Raiders don’t need another overpriced, underachieving OL. Lazard’s skillset is completely different from Moore’s and wouldn’t be a replacement.
This could be read as the Jets wanting to give Zach another year with different coaching.
They better get it right.