Zach Wilson has gone from being the future of the New York Jets franchise to an underachieving bench warmer.
Coach Robert Saleh announced Wednesday the decision to bench Wilson and replace him with Mike White as the starting quarterback on Sunday against the Chicago Bears.
“Zach’s career here is not over,” Saleh said, adding that the plan is to get the second-year quarterback “reset” with the hope that Wilson plays again this season. “This is not putting a nail in his coffin.”
Joe Flacco will serve as White’s backup, and Wilson will not be active against the Bears.
“We have not wavered in our belief that he is going to be the future of this franchise,” Saleh said.
Saleh did not commit Monday to having Wilson under center this week after the second-year quarterback’s dismal performance in the Jets’ 10-3 loss to the Patriots in New England. The second overall pick in the draft last year was 9 of 22 for a paltry 77 yards with several wayward throws. The Jets managed just two total yards on seven possessions in the second half.
Many Jets fans wanted their team to draft Justin Fields instead of Wilson in 2021. Fields eventually fell to the Bears at No. 11, and has been in impressive form this season, playing in the rush and pass game.
Saleh said he will evaluate the quarterback position on a day-to-day basis, adding that the entire offense needs to be better.
“His decision-making has been good, his practice habits and all that has been good,” Saleh said of Wilson. “But there’s some basic fundamentals that have really gotten out of hand for him. This is just an opportunity for him to sit back, focus on those things, find a way to reconnect with all the different things that we fell in love with during the draft process. And that’s something I feel he’s going to be able to do.”
Wilson has drawn a lot of criticism this week, not just for his play on the field, but how he handled the postgame press conference. Asked if he thought he and the offense let down the defense that sacked Mac Jones six times, Wilson replied curtly: “No. No.”
There appeared to be a lack of accountability and rubbed someone inside the Jets locker room the wrong way. Rookie wide receiver Garrett Wilson aired after the game, without using a name, saying the offense had a “sorry” performance and “hopefully this is a wake-up call for some people in the facility.”
Saleh acknowledged there may have been “a bit of irritation” but insisted Zach Wilson’s comments had no bearing on the decision.
On Wednesday, the quarterback said he regretted his comments over the weekend and had apologized to his teammates. He also said he understood the criticism that has come his way.
“It’s deserved,” Wilson said of the criticism. “The way I handled the situation was not right. I have to become a better football player and then I have to be a better leader for these guys. I have an opportunity to turn the page here as a player and manager.”
Saleh’s non-commitment on Monday that Wilson would remain the starter was the first time the Jets turned to public support for the young QB. The main focus for the franchise this season has been Wilson’s continued development.
Wilson is 5-2 this season as the starter for the Jets, who are off to a surprising 6-4 start and in the middle of the playoff hunt. But he has struggled with consistency and not shown the progress expected of him. Wilson has just four touchdown passes and five interceptions in seven starts.
“I’ve got to do a better job for him,” offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said. “I’ve got to do a better job for the offense.”
Flacco, who started the first three games while Wilson was sidelined with a knee injury, still leads the Jets with five TD throws despite not playing since Sept. 25. Flacco was dropped to No. 3 behind White on the team’s depth chart a few weeks ago.
“He’s more than capable of getting it done,” LaFleur said of White.
White briefly became a bit of a folk hero for the Jets last season during a four-game stretch that included three starts and one that landed his jersey and a game ball in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Making his first NFL start against Cincinnati on October 31, 2021, in place of an injured Wilson, White completed 37 of 45 passes for 405 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions in a 34–31 victory.
White, a 2018 fifth-round pick of Dallas out of Western Kentucky, joined Cam Newton (2011) as the only players since 1950 to pass for at least 400 yards in their first career start. White’s 37 completions were the most by a player in his first start.
He injured his right forearm early in his next start and was forced out of the Jets’ 45-30 loss at Indianapolis. White started in New York’s next game against Buffalo, but was intercepted four times in the 45-17 loss. He hasn’t batted an eye in a regular game since.