FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Well, didn’t this just get interesting?
Two days after indicating that No. 2 overall draft pick Zach Wilson would resume as the Jets’ starting quarterback once his knee was sufficiently healed from a PCL injury, coach Robert Saleh reversed course and left the door open for Mike White to keep the job for at least a while longer.
Good for Saleh.
While the rookie coach is now wading into murky waters with his rookie quarterback, opening things up into more of a competition will ultimately be beneficial for the team. And for Wilson, who now knows he doesn’t have a lock on the job just because of where he was drafted.
Competition is a good thing, and Saleh is banking on the notion that having a quarterback who can operate the offense efficiently — regardless of whether he was once a practice squad player few people had ever heard of before he pulled off an upset of the Bengals in Week 8 — will benefit his team.
Saleh surely doesn’t want to go down the rabbit hole of a quarterback controversy, and he has invited some second-guessing with his mixed messaging. He wanted to leave himself some wiggle room after White’s sensational performance in a 34-31 win over the Bengals by not committing to putting Wilson back in immediately after he is ready to get under center.
"We’ll go day-to-day, but anything is possible, right?" Saleh said in his postgame news conference.
Then on Monday, with Wilson on the mend and ready to return to practice, Saleh suggested the job was his once he’s physically ready.
"Yeah, if he’s fully healthy, for sure," Saleh said.
To his credit, Saleh didn’t fully commit to Wilson, responding to a question of whether he’d continue to start regardless of how White plays in the event he started against Buffalo. "Can we go day-to-day on this one?" the coach said. "We’ll see."
Well, we saw on Wednesday.
Saleh is clearly leaving his options open. And if White, who hurt his forearm in the first quarter of last Thursday night’s game in Indianapolis, has another monster performance against the Bills, rest assured the coach isn’t taking him out of the lineup just to put Wilson back in, even if the knee injury is sufficiently healed.
Saleh did say that he believes the situation will work itself out "organically." Agreed. Competition has a way of resolving these sorts of things, and we’ll get a better idea about whether White is indeed the quarterback who threw for 405 yards and three touchdowns against the Bengals, or if he’s the guy the Cowboys decided wasn’t good enough when they released him in 2018 and the Jets decided wasn’t worthyof a full-time roster spot last year.
Saleh is smart for allowing himself — and his quarterbacks — some breathing room. There’s no reason to anoint either quarterback, or to count either one out. White has earned the right to another start, and Wilson, who threw nine interceptions in his first five games, isn’t entitled to reclaim his spot simply because the Jets invested the second pick and a fully guaranteed $35.1 million contract.
"His talent is undeniable," Saleh said of Wilson. "There’s a great amount of growth whether he’s playing or not. You can get both done."
Saleh said he and general manager Joe Douglas are "committed to doing what’s best for this organization. That’s always the commitment."
And what’s best right now is to give White another shot against the Bills, give Wilson another week to heal and watch White, who has commanded the offense in his five quarters as the starter. Joe Flacco will serve as the backup on Sunday, and Wilson will again be on the sideline.
Once the knee is healed enough to get him back on the field, Saleh will have another decision to make. He hopes White will make it a difficult one by continuing to play well.
Then again, if that’s the case, it won’t be a tough call. White will continue to get the nod, and Wilson will have to wait for his next chance. And if you’ve been around the NFL for any length of time, you know that next chance will happen. Wilson must simply be ready when his number is called again.