From the moment Zach Wilson’s right knee buckled as he tried to avoid Eagles tacklers early in Friday night’s preseason opener to the time the news of his diagnosis came out late Saturday morning, one word best describes the outcome of a flood of doomsday emotions Jets fans experienced:
At least for now. And if you’re into crossing fingers at a time like this, do it.
The angst was palpable as Wilson lay on the grass at Lincoln Financial Field before limping to the sideline and being taken to the locker room for further evaluation. After all of the good vibes of an offseason filled with enthusiasm and optimism about how he’d begun to more fully grasp the Jets’ offense, could this really be happening? Was the Jets’ season ruined even before it began?
That decision he made to cut to the inside rather than go out of bounds in a meaningless preseason game — had it resulted in a torn ACL? Would the Jets suddenly be forced to consider trading for Jimmy Garoppolo, whose time with the 49ers is over now that Trey Lance has been anointed as the starter? (More on that in a minute.)
Was this simply the latest iteration of the Same Old Jets mantra that has been the soundtrack for so much of the aftermath of that iconic Namathian moment of triumph on Jan. 12, 1969?
The immediate Twitter speculation was rampant, complete with “reports” that it indeed was a season-ending ACL tear. Recollections of other unfortunate preseason injuries — see: Mark Sanchez’s shoulder injury in 2013 after Rex Ryan put him back in the game against the Giants — added to the freakout dynamic. And even the most loyal Jets fans had to wonder: Again? Really?
Finally, just before noon on Saturday, the word was out: The morning after coach Robert Saleh indicated the team believed that Wilson’s ACL indeed was intact, an MRI indicated he had suffered a bone bruise and some damage to the meniscus.
The prognosis is a recovery period of between two and four weeks, leaving open the possibility that Wilson could be ready for the Jets’ Sept. 11 opener against the Ravens at MetLife Stadium.
But . . . one important note of caution: If doctors determine during the surgical procedure that there is more damage than the initial MRI indicated, it’s conceivable that a more extensive repair will be required, along with a longer rehab period. So don’t sound the all-clear just yet.
Even if it turns out that a fully healed Wilson gets back in the lineup in a few weeks, there surely are challenging times ahead. It’s unrealistic to think there will be a meteoric jump from last year’s 4-13 season, especially in a division that features a legit Super Bowl contender in Buffalo, a 2021 playoff team in New England and an upgraded Dolphins team that now includes Tyreek Hill.
This is Wilson’s team, and it will go as far as he can take it once he gets back on the field. And if the worst-case scenario had materialized — or still might happen, if the damage is more severe — the suggestions that the Jets ought to trade for Garoppolo certainly are understandable in a crisis moment. But only to a point.
Remember, this is not a team that’s a quarterback away from contending, even if Garoppolo has familiarity with Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur from their days in San Francisco. Trading for Garoppolo would be risky at best, for a number of reasons.
First, do you really want to pay his $24.2 million salary in 2022 and give up draft picks for a one-year rental on a quarterback coming off shoulder surgery?
Woody Johnson went for it with the Brett Favre trade in 2008, and he might be tempted by a Garoppolo deal if Wilson is out longer than expected. But Garoppolo is no Tom Brady, and it’s a stretch to think he could get a team this young into the playoffs. And even if he did, do you suddenly give up on Wilson heading into next year?
Of course not. There’s simply too much invested in him, and you don’t just move on from talented quarterbacks on their rookie contracts.
The hope for the Jets is that they won’t have to consider that scenario, and that their worst fears about Wilson don’t come true.