FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — As if Zach Wilson needed any more leverage — and he already had plenty — then perhaps the events of Thursday morning pushed the negotiations over the edge and forced the Jets to end what had been a misguided, needless and embarrassing contractual standoff involving the player they hope will be their Super Bowl savior.
With the No. 2 overall pick standing firm on his financial requirements, and with the Jets having little bargaining power, quarterbacks Mike White and James Morgan were so ineffective in practice that general manager Joe Douglas had little choice other than getting this deal done and getting Wilson into camp.
Sure, it was only two days of missed practices, and by the time Wilson makes his mark on the NFL, not being on the field this early will not have been a determining factor in his success or failure. But it was a bad look nevertheless, especially for a team that is still trying to find the next Joe Namath more than half a century after Broadway Joe won the team’s first and only Super Bowl.
Wilson was the only remaining unsigned first-round pick, with fellow first-round quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence, Trey Lance, Justin Fields and Mack Jones all having deals. And with the Jets as desperate as they are to turn things around after a 2-14 season, having Wilson anywhere but on the field only added to the misery.
The value of the deal was already predetermined, based on the league’s rookie salary structure. Wilson has agreed to a four-year, $35.1 million deal that includes a $22.9 million signing bonus. The Jets had tried to get Wilson to defer some of that bonus — which none of the other first-round quarterbacks were asked to do — and insisted on offset language that relates to how much money the Jets are on the hook for in the event they bail early on Wilson. In the end, Wilson gets his bonus in one lump sum and the Jets get some relief with the offset language.
And so begins the partnership of the first-year quarterback and his first-year coach. The Jets can only hope the Wilson-Robert Saleh tandem reaps greater rewards than so many previous quarterback-coach iterations, almost all of which ended in disappointment and none since Namath has ended with a championship.
Saleh didn’t seem too concerned after going through a second practice without his wunderkind quarterback. Even though White and Morgan were alternately mediocre-to-awful on both days — the checkdowns came early and often, completing a slant pass was a herculean task and there was a brutal pick-6 midway through Thursday’s session — Saleh seemed largely unfazed by Wilson’s absence. Mostly because the coach knew the deal would get done at some point soon.
As it turned out, it was a matter of minutes after Saleh spoke that the agreement was reached, so perhaps he had an inkling that things were moving along.
"Every rep is important," Saleh said when asked when his level of concern would grow if the holdout lingered. "My concern is it’s two days too many already for him. But as far as the installs go and the way we’re preparing the rest of the team, it doesn’t concern me at all."
Saleh also wasn’t concerned about Wilson’s absence feeding into the negativity Jets fans have carried with them for so long.
"I get outside perception, outside narrative, ‘Same old Jets,’ whatever," Saleh said. "It has nothing to do with any of that. It has everything to do with a business transaction."
And now that the business of Wilson’s contract is done, Saleh can concentrate on the business of establishing a winning football team.
It starts with the quarterback.
Let the Wilson era commence … for better or for worse.