The most remarkable aspect of the 10 days since Aaron Rodgers tore his Achilles and ended his season is how little things have changed on the Jets’ roster.
Oh, there have been mega-shifts in terms of expectations and noise and concern and dread and confidence and all the emotions that have engulfed the organization in this short amount of time. And in terms of philosophies and gameplans, what they think will work and what obviously no longer will, the Jets might as well be a completely different team than the one that sprinted proudly onto the field on Sept. 11 waving American flags and boasting a Hall of Fame quarterback.
So far, as it affects their ranks, however, they’ve done nothing.
No free agency signings. No trade talks -- or at least none that have leaked out (to be fair there may be conversations happening behind closed doors). They put Rodgers on IR and promoted Tim Boyle from the practice squad and that’s it.
At a moment when most figured Joe Douglas would be sprinting for his speed dials to scrounge up someone – anyone – who could run the fastest go route to get themselves to Florham Park and help not only lift the suddenly vulnerable offense but also assuage the psychological onus that this team has had to carry, the general manager has decided to stand pat with what he has.
An odd strategy compounded in absurdity when considering who their current starting quarterback is.
After the Jets lost Breece Hall last October Douglas immediately went to work and brought in James Robinson to help the running back room.
Since Rodgers was carted away last Monday night he hasn’t done a thing.
That word – yet -- is why no one has more to lose Sunday when the Jets face the Patriots than Zach Wilson. The team would fall to 1-2 with time remaining to regroup. The quarterback would fall into oblivion.
Wilson doesn’t even have to win the game himself to maintain this personnel status quo that the Jets seem willing to entertain for the time being. Sure, anything he does to help end the 14-game losing streak against the hated AFC East rival will help his stature with the fans and in the locker room. Victory does not need to ride on his right arm and two scrambling legs, though.
Even if he is a total non-factor in whatever the outcome happens to be in this game, that may be enough to buy him a few more weeks as the starter here.
But if he turns in the kind of pitiful performance that he has thus far given in his four career games against Bill Belichick and the Pats –two touchdowns and seven interceptions that have led to a 0-4 record mostly of his own making – Douglas will be left with no choice but to consider swift and immediate emergency procedures.
Wilson completed just 9 of 22 passes for 77 yards in a 10-3 loss the last time he faced the Patriots. On Wednesday, cornerback Sauce Gardner recalled that contest as “frustrating,” and while he didn’t say so it certainly wasn’t because the D allowed three points to the New England offense. It became the game upon which Wilson’s trajectory pivoted. That may well be the case this time around too.
If he flops, the Jets will have to find another option – fast – before the entire team begins to spiral and 2023 becomes a copy-paste of 2022.
For Wilson, who has already burned through more than his share of chances with this team, there would be no coming back from that this time. Not this season, and certainly not next season when Rodgers figures to return and Wilson will be in the fourth (and, assuming there is no fifth-year option picked up by the team in the spring, final) year of his rookie contract. He’s on his last chance in New York.
While the Jets like to frame their inactivity on the quarterback front thus far as a vote of confidence in Wilson, the reality is they haven’t had much time to pursue other options. It was a short week heading into Dallas and they had to be ready to go with that gameplan just hours after the opening night win over Buffalo.
“It’s not Madden in the sense that we can just plug and play anybody,” Robert Saleh said of the quarterback hunt last week. “There’s a lot of meetings, a lot of practices, a lot of nuance, a lot of understanding why things are the way they are that go into it. So, just plugging and playing a quarterback, it’s going to take time for whoever comes in this building to figure out what we’ve done over the last six, seven months and to create their identity within the system.”
Their options are also limited. There are only a few veteran free agents and starters on other teams available now who would be true difference-makers. And remember, Rodgers figures to be back next year, so they are only looking for a one-season rental. As the season goes on and some of those teams with expendable quarterbacks should start to sort themselves out as sellers, players such as Matthew Stafford and Kirk Cousins may suddenly become tradeable. The problem is that the Jets may be just as sunk as those other teams by then.
The Jets need to be ready to pounce, and there are signs that they will be.
On Wednesday, shortly after the team’s practice, the Jets held free agency tryouts in their fieldhouse. Was there a quarterback among them? The list of prospects will be unveiled Thursday afternoon, but chances should be high that at least one contingency for the position was explored.
Wilson didn’t do much against the Cowboys, but it was enough to escape responsibility for a loss that fell mostly on the defense and offensive line. That bought him this week.
If those two other elements improve as they should against a New England team far less talented than Dallas, and the Jets still lose because Wilson does not, then quarterbacking the team and trying to not get in the way of everyone else’s already dwindling championship aspirations needs to become someone else’s job.
Not 10 days after it happens, either, but immediately.
Zach Wilson's career numbers against the Patriots:
Comp. pct. 50.9
Yards per game 173.3
TD passes 2
QB rating 50.6