The futility of long-term planning in football will be on display Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
After an offseason in which both the Giants and the Jets spent enormous resources in effort, coaching, scouting, decision-making and roster-building to create teams that would revolve around their starting quarterbacks — not to mention doling out a combined $275 million in long-term contracts to those two players, with $167 million of it guaranteed and a total 2023 price tag of roughly $83 million — neither Aaron Rodgers nor Daniel Jones figure to even be in their No. 8 uniforms for one of the more significant contests of the first half of this season.
Summertime afterthoughts Zach Wilson and Tyrod Taylor will instead be the ones likely leading their teams into the action on that late October afternoon, just as they have been for the last few weeks.
Welcome to the Backup Bowl.
“That’s the league we’re in,” Brian Daboll said on Wednesday shortly after announcing no change in Jones’ status from the previous two weeks and no medical clearance for him to return to full contact practice or play. “Whoever is the next man up, that’s why they are on your team and you get them ready to play, whether that’s quarterback or left tackle, running back, whatever it may be. That’s why you have a roster. You try to build it as deep as you can build it and keep the guys who you think when their number is called they’ll go out there and execute.”
There is at least something close to irony that Rodgers was able to square off against the Giants briefly as a Jet, in a far less fraught setting, when the two teams met in the preseason. Back then there was plenty of hand-wringing about risking injury to the offensive cornerstones of the organizations. Was playing him in a meaningless exhibition really worth the risk?
Rodgers made it through that game unscathed. The scathe would come shortly afterward.
The Jets saw Rodgers last all of four snaps in the regular-season opener before his Achilles popped. Wilson took over and after some uneven play in the first few games as the reinstituted starting quarterback has become something of a stable if not showy presence for a team that relies mostly on its defense and running game to achieve success.
“As far as game-planning and trying to figure it out, we’re not trying to hide Zach at all,” Robert Saleh said earlier this week. “We’re letting him play football and the play designs and the game plan is one for a quarterback that we trust.”
Jones at least made it through a month before the onslaught of hits from playing behind a disjointed offensive line finally did him in, his neck suffering damage on a blindside tackle against the Dolphins in Week 4. Taylor has taken every snap since, including a two-touchdown performance against the Commanders last week that created something of a debate about whether he or Jones is better suited to run the offense as it is currently formulated.
For this week, Daboll probably won’t have to make an actual decision on that matter. Until Jones is medically cleared for contact, it’s all moot.
Daboll did say he will have Jones back as the starter once that light from the docs flashes green, and he even left the door open for that to occur later this week and in time for Sunday despite Jones not taking any first-team practice reps since his injury. But if Taylor continues to play at a winning level for an extended period of time, it may be more difficult to pull him from the lineup.
Saleh has no current say in his quarterback situation either, though he might have to make a call later in the year if Rodgers continues on an advanced trajectory in his rehab and is able to play before the season ends. At that point, the Jets may still be contenders with Wilson playing the position and the organization will have to decide how to handle Rodgers’ potential return.
Both of those calls, strangely enough, will be made more complex with each successful outing by the replacement, with each game in which the projected starters drift further and further from the day-to-day narratives of the teams, with each week that the face of the franchise becomes blurred.
Neither may have to make that decision this week, though. The Jets certainly won’t.
So, on Sunday, they’ll just have to go with the quarterbacks they’ve got . . . and not the ones they each envisioned.