Zach Wilson went from being the future of the New York Jets franchise to an underachieving bench warmer.
Head coach Robert Saleh announced Wednesday the decision to seat Wilson and replace him with Mike White as the starting quarterback Sunday against the Chicago Bears.
“Zach’s career here isn’t over,” Saleh said, adding that the plan is to “restore” the sophomore quarterback with the hopes that Wilson will play again this season. “This isn’t putting a nail in his coffin.”
Joe Flacco will serve as White’s backup and Wilson will not be active against the Bears.
“We have not wavered in our belief that will be the future of this franchise,” Saleh said.
Saleh did not pledge to have Wilson in center on Monday following the sophomore quarterback’s poor performance in the Jets’ 10-3 loss to the Patriots in New England. The overall choice no. 2 in last year’s draft was 9-of-22 for a paltry 77 yards with several wayward shots. The Jets managed just two total yards on seven possessions in the second half.
Many Jets fans wanted their team to pick Justin Fields over Wilson in 2021. Fields eventually fell to the #11 ranked Bears, and has been in impressive form this season, making plays in the running and passing game.
Saleh said he will evaluate the quarterback position on a daily basis and added that the entire offense needs to be better.
“His decision making was fine, his practical habits and everything else was fine,” Saleh said of Wilson. “But there are some core fundamental things that really freaked out for him. This is just a chance for him to sit down, focus on those things, find a way to reconnect with all the different things that we fell in love with during the draft process. And that’s something I feel like he’s going to be able to do.
Wilson has received a lot of flak this week not only for his play on the court, but also for how he handled his postgame press conference. When asked if he thought he and the offense let down the defense that sacked Mac Jones six times, Wilson snapped back, “No. No.”
It seemed to be a lack of accountability and he rubbed some inside the Jets locker room the wrong way. Rookie wide receiver Garrett Wilson vented after the game, without using names, saying the offense had a “sorry” performance and “hopefully this is a wake-up call for some people in the facility.”
Saleh acknowledged there may have been “a little irritation” but insisted Zach Wilson’s comments had no bearing on the decision.
On Wednesday, the quarterback said he regretted his comments over the weekend and apologized to his teammates. He also said he understood the criticisms that came his way.
“It’s deserved,” Wilson said of the criticism. “The way I handled the situation was not right. I have to be a better football player and then I have to be a better leader for these guys. I have the opportunity to move on here as a player and a leader.”
Saleh’s lack of commitment Monday to Wilson remaining the starter was the first time the Jets have hinged on their public support for the young QB. The main focus for the franchise this season has been the continued development of Wilson.
Wilson is 5-2 this season as the starter for the Jets, who are off to a startling 6-4 start and are in the midst of the playoff chase. But he struggled consistently and didn’t show the progress expected of him. Wilson has just four touchdown passes and five interceptions in seven starts.
“I have to do a better job for him,” said offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. “I have to do a better job for the offense.”
Flacco, who started the first three games while Wilson was sidelined with a knee injury, still leads the Jets with five touchdowns despite not playing since September 25. Flacco was dropped to No. 3 behind White on the team’s depth chart a few weeks ago.
“He’s more than capable of doing that,” LaFleur said of White.
White briefly became a folk hero for the Jets last season during a four-game stretch that included three starts and one that landed his jersey and a game ball in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In his first NFL start against Cincinnati on October 31, 2021, in place of an injured Wilson, White completed 37 of 45 passes for 405 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions in a 34-31 win.
White, a 2018 Dallas fifth-round draft pick from Western Kentucky, joined Cam Newton (2011) as the only players since 1950 to pass for at least 400 yards in their first career start. White’s 37 completions were the most by a player in his first start.
He injured his right forearm early in his next start and was forced out in the Jets’ 45-30 loss at Indianapolis. White started New York’s next game against Buffalo but was intercepted four times in their 45-17 loss. He hasn’t taken a snap in a regular season game since.