After sustaining a torn meniscus and bone bruise in his right knee last Friday versus the Eagles in Philadelphia, Jets quarterback Zach Wilson underwent surgery on Tuesday in Los Angeles and is expected to be sidelined up to four weeks, perhaps longer. The game, a 24-21 Jets win, was the first this preseason for both teams.
Veteran Joe Flacco, at 37 years old, is on track to start the regular season in place of Wilson on Sept. 11 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey against the Baltimore Ravens. He helped the Ravens win Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, nearly a full decade ago. Flacco was the game’s MVP. This is his second different time being on the Jets roster. He signed a one-deal with them in May of 2020. Moved on to the Eagles in March of 2021, but was traded back to the Jets in October of last year.
But the Jets’ fortunes or misfortunes rest heavily on the arm, legs and brain of the 23-year-old Wilson. His injury is another setback for a team that was 4-13 last season. The job security of Jets general manager Joe Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh is inextricably tied to his performance. It’s how the National Football League is modeled.
A GM falls in love with a college QB and drafts him with a first round pick, often in the top 3. The young man is showered with superlatives by the head coach. He is designated the franchise savior or centerpiece of Super Bowl aspirations. Then the story is written.
In most cases, the would-be star quarterback either becomes a Patrick Mahomes or Daniel Jones. An inevitable Hall of Famer or a player trying to hold onto his job. Wilson is neither yet. He is a second-year QB who only has 13 regular season NFL starts on his resume. Hardly enough to make a definitive assessment of his capabilities to be the Jets’ long-term answer at the position.
Still, he has not inspired confidence in many of the team’s justifiably cynical fans that his career path will come close to that of Aaron Rodgers. Coming out of BYU into the 2021 NFL Draft, many talent evaluators compared Wilson to the four-time league MVP. The Jets clearly viewed Wilson at the very least as a Pro Bowl caliber QB, evidenced by them using a valuable No. 2 overall pick to select him.
As a rookie he looked alarmingly overwhelmed. He operated skittishly in the pocket and struggled reading defenses. The off-platform throws and cannon arm that wowed scouts while he was at BYU were rarely displayed. When they were, the ball often wound up in the hands of opposing defenders. Wilson had only nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions, and a terrible quarterback rating (QBR) of 28.2.
All of those negatives can be reversed and Wilson can still become a quarterback that will elevate the Jets first into a playoff contender and then a Super Bowl challenger. But in the league’s pressurized culture, his opportunities won’t be limitless.