Jets benching Zach Wilson after Patriots disaster


Zach Wilson is benched, not finished with the Jets. 

Head coach Robert Saleh portrayed Wednesday’s surprising decision to sit Wilson — the No. 2-overall pick in the 2021 draft and $35 million franchise quarterback — and name Mike White the starter Sunday against the Bears as a temporary “reset.” 

“Zach’s career here is not over,” Saleh said. “That’s what everyone wants to shout out. That’s not even close to the case. The full intent is to make sure Zach gets back on the football field at some point this year. When that is, I’ll make that decision, and I’m going to take that day by day.” 

The Jets put Wilson on notice Monday when Saleh didn’t commit to him as this week’s starter. Instead of conducting a sham practice competition to make Wilson “earn” his job or to keep the Bears guessing, Saleh quickly turned to White, who will be backed up by Joe Flacco, with Wilson as a game-day inactive third-stringer. 

“Zach’s decision-making has been fine, his practice habits have been fine,” Saleh said, “but there’s some basic fundamental things that have gone really out of whack for him. This is just an opportunity for him to focus on those things and find a way to reconnect to all the different things we fell in love with during the draft process. It’s something I feel like he is going to be able to do. To ask him to do all those things while preparing for a game is unfair.” 

Jets quarterbacks Zach Wilson (2), Joe Flacco (19) and Mike White (5) run at practice
Jets quarterbacks Zach Wilson (2), Joe Flacco (19) and Mike White (5) run at practice.
Bill Kostroun for NY Post

Wilson is 5-2 since returning from a preseason knee injury, but his failure to fall on the sword after the offense managed 103 yards and three points last Sunday in a loss to the Patriots set off alarms. Saleh downplayed the idea that Wilson could “lose the locker room” and said it had “no bearing” on the decision. 

“Maybe there was a little irritation at the moment,” Saleh said, “but I don’t think there’s a grudge. I don’t think there’s hate. I don’t think there’s lingering effects.” 

Wilson sang a different, more accountable tune Wednesday. He privately apologized to teammates and made it clear that he understands he needs to improve fast. 

Jets quarterbacks Zach Wilson (2), Joe Flacco (19) and Mike White (5)
Jets quarterbacks Zach Wilson (2), Joe Flacco (19) and Mike White (5)
Bill Kostroun for NY Post

“I wouldn’t necessarily say surprised [to be benched] because I haven’t been doing my job,” Wilson said. “Of course, I would like to not agree with the decision and everything, but it comes down to I got to play better. … This is going to be a good opportunity, a humbling opportunity to put my head down and work harder and just be here for this team.” 

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The defense- and run-based Jets (6-4) are in the thick of the playoff race, and the quarterback change was made with a win-now mentality. Wilson has just 13 touchdown passes in his first 20 career starts. 

“Is it a small step back? Absolutely,” Saleh said. “But do I think it’s going to be a great leap forward once resets himself? Absolutely. This is not putting a nail in his coffin.” 

White went 1-2 during his first career starts last season but became a fan favorite during a historic upset of the Bengals. He threw four interceptions in his most recent start. 

“If you turn on clips from whatever week that was last year, everyone is a completely different player,” White said. “If you don’t learn from it, that’s where it can hinder you, so I promise I have learned from it and worked on the bad and built on the good.” 

Jets quarterback Zach Wilson during the team's 10-3 loss to the Patriots on Nov. 20, 2022.
Jets quarterback Zach Wilson during the team’s 10-3 loss to the Patriots on Nov. 20, 2022.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Wilson operated the scout team during Wednesday’s practice. So, he played the part of Bears quarterback Justin Fields, who was drafted nine picks after Wilson and could haunt Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas for years if he continues developing into a dynamic dual-threat at a rapid pace. Douglas was consulted on benching Wilson, whose contract counts $20.7 million combined against the salary cap in 2023 and 2024. 

“In the moment, it’s just not good enough to win football games, and it’s not because he’s not capable,” Saleh said of Wilson’s performance. “He’s capable of so much more than what he’s playing at. The issues for him are so fixable. We haven’t wavered in our belief that he’s going to be the future of this franchise.” 

Saleh named Alex Smith, Rich Gannon and Jets cast-off Geno Smith as quarterbacks whose careers benefited from a “reset” of varying lengths. 

Robert Saleh talks with reporters on Nov. 23, 2022.
Robert Saleh talks with reporters on Nov. 23, 2022.
Bill Kostroun/New York Post

“I have to set my feet, step into my throws,” Wilson said of his fundamentals gone awry, “and I think that’s something I’m going to keep working on.” 

Starting there means a long road back to starting, let alone the upper echelon of quarterbacks. 

“There’s a lot of flashes that happen,” Saleh said, “that you know that normal quarterbacks can’t do.”

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