The Jets can’t afford to be wrong about Zach Wilson


Sunday marks 660 days since the Jets hired Joe Douglas as their general manager.

Since June 7, 2019, Douglas has made major roster changes, but it still looks like he has yet to put his stamp on the Jets. Somehow it still feels like you’re new to the job. His biggest move so far has been a subtraction, not an addition: the Jamal Adams trade last summer.

All of that is about to change.

It’s becoming clear that Douglas is about to take BYU quarterback Zach Wilson with the No. 2 pick in this year’s NFL draft, and leave Sam Darnold behind.

It’s a move that will strongly dictate how the next few years, and possibly more, will go for the Jets. It is a move that will define Douglas’s tenure. It’s a move that carries a lot of risk and will have devastating effects on the Jets and Douglas if he gets it wrong.

That six-year contract you received two years ago is not a life appointment. At some point, the Jets will have to win under Douglas’s supervision. They are 9-23 in their two years with the team. In that time, former general manager Mike Maccagnan and former coach Adam Gase received most of the blame for that record from fans and the media. However, those days are almost over. Maccagnan’s influence on the list will be felt for another year. Gase has been replaced by Robert Saleh, who was personally chosen by Douglas.

Jets general manager Joe Douglas;  Zach Wilson
Jets general manager Joe Douglas; Zach Wilson
Jets, AP

Now, it looks like he’s going to recruit his quarterback. It is possible, of course, that the Jets decide to stay with Darnold, but all indications are that they are ready to move on. That’s what the people of the league have been whispering for weeks. Douglas, Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur traveled to Provo, Utah, on Friday to watch Wilson pitch during BYU pro day in a demonstration of how serious they are with the quarterback.

The 49ers and Eagles then made changes that indicated they knew the Jets planned to bring Wilson to No. 2. San Francisco moved up to No. 3 and reportedly didn’t even make an offer to the Jets, maybe because they knew the Jets. The plans are already in place. The Eagles reportedly rose to No. 3, but only to select Wilson. Philadelphia decided to go back to 12, probably knowing Wilson won’t be there after the Jets’ pick.

The 49ers and the Eagles are two teams with close ties to the Jets’ jets. Saleh and LaFleur just spent four years with the 49ers. Douglas was an executive for the Eagles before accepting the Jets job. Those teams probably know what the Jets think better than most.

If the choice is Wilson, the move carries more risk than any other Douglas I’ve made here. He’s generally been happy with base hits and doubles, but this is a swing for the fences. If it works, it will be Babe Ruth. If it fails, it will appear smaller than Dr. Ruth.

Wilson, 21, is not a mate. A year ago, it would have been ridiculous to think of him as the second pick. Wilson had 11 passing touchdowns and nine interceptions in his 2019 season, and entered a contest for the starting job last year. But after he threw 33 touchdown passes and was intercepted three times in 2020, he rocketed the draft boards. There are doubts about the level of competition he faced and he has already undergone shoulder surgery.

As the Jets saw when they selected Darnold in 2018, it’s embarrassing to pick the wrong quarterback. Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson have proven to be better players than Darnold in their first three seasons. The Jets, by choosing Wilson, would be risking Justin Fields, Trey Lance or Mac Jones becoming a star.

Then there is Darnold. If he goes to another team and the potential we’ve seen turns into a full-blown production, Douglas could blush.

The first two years of Douglas’s tenure felt like they were moving toward this moment, when he could make the Jets roster his own. The next two years will be defined by how this decision is resolved.

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