Rich CiminiESPN Staff WriterNov 21, 2023, 05:08 AM5 Minute Read
The New York Jets, performing at a historically poor level on offense, benched quarterback Zach Wilson on Monday, another crushing blow for a player once considered the future of the franchise.
This marked the third benching in the past 13 months for Wilson, who may have played his last game for the Jets. The No. 2 pick in the 2021 draft will be replaced by Tim Boyle, who will start Friday against the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium.
Coach Robert Saleh said that Trevor Siemian will be Boyle’s backup, but all three quarterbacks will be active for Friday’s game.
Saleh said he made the quarterback change to “give [Boyle] an opportunity, a different style of quarterback. It’s really just to give him an opportunity to see if we can do something with the offense.”
The move has long-term implications for the Jets, whose grand plan was to have Wilson learn under Aaron Rodgers for a year or two before returning to the starting position — an arrangement endorsed by Rodgers. That no longer seems likely, as Wilson played his way out of the No. 2 job.
Saleh believes Wilson will have “a really good career in this league,” but he declined to comment on Wilson’s future with the organization, saying that will be addressed in the offseason. He said they haven’t considered releasing Wilson.
“Like I said, it’s not all of him, but there are things that he needs to be better at,” said Saleh, who claimed recently that it would be “lazy” to single out Wilson for the many ills on offense. “And this is just another situation to see if we can get another guy an opportunity to see if something can change.”
Wilson was pressed into action on the fifth play of the season, when Rodgers went down with a torn Achilles. Under Wilson, the Jets managed only nine touchdown drives in nearly 10 full games while posting the worst red zone and third-down efficiency in modern history.
Saleh, who arrived with Wilson in 2021, stood by the former BYU star until Sunday night, when he pulled him late in the third quarter of a 32-6 loss to the Buffalo Bills. Afterwards, Saleh was noncommittal on his quarterback plans — a sure sign he had run out of patience.
“When things aren’t getting done, change has to be made, and I understand that,” Wilson said after the game — a 7-for-15, 81-yard performance in which he failed to complete a single pass to a wide receiver.
For the season, Wilson is ranked 30th out of 31 qualified passers in QBR (30.7), with only six touchdown passes. In three years, he’s 11-20 as a starter, with 21 touchdowns and 25 interceptions.
Wilson was benched twice last season, prompting the organization to trade for Rodgers. Instead of acquiring a proven veteran to serve as the backup, the Jets opted to keep Wilson as Rodgers’ understudy — a decision by general manager Joe Douglas that may have compromised the season.
“You could always play the hindsight-is-20/20 game, but we felt like we did what was best for the organization, best for the team,” Saleh said. “It’s been an unfortunate series of events when you look at all the injuries on the line and just the things that have transpired since the beginning of the year.”
Saleh offered a cryptic answer when asked if there was anything they could have done differently during the pre-draft process in 2021.
“You know what? Actually, I’ve got my thoughts,” he said. “I’ve shared them with Joe, but I’m not going to get into it here with you guys.”
Wilson is signed through 2024, with virtually no chance of having his fifth-year option for 2025. The deadline is early May 2024.
Boyle, 29, is an NFL journeyman who has played for the Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears. His only three starts came in 2021 for the Lions; he went 0-3, with three touchdowns and six interceptions. In Sunday’s relief outing, he completed 7 of 14 passes for 33 yards and an interception.
He was released at the end of the preseason, landing on the practice squad. He was signed to the roster when Rodgers was injured.
“I think a part of my strength is being able to get the ball out of my hands quickly and the decisiveness, I think it is a part of my game that I lean on,” Boyle said Sunday night.
Rodgers is reportedly hoping to return Dec. 24 from Achilles surgery but has said it’s contingent on the Jets being in playoff contention. They’re not. Saleh confirmed that Rodgers has a specific date in mind, but he wouldn’t reveal it.
“All of it’s a moot point until he’s cleared by doctors,” Saleh said.
The Jets (4-6) have lost three straight games, with only 31 points scored. Their third-down efficiency is 23% and their red zone rate is 26%, both last in the NFL and the worst since the 1970s, when that data started to be tracked.