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Robert Saleh must bench Zach Wilson for Jets’ good

Robert Saleh has no choice but to finish the job he started Monday evening and put Zach Wilson on the bench. It is the right thing to do, and the only thing to do, because Wilson made the decision for him during and after the Jets’ latest flameout in Foxborough. 

The former No. 2-overall draft pick sent his boss an engraved invitation to replace him, and now all his boss has to do is accept it. And really, in his second year on the job, Saleh has to ask himself this question: 

Do I want to be a serious head coach in this league, or do I want to stick a pacifier in my young quarterback’s mouth every time he cries? 

Zach Wilson has played and talked himself off the field, and so the man behind center Sunday against Chicago should be Mike White, or Joe Flacco, or anyone not named Zach Wilson. Saleh seems to grasp this truth after revealing Monday that he is “keeping everything on the table over the next couple of days” and that “the quarterback is part of a pile of stuff that’s being talked about.” 

In 20 career starts, Wilson has gone from face of the franchise to part of a pile of stuff being talked about. And it’s his own damn fault. 

He played like a journeyman backup Sunday — definitely not for the first time — and then refused to concede he let down a defense that might already be good enough to advance to a Super Bowl … if only the quarterback that could advance the ball more than 2 yards in a half. Days after dismissing outside critics as know-nothings, Wilson blamed his rancid 77-yard non-effort on the same winds that allowed Mac Jones 246 passing yards and, when asked about the frustration shown by receivers Garrett Wilson and Denzel Mims, countered that he gets frustrated with their mistakes, too. 

Zach Wilson walks off the field after the Jets' loss to the Patriots on Nov. 20.
Zach Wilson walks off the field after the Jets’ loss to the Patriots on Nov. 20.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

That’s some team captain. 

Now Saleh has to be the ultimate team captain and rule in the favor of fairness to the rest of his Jets. Why would a coach do more to protect his quarterback than the quarterback is doing to protect himself? 

At 6-4, with a credible shot at still making the playoffs, it’s time to worry less about Zach Wilson and more about C.J. Mosley, four-time Pro Bowler, team leader in tackles, and a guy Patriots coach Bill Belichick said is “as good as anybody we play against.” Mosley and his fellow difference-makers on defense deserve much more than what Wilson is giving them now. 

The quarterback isn’t getting any better. Wilson completed 55.6 percent of his throws last year, and has completed 55.6 percent of his throws this year — an acceptable rate in the 1970s. He threw more interceptions than touchdown passes last year, and he’s thrown more interceptions than touchdown passes this year. As Wilson sits at the bottom of the league in many meaningful statistical categories, his scholarship needs to be suspended. 

But not necessarily revoked for keeps. He’s only 23, and a benching doesn’t have to be permanent. If White or Flacco can’t score points over the next two or three games, Saleh can send Wilson back in there. 

Once upon a time, Bill Parcells benched Phil Simms for an entire season, before Simms won back his job and won Parcells the Super Bowl three years later. Quarterbacks can learn a lot from the sideline, even as they boil over. The good ones and the tough ones channel the rage into an enhanced level of performance. 

Maybe that’s what Wilson needs right now. The Jets shouldn’t have just handed him the starting job right out of BYU, and now they need to correct that mistake. For playing like a second-stringer, Wilson must become a second-stringer. And then if he wants to be the opening-day starter in 2023, he’ll have to beat out legitimate competition in the summer. 

Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas shouldn’t be afraid to demote the kid who was supposed to change everything about the Jets, on the field and off. In Year 2, Saleh has proven that he can develop and lead a team. In Year 4, Douglas has proven he can identify and acquire talent. The GM has put a lot of good football players on this roster; it just so happens that Wilson isn’t one of them. At least not yet. 

One veteran NFL scout who had told me before the 2021 draft that the Jets would be making a mistake if they picked Wilson (he didn’t like his size, among other things) texted the following Monday: “If you wanted to like him, you watched the 2020 [BYU] film. If you wanted the TRUTH, you watched the 2019 film.” 

Robert Saleh
Robert Saleh has no choice but to bench Zach Wilson.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

There’s no need to watch any additional 2022 film. Putting aside his 355-yard, three-interception performance in his MetLife Stadium loss to New England, Wilson’s most recent passing yardage totals are 110, 121, 154 and 77. As Saleh said about Sunday’s debacle, “It’s unacceptable. That’s not NFL football.” 

It’s time for the Jets to play a quarterback who might do a little better than that.

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