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New York Jets What If Wednesday: What If the Jets Had Picked Russell Wilson?


Before the Jets visited Seattle last November, a story conveniently started making headway in the press about how Jets executive Terry Bradway loved Russell Wilson before the 2012 NFL Draft. It is quite a coincidence that after a player has attained success, stories suddenly pop up about how other teams were crazy about the guy. You never see stories like this about busts. At any rate, we will never know how much Bradway really liked Wilson or how close the Jets were to grabbing the quarterback. It is an interesting hypothetical to wonder what would have happened if the Jets grabbed the Wisconsin signal caller in 2012.

To be sure, picking a quarterback in the third round would have sent another mixed signal in an offseason where it felt like the Jets were shooting by the hip with no coherent plan. They gave Mark Sanchez a contract extension and kept talking him up as the starter and their man of the future, but they also traded for Tim Tebow. Grabbing a quarterback in 2012 would still have been a pretty smart move. Sanchez's play collapsed at the end of 2011. By that point, it looked like he probably was not the long-term answer. Having a guy ready to go and hedging their bets probably would have been sound thinking.

How would 2012 have played out if Wilson was a Jet? It probably would not have been very different from the way it actually played out. The organization decided to go down with the ship when it came to Sanchez. Late in the Mike Tannenbaum Era, the Jets adamantly refused to acknowledge ever making mistakes until long past due. It was this way with Brian Schottenheimer, Wayne Hunter, Eric Smith, and others. If somebody was not performing, the team pretend the problem did not exist, scoff anybody who suggested there was a problem, claim things would work out, and continue to watch the situation deteriorate.

That is what happened with Sanchez last year. As he played poor football, the Jets kept sticking with him. Things got so bad that a change of the starting quarterback for the sake of change would have been justified. It did not come until the season was long. Tim Tebow had been part of a Broncos season resurrection the year before. The Jets were built to play a ball control and defense style that fit his game. It might keep games close against inferior teams and allow them to sneak out wins, but it also keeps games close against superior teams and allows for upsets with a few big plays. This was never attempted. Greg McElroy came off the bench against Arizona and won a game to save the Jets' season. He was deactivated the following week. The bottom line is the other quarterbacks did not get a chance last year. Wilson probably would not have either.

If you want an indication, just look at the pretzel logic the team used to justify starting Sanchez at times. It goes beyond, "best chance to win." Take the week after McElroy won the Arizona game. Sanchez inexplicably was named the starter. Part of the reasoning was reportedly Greg McElroy's lack of arm strength. The theory was starting McElroy would limit the selection of plays the Jets could run. They would be able to use a very limited playbook with Greg. What happened that week? Sanchez started, and the Jets ran perhaps the most simplistic offense any team ran in the NFL all year. They called remedial passing plays and ran in more than three out of every four plays in the second half. There was no way Sanchez was losing his starting job until the season was lost. Rationalizations like, "Wilson is a rookie quarterback," would have been used. Remember, we would have no way of knowing how good he really was at the time.

There might not have been much of an impact on the team, but there would have been on Greg McElroy. He surely would have been cut and would have lost his moment in the sun against the Arizona Cardinals. No matter what happens the rest of his career, McElroy will have a great NFL memory from that day which would have been lost if Russell Wilson was a Jet.

Wilson would have come off the bench that day to beat the Cardinals. He also would have gotten the starts the last two weeks against the Chargers and the Bills. There's a chance the Jets would have beaten the Chargers with Wilson starting instead of McElroy. There is a very good chance the Jets would have beaten the Bills with Wilson the last week of the season.

This would have created an interesting scenario. Could Mike Tannenbaum have gotten into Woody Johnson's ear and said, "See, I picked Wilson, but Rex wouldn't play him." Rex Ryan certainly would have felt more heat for sticking with Sanchez for so long. Still, Tannenbaum might have sealed his fate with so many terrible contracts, including the Sanchez extension, and a disappointing season prior to December. The owner loves the attention Rex Ryan brings to the team so things might not have been so different there.

Things certainly would have been different in Seattle. While their offense was built around the run game, Wilson's sky high efficiency was a key reason the Seahawks surprised so many. Having a duel threat quarterback was also a reason their run game was so excellent. When the quarterback can run, the defense cannot all fly at a running back on a handoff. It might be a fake. The quarterback can pull the ball back and take off to the corner if everybody is flying to the back. It is probably not a coincidence Marshawn Lynch had the best year of his career with Wilson as his quarterback. Matt Flynn would have started in Seattle. It does not seem implausible to guess the Seahawks would have won maybe three less games with Flynn, finished 8-8, and missed the Playoffs.

This is where things get interesting. With an unremarkable Seahawks team, would John Idzik have been a general manager candidate? Teams usually look to grab executives from successful franchises. These guys have been around winning. They have seen a winning strategy put into place. They are likely to bring over some of the same talented people from their old team to their new team. If Seattle was less successful in 2012, Idzik would have been a tougher sell. It would have been a third straight unremarkable year for that regime. Jets fans would not have been thrilled with a choice from a team mired in mediocrity. Another choice might have been made.

As far as the Draft goes, the Jets might not have gone with Geno Smith if Wilson was already on the team. That might have opened up the use of a second round pick for a wide receiver to help Wilson out.

Was it for the best that the Jets did not get Wilson? The easy answer is no. We really cannot say at this point, however. The real answer will depend on how Wilson and Idzik perform over the next several years.