I will put it bluntly: The Jets should have had a better plan to sign Zach Wilson, because everything that is happening was entirely predictable. Specifically, it was entirely predictable that Wilson's agent, Brian Ayrault, would have him hold out -- weeks if necessary -- in order to force the best possible deal.
Why the Contract Impasse Was Inevitable
Ayrault is an agent. His job is not to fix the Jets' image of dysfunctionality. Or to prepare the Jets to have the best possible 2021 season. Or even to get his client ready to start Week 1. His job is to get his client the best possible contract terms over the length of his career. That means not only getting Wilson the best deal on this contract, but to set his client up for extension negotiations in 3-4 years.
In order to do his job, Ayrault has a history of getting his clients to hold out on signing rookie contracts. In the most high profile case, Ayrault had Joey Bosa hold out until late August in 2016 over offset language and other terms. Although, Bosa did not ultimately prevail on the offset language, he did get other concessions. And, most importantly, Bosa believed that his agent's tactics helped him in later negotiations in 2020 to become the highest paid defensive player in the NFL:
He also indicated his holdout as a rookie was a factor. Bosa didn’t report until late August in 2016 because of a dispute involving his signing bonus and the offset language in his contract.
"They know that I know what I bring to the team," he said. "I know my own value. … I don’t think either of us wanted to butt heads, and I certainly didn’t want to go anywhere else. I’m super happy here and super happy with this team."
We should all assume that Ayrault has thoroughly explained to Wilson how the holdout did not hurt Bosa's development or ultimate value.
It has been well-reported that the Jets don't want to set a precedent of signing a rookie deal without offset language. Personally, I think this is a dumb hill to die on as a matter of principle. There are far more team-friendly contract terms that organizations should be worried about losing in negotiations.
But, ultimately, this is not about the wisdom of that policy. This is about the fact that it was entirely predictable that a team that drafted a Brian Ayrault-represented QB at #2 should have anticipated that this impasse would occur if the team insisted on offsets.
Indeed, while the Jets were doing their due diligence on draft prospects, the Jets should have been formulating a plan to address the future conflict should they draft Wilson.
How the Jets Should Have Planned Ahead
The Jets had four possible plans to deal with the problem of Brian Ayrault.
First, the Jets could have drafted a different player. If contract offsets are so damn important to the Jets, and if they are not confident enough in Wilson to sign him without hedging their bets, they could have drafted a player (e.g. Fields) that would not likely hold out. I would not recommend that path, but it was one option.
The second option was to decide in advance that you would fold on the offset language. I've heard people say that future first round picks would insist on similar language. Personally, I'd address future picks on a case-by-case basis. but even assuming that the "precedent" of Wilson getting no offsets made future negotiations harder, I'd rather have a protracted holdout fight with a cornerback or receiver in the future instead of with a QB right now.
The third option was to preemptively give Wilson every single other thing he asked for in terms of signing bonus timing, etc., in the hope that Wilson and Ayrault would not hold out purely for offset language. In 2016, Bosa ultimately signed with offset language because he got other concessions. So make those other concessions in advance. Based on recent reporting, it sounds like the Jets are continuing to haggle over non-offset terms.
The fourth option was to actually prepare for a protracted holdout. Sign or trade for a viable backup QB and don't go into camp with just James Morgan and Mike White. If the Jets had taken the position that Zach would only start when he was ready -- and not because the team had no other viable starter -- then they would not be desperately scrambling to bring in complete trash like Josh Johnson and Sean Mannion at the eleventh hour. Even now, it seems like the Jets could get Nick Foles for a late Day 3 pick. It is hard to believe that JD cares more about a late lottery pick than shoring up the QB situation.
The Jets should have anticipated this fight months ago and made contingency plans. They failed to do that and, unless Wilson overrides his agent, Jets fans should be prepared for this to last more than a day or two.