Hey, I'm still here. I plan on sticking around for at least a few more decades, so thank you for being gracious enough to lend me your space rent free. What's that? You want me to pay rent? Uh, what's that over there behind you?
So, without Jets games to cover and react to from here on out, I'd like to instead analyze what the Jets offseason should look like for this team and offer my opinion on them. To make sure I'm using the most of my time, I figured I'd break down the offseason outlooks by position.
Feel free to leave your own feedback or suggestions below this post.
Today, I'll start with the quarterback position. Here is my analysis of that position heading into the offseason.
QB Zach Wilson, Age 23, 1 Year of Experience
As of January 11th, 2022, the Jets only have one QB under contract for the 2022 season, and it is the QB they drafted 2nd overall in 2021. Wilson is very young to be playing quarterback in the NFL, but that is the situation for most quarterbacks drafted these days.
He had- to put it mildly- an inconsistent rookie season this year. Starting 13 games and completing 12 of them around a knee injury, he often looked the part of a fresh-faced rookie getting his licks under the bright lights and the heavy thuds. That fact is also helped by his very youthful appearance, looking like he could legitimately still be playing in high school if he just put on a different uniform. Though he may have played like a high school quarterback in some games, he also looked like a seasoned pro in others.
It's not really a question of if; barring an injury or criminal arrest or the complete meltdown of human civilization due to COVID-19, Zach Wilson will be this team's starting QB in the season opener in September. The question is "will he have earned that start?" We won't find out until he lines up under center that day, but anyone hoping that the Jets trade for an established franchise quarterback or draft a new one will likely be disappointed. Like this past year, there won't be a true camp competition unless Wilson is dealing with an injury, and even then, unless it's a long term injury, there's no real reason for the Jets to withhold Wilson from returning to the lineup.
With that being said, though, the Jets obviously can't go into next season with Wilson as the only QB on the roster. They need to have more than just him; his rookie season is evidence enough of that. In his 13 starts, he tallied 2,519 total yards, 13 total TDs and 12 turnovers. He posted the second-lowest QBR among qualifying QBs with a score of 28.5, ahead of only fellow rookie Justin Fields. These aren't good numbers, but they are acceptable for a rookie. He's clearly not a finished product and has a long way to go next season, but the Jets cannot afford to solely focus on his development in 2022. If Wilson is still playing like this next year and it is costing the team the opportunity to win games, they will need to do what the Dolphins did to Tua in his rookie season when they were making a playoff push and send him to the bench. Who that quarterback on the bench will be is something the Jets must think hard about; if Wilson needs to be benched or gets injured, their backup will be tasked with the responsibility of keeping this team competitive.
Mike White, Age 27, 3 Years of Experience
Though White is not officially under contract, the Jets have indicated at various points that they believe White is a part of their future. As a player with only 3 accrued seasons under his belt, White is subject to draft tenders from the team that currently controls his rights.
I expect the Jets to apply the right of first refusal original round tender for White, which would guarantee him a little more than $2.43 million should he sign it or net the Jets a 5th round pick if another team were to sign him. I'm operating under the assumption that White wants to remain with the team and that he is unlikely to receive a better offer from elsewhere. If the Jets are concerned that either is untrue, they could instead apply the 2nd round tender to him for a guaranteed salary of just under $4 million. Personally, that's a little too rich for my tastes; if there's a team out there that is actually willing to surrender a 5th round pick in exchange for Mike White, I'd take it and let him leave.
So assuming the Jets tender him, they'd be bringing back a quarterback who has played in 4 regular season games in his three years in the league (four years, technically, since he was drafted in 2018). In those 4 games (3 starts), he passed for 953 yards, 5 TDs and 8 INT. He actually has a higher QBR of 51.3 than Wilson, though that's definitely suspect, considering that in none of his appearances this year did he play a complete game. Even in his sensational first start against the Bengals that earned him a Hall of Fame induction at the age of 27, he still had to leave the game for five snaps due to a stinger.
Forgive me if I'm not confident in Mike White's ability to serve as a backup to Zach Wilson; not only are the two of them completely different in their style of play, but White has had some difficulty staying healthy. In his three starts, he left early in all three games due to injury (he returned from injury against the Bengals and reportedly could have returned against the Bills if need be, but still). Additionally- as an unvaccinated player- when he contracted the virus, he was forced to miss one game (essentially two, since even if he were asymptomatic, he wouldn't have been able to practice at all prior to the second game). He then contracted a separate, unrelated illness that also carried symptoms, the Jets choosing to leave him on the virus list during that bout to the point where he remained on the virus list for two days short of a full month.
The main reason why you need a backup quarterback is that you have a guy ready to go into a game if your starter is unavailable. In a 17 game season, White was completely unavailable for 4 games and was forced out of 2 games midway through them. Due to this, I feel that the Jets should be interested in adding to this QB room over the offseason. Even if they apply the ROFR tender and guarantee his contract for the 2022 season, he should still have to earn the backup role, and even if he doesn't, having three quarterbacks on the active roster is not the worst thing in the world (it's not ideal, but they're not expected to be real contenders next season anyway).
With that in mind, I'd like to list my three favorite options (in no particular order) in free agency for the Jets to pursue. In this exercise, I am making the assumption that each of the veterans listed below will hit free agency and will not re-sign with their current teams before the new league year begins. (For the record, I am assuming that the 49ers will not be releasing Jimmy Garoppolo after that team just made the playoffs with a crucial division win over the Rams. Even if he does hit the open market, he is likely to be the most sought-after free agent QB, so the Jets would be out on him by price.)
Teddy Bridgewater, Age 29, 8 Years of Experience
I'll start with the least likely of the three options. Bridgewater is coming off what might be his best NFL season, though that is not saying much. He started 14 games for the Broncos and completed 11 of them, tallying 3,158 total yards, 20 total TDs and 8 turnovers. He ranked 20th in the league among qualifiers with a 47.7 QBR, and I'd argue that the only QB ranked below him that played better than him this season was Matt Ryan. After being drafted with the last pick in the first round by the Vikings in 2014, Bridgewater has floated between the roles of high-quality backup and below average starter with four different teams (five, if you include his less than six month stint with the Jets in 2018.
As far as his abilities as a backup, he probably would suit the Jets' system well; he ran a variation of it in Denver this season and spent his rookie contract in a similar system in Minnesota. He and Wilson have similar play styles, though the hope is that one day Wilson's natural talent will take him to a level beyond what Bridgewater offers. Like Mike White, Bridgewater has had (more than) his fair share of issues staying healthy, only having played one complete season as a starter back in 2015 when he made the Pro Bowl. The difference, however, is that Bridgewater is a much more proven commodity than White is, having been in the league much longer and being tasked with much more.
I personally believe that this season with the Broncos will be Bridgewater's last as a starting quarterback, though I could be wrong. It is possible that some team views him as a potential starting quarterback like the Texans viewed Tyrod Taylor when they signed him last year (more on him in a moment). If his days as a starter are indeed over, however, he will likely still command a high price tag to be a backup, probably akin to what Marcus Mariota made in 2020 when he signed a two-year, $17.6 million contract to be a backup for the Raiders. If that's his asking price, then the Jets should definitely not be signing him; under no circumstance should they sign a backup that would account for more of a cap hit than Zach Wilson's $8 million next season.
If the Jets were to sign him, I project it would be a one-year contract worth around $5 million with an additional $5 million in incentives tied to playing time and performance. I don't think Bridgewater is going to command much more than that in total money when he enters free agency, though he may wish to look for more guaranteed money or longer job security elsewhere. In that likely scenario, the Jets should look elsewhere for a backup QB.
Tyrod Taylor, Age 33, 11 Years of Experience
Here's an option that is far more likely than Bridgewater. Taylor is coming off a season where he started 6 games for the Texans and completed 4 of them. He tallied 1,111 total yards (yes, really), 8 total TDs and 5 turnovers (not playing enough to qualify on the QBR list but having a score of 40.4 in his playing time). That's not great for a QB who entered the season as the starter in the legal-induced absence of Deshaun Watson, but the Texans decided that they would rather evaluate 3rd round rookie QB Davis Mills when it became apparent that Taylor wasn't giving them a decided edge. In only one of his starts did he pass for over 250 yards (the season opener against the Jaguars) and he only accounted for TDs in two of his complete games.
Taylor will likely not be getting another chance to start in the NFL at his age after a season like this one (he may choose to try his hand as a starter in the USFL), though he is still a pretty enticing backup. Though he does not possess the same arm strength as Wilson, he is still a fairly effective dual threat with the ability to escape the pass rush (which we saw him do at times when the Jets played the Texans last year). Wilson's ability to evade is part of what made him so appealing to the Jets, and Taylor possesses similar abilities in that regard. As a QB who has been playing in the NFL since 2011 (including three seasons as a starter with the Bills that saw him reach the Pro Bowl in 2015), he has the veteran voice that Wilson lacked for much of the year before Flacco arrived in that trade with the Eagles. Fun fact: Taylor won the 2012 Super Bowl as Flacco's backup in Baltimore in 2012, though he never played in that postseason run.
Taylor comes with his own injury history; he missed six games in 2021 with a hamstring injury suffered in Week 2, missed three games in 2020 due to an injury (though the injury was caused by the Chargers' doctor stabbing him in the lungs by accident) and never regained the starting job behind then-rookie QB Justin Herbert, he was knocked out of the Browns game in Week 3 of 2018 by the Jets and never regained the starting job behind then-rookie QB Baker Mayfield, and that's not to mention that even when he was supposed to be the starter for the Bills in 2015, 2016 and 2017, he has never played a full season in his career. Like Bridgewater, however, he is a more proven commodity than Mike White with a more similar play style to Zach Wilson. I honestly don't know if Taylor has ever played in a system like the one the Jets will employ next year, but given his lengthy history in the NFL and his similar style to the Jets incumbent starter, I don't think that would be much of an issue.
If he were to sign with the Jets, I project that it would likely be a one-year, $3 million contract, most of it guaranteed. It would be a pay cut in comparison to what he made with the Texans this past season, though that is what tends to happen to players who don't play for more than half a season in a contract year. I don't know how much demand there is in Houston to retain Taylor, though he might decide to accept less money to remain with the Texans as a backup for the familiarity there, should the Texans have need of him. If so, or if he decides he wants to try being a starter in the USFL (or if there's a tanking team out there that wants to bring him in for more money), the Jets will have to look elsewhere.
Joe Flacco, Age 37, 14 Years of Experience
I'll end with the option that I find to be the likeliest. Flacco only played in 2 games this season (starting and completing the home game against the Dolphins), during which time he accrued 341 total yards, 3 TDs and 1 turnover (294 total yards, 2 TDs and the turnover in that complete game). He put together a QBR of 43.7 in that limited playing time, so take that for what you will. A quarterback who has spent 14 seasons in the league, he's been fairly durable during that time, playing a full season nine times with the Ravens. Despite having never made the Pro Bowl in his career, he's still often seen as a valuable (elite?) quarterback who had never had a season averaging fewer than 180 yards per game until he came to the Jets in 2020.
Flacco insert air quotes here officially left the Jets after the 2020 season in search of a chance to start, trying out for the 49ers before ultimately signing with the Eagles for a sum of $3.5 million (the Jets are paying less than $660 thousand, per Over the Cap). The Jets have since said that they wanted to re-sign him after the 2020 season (and proved how much they wanted him by trading for him on an expiring contract in a lost season), and indicated in their season-ending press conference that they were interested in trying to re-sign him again this year.
Like the previous two quarterbacks I mentioned, Flacco is likely never going to get the opportunity to enter a season as a starter after this year. Flacco failed to win the starting job in Philadelphia to a quarterback who had previously started only four games in Jalen Hurts, though I'm not convinced there was ever much of a camp battle between the two of them. He lost his last starting job in Denver in 2019 due to injury and signed with the Jets for close to the veteran minimum that offseason while he recovered from neck surgery. At his age and limited playing opportunities, he will likely not find many teams looking to give him the opportunity to compete for a starting job; I could see him signing with the Dolphins to compete with Tua if Miami doesn't trade for Deshaun Watson or Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers, but that's the only option I can think of as a plausible opportunity to compete for the starting gig.
The question is whether or not Flacco is ready to accept that his starting days are over and- if he is- whether or not he is willing to stick around with the Jets. He might not offer the same kind of play style as Zach Wilson, but he has been with the team for most of two seasons and has had some experience working in this offense. He's more proven than Mike White and is likelier to remain healthy given their history (smaller sample size with White, I'll grant you). As a former Super Bowl champion and franchise quarterback who spent a decade as a starter for one team, he has the veteran presence that the Jets need behind Wilson and the ability to play in his stead should it become necessary.
If he were to sign with the Jets, I project that it would be on a one-year, $1.5 million contract, the same one he signed with them in 2020. You might think that he would balk at taking such a pay cut, but I would point out that- due to the nature of the contract he signed with the Eagles- Philadelphia is going to be paying him $1.9 million in 2022, so his total earnings would be $3.4 million for the year (though he has likely already received that money, so maybe I'm still underselling him). I wouldn't be willing to pay too much more than that if the Jets intend to bring back Mike White on the ROFR tender, but the Jets clearly value Flacco more than I do.
Honorable mention: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Age 40, 17 Years of Experience
Look, I know this is never going to happen. At his age, coming off a season where he only threw six passes due to a hip injury, he is more likely to enter retirement than sign on to be a Jets backup. After all, he has said himself how miserable he was when he was last here in 2016; even with a new regime and coaching staff in place, returning to the team to explicitly fill a backup role is probably the last thing he wants to do to end his lengthy football career.
But let me dream for a moment. Age aside, Fitzpatrick checks every box for what the Jets need from a backup: a proven veteran who can play if Wilson cannot, a play style similar to the one Wilson employs, a veteran voice who has been tasked with being a starting quarterback in this very same environment that Wilson will be in, you name it. Despite how sour his tenure ended, I imagine he is still somewhat popular with the fanbase, being the only Jets quarterback ever to pass for 30 TDs in a season and being at the helm for the team the last time they had a winning record. He is almost universally respected in NFL locker rooms and can have one more year of happy memories playing with the boys to help ease the sting of what his lost 2021 season (where he was supposed to be Washington's starter the whole year) was.
If he were five years younger, Fitzpatrick would be the perfect candidate, and I would dump Mike White in a heartbeat to grab a 35-year-old Fitzpatrick to serve as a backup and mentor to Zach Wilson. Unfortunately, however, his age and hip injury must be taken into consideration; even if he were willing to return to the Jets, unless he can prove that he can actually play in a tryout with the team, he is not a realistic option.
If by some miracle this were to occur, I project that he would be signing a one-year contract for the veteran minimum $1.1 million. He'd be making less than Mike White should he still be on the team and possibly even be behind him on the depth chart, but the help he could provide to Zach Wilson on the sidelines would be invaluable.
Maybe it's just my Hokie bias, but of these options, I would prefer Tyrod Taylor at the one-year, $3 million contract I projected. He is the second-youngest of the bunch behind Bridgewater, but I expect he would be cheaper than Bridgewater by a good margin. His play style is similar to Wilson and he has previously been in the division (not that he could provide much insight into the Bills' offense; when he was last there, the Bills' current OC Brian Daboll was at Alabama). Though his play in 2021 was not good enough for him to keep his starting job, he has had enough starting experience that I believe he could do well in the theoretically better offense that the Jets would have in 2022 should he be needed to play.
I apologize if I missed your preferred option; I would be happy if the Jets were to sign Andy Dalton, Jacoby Brissett, Cam Newton or Nick Foles to reasonable one-year contracts, though there aren't many other options I would accept if not those.
Bonus Options in the 2022 Draft
Let me make this clear; I do not want the Jets to draft a quarterback this year. I like Kenny Pickett a lot and hope the Giants draft him so I could maybe go to a Giants game some time to cheer him on, but there should not be any need for the Jets to draft a QB for the third year in a row. If the Jets trade back, acquire a late 7th (somewhere in the last fifteen picks or so) and a somewhat touted prospect expected to go in the first three rounds that they like falls all the way to them, maybe you can sell me on using that pick to make sure that they get the guy and he does not reach undrafted free agency. Barring that, though, I would like the Jets to explore bringing in a UDFA QB to- at the very least- push Mike White to earn the backup job should he be tendered.
I'm not going to dedicate sections to them; there are two QBs I expect to hit UDFA status that I want the Jets to explore. The two QBs are Graham Mertz of Wisconsin (basically a less-accurate Mike White with a stronger arm) and Levi Lewis of Louisiana (very experienced college QB who is a less-aggressive, less-accurate version of Sam Darnold). Obviously, the Jets will have their own prospect grades and I am not an expert college QB evaluator, but these are my preferred, expected UDFA options.
Thanks for reading if you've made it this far. In my next column, I will give my outlook on the RB position over the offseason.