The moment the Jets organization had been waiting on for months arrived at 10:45 a.m. Wednesday on Field 2 of the team’s training center. The stench of the 2-14 season in 2020 had lifted. New coach Robert Saleh was overseeing his team for the first true practice of 2021.
The offense lined up for the first snap …
A season of new hope starts here …
Then, you realized it was Mike White wearing a red No. 5 jersey under center and not Zach Wilson’s No. 2. You realized the Jets had found a way to halt the good feelings that have been flowing around the organization since January. You realized they were the only team in the NFL that failed to get their first-round pick under contract before its first practice.
Really, Jets? Really?
It brings to mind plenty of four-letter words, but none more than “dumb.”
The Jets have been riding high since hiring Saleh in January. They made what look like smart moves in free agency, and GM Joe Douglas made the move to trade Sam Darnold and draft Wilson then wisely draft pieces to help him, something the team failed to do for Darnold. The players and Saleh were shown on video screens at Knicks and Islanders games to cheers. The franchise had successfully hit the reset button.
It makes you want to scream “same old Jets.” It makes you wonder if the organization has changed much or still struggles when it comes to getting out of its own way.
This is not to say Wilson’s agent is blameless. This is a stupid fight mainly over a hypothetical situation that likely will never happen. The fight is equally dumb from both sides, but here’s the thing: Wilson’s agent has leverage. When White lined up at quarterback on Wednesday and James Morgan followed him, that point was driven home. The Jets do not have a fallback plan from Wilson. He is the guy. They have made that clear.
The 49ers signed their first-round quarterback Trey Lance on Wednesday morning, leaving the Jets and Wilson as the lone remaining standoff. San Francisco did not need Lance in camp. They have said they are happy to roll with Jimmy Garoppolo, which may be a lie but it is more believable than the Jets saying they are happy to play White or Morgan.
The Jets need to prioritize getting Wilson into camp now. Everything should be geared toward putting Wilson in a position to succeed — from the players brought in around him to maximizing his practice repetitions. At the moment, this standoff is more about optics than hurting the football team. A few missed practices won’t do irreparable damage to Wilson. But the longer Wilson is out of camp, the more it shifts from bad optics to bad management.
The Jets and Wilson’s agent, Brian Ayrault, are believed to be fighting over two issues — offsets and the timing of his signing bonus payout. The contract is slotted and will be for $35.1 million with a $22.9 million signing bonus when Wilson signs it. The Jets want to defer some of that signing bonus into 2022. Wilson wants it quicker than that. Darnold received his signing bonus within 15 days of signing his contract in 2018. It is not my money, but this seems like a silly issue for billionaires to worry about. Pay him and get him into camp.
Offsets are protection for teams if they cut a player and he signs with another team. It allows them to reduce what they owe the player by the amount of his new salary.
So, let’s play this out. Worst case scenario: Wilson plays three years and is terrible. The Jets cut him after his third year of a four-year contract. Think about how bad he would have to play to be cut after three years. If another team signed him, it likely would not be for more than $2 million or $3 million. That is what they are arguing about — potentially saving a few million dollars in three years.
The Jets would argue that offset language is not unusual. The Jets are one of 30 teams in the NFL that include it in contracts — the Rams and Jaguars do not. Lance does have offsets in his deal. Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1-overall pick, does not have them in his deal with the Jaguars.
The Jets also are worried about setting a precedent if they don’t include them in Wilson’s contract. I think it is reasonable to say that they made an exception for a quarterback chosen No. 2 overall and his contract language is not applicable to a linebacker taken 15th overall in 2023 or a free agent.
Douglas needs to walk into the office of his chief negotiator Dave Socie and say, “Just get it done.” Douglas needs Wilson in camp. Saleh needs Wilson in camp. Wilson needs to be in camp.
The Jets have 20 practices in training camp. That’s it. Wilson has 20 chances to get better before the season starts. He has 20 chances to work with his new teammates, new coaches and work out the kinks.
He’s down to 19 after missing Wednesday’s practice.