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The keys to the Jets kingdom belong to Zach Wilson now, and he will be set up to succeed more than Sam Darnold, former Jets franchise quarterback, ever was.
This is the right time and the right place for Zach Wilson if only because Jets GM Joe Douglas will move heaven and earth to support him and new head coach Robert Saleh, because he will be staking his reputation on his new franchise quarterback.
Another dawn of another new day in Jetsville:
The Zach Attack.
Douglas didn’t draft Darnold with the third pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, but barring an unforeseen thunderbolt, he will be drafting Broadway Zach with the second pick of the 2021 NFL Draft.
He knows he better get this right, he knows he better not feel compelled to answer calls for his chosen franchise quarterback after three years, because it will be a good bet that the Bros. Johnson will feel compelled to assign somebody else to answer them.
Douglas did well fetching second- and fourth-round picks in 2022 and a sixth-rounder in 2021 for Darnold, and he did well sending a standup kid like Darnold to Matt Rhule’s Panthers, where he will have an elite offensive coordinator in Joe Brady and be reunited with deep threat wide receiver Robby Anderson, not to mention welcoming a security blanket in Christian McCaffrey that LeVeon Bell was not for him.
It means that Douglas is currently armed with 21 picks over the next two drafts — six of the first 107 picks in this year’s draft, including a second first-round pick (23), and two firsts, two seconds and a third in 2022.
Wilson will be greeted by an OC in Mike LaFleur with a system that fits his eye-opening talents. Because LaFleur is a branch of the Shanahan tree, equipped to do for Wilson what Adam Gase was supposed to do for Sad Sam, who deserved better but failed to rise above the rubble around him.
The smart play for Douglas always was starting the financial clock with a new quarterback, his handpicked quarterback, and in Wilson, he will have one with such mouth-watering upside.
If Wilson is what Douglas is betting on him to be, if Wilson is what many talent evaluators around the league believe he is, then this is not a bad consolation prize for missing out on Trevor Lawrence.
By no means does he deserve comparisons to Aaron Rodgers, but his arm talent is breathtaking.
The main concerns about Wilson are his slender build/durability and the level of competition, and you always wonder about how a young franchise quarterback from Draper, Utah will cope with a market populated by those long-suffering Jets fans.
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake told me this in February: “He’s not gonna worry about the naysayers … he’ll handle any kind of pressure that’s thrown at him, and he’s gonna make the most of it … any fan base that gets him, he’s gonna appreciate that fan base, and he’ll do everything he can to make them happy. That’s just his demeanor. I don’t know any other way to explain it, but basically what you see is what you get, and he’s a good genuine person and he’s gonna be just fine regardless of the market, whether it’s a large city or a smaller place.”
Of course, Mike Tyson would tell you that with the Jets, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. Or, in Geno Smith’s case, the jaw.
Darnold, more than Richard Todd, more than Browning Nagel, more than any of the Jets quarterbacks the franchise hoped and prayed would be the savior, serves as a jarring cautionary tale. Broadway Joe has turned out to be the only guarantee.
“I think people are going to look back 20 years from now and say that this is the moment that the Jets shifted into a new gear and became a great team,” Christopher Johnson said after then-GM Mike Maccagnan maneuvered to draft Darnold.
The Darnold Era — mononucleosis, head-scratching decision-making and seeing ghosts aside — became a case study on how to ruin your young franchise quarterback.
Douglas vowed to arm Darnold with playmakers and protectors, but the cavalry arrived too little and too late for him.
This is the right time and the right place for Wilson, because Douglas has already added receiver Corey Davis in free agency to pair with 2020 second-rounder Denzel Mims, and will be hellbent on bolstering an offensive line anchored by blindside protector Mekhi Becton, last year’s No. 1 pick. And under Saleh, don’t expect defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich to dial up a Cover Zero with an overmatched cornerback in single coverage in the final seconds.
The Patriots are searching for their next Tom Brady. The Bills have their franchise quarterback in Josh Allen. The Dolphins hope they have theirs in Tua Tagovailoa. The Jets thought they had theirs in Darnold.
Zach to the Future go the Jets.
It’s your ball now, kid. Your team. Your town to share with Daniel Jones. Give these long-suffering fans and this long-suffering franchise — a decade without a playoff berth — a full-fledged Zach Attack.
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