Second-overall pick, quarterback Zach Wilson, following a two-day long holdout, has signed his rookie deal and will join the team. His agency was originally at a stalemate with Jets management over offset language — the same contractual dispute ex-Jets quarterback Sam Darnold’s agency had with the old regime back in 2018.
New York ended up beginning camp without their No. 1 quarterback. They also began camp without their No. 2 quarterback, which is arguably one of Joe Douglas’ biggest mistakes up to this point in the offseason.
When Sam Darnold was drafted in 2018, one thing the Mike Maccagnan regime did right was having veteran quarterback Josh McCown by his hip from day one. McCown proved to be Darnold’s biggest advocate throughout his rookie season.
A veteran presence to a rookie quarterback is vital. Much of the league has invested in experienced signal-callers to mentor young players. The Chiefs — specifically Patrick Mahomes — sang their praise for now-retired veteran Alex Smith and credited him for playing a huge role in developing Kansas City’s diamond quarterback. In this case, Smith actually started 15 games during the 2017 season, mentoring a developing Mahomes who stood on the sidelines.
Another recent example: Robert Griffin III signed with the Ravens in 2018 and embraced the role of mentoring now megastar and former MVP Lamar Jackson. “I looked at [Jackson] like a little brother,” Griffin said. He was able to be by Jackson’s side throughout his developmental years before becoming a free agent this offseason.
Griffin would be a home run candidate to mentor Zach Wilson. But, it was rumored earlier this offseason that he was receiving significant interest from major networks to leave football and become a sports commentator.
The Jets understand that they need a backup and mentor for Wilson. As ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported, Gang Green is bringing in veteran free-agent quarterbacks Josh Johnson and Sean Mannion on Thursday as they continue their search. My question is this: Do they feel a sense of urgency?
New York has continuously been linked to Bears’ Nick Foles as a potential suitor for the quarterback when he’s cut in late August (assuming Chicago can’t facilitate a trade before then), but it’s simply irresponsible to let Zach Wilson spend his first training camp alongside the guidance of Mike White and James Morgan.
Again, Wilson had been away from the facility as his contract was being negotiated. So, he hasn’t actually had his ‘day one.’
The bottom line is this — Wilson will now be arriving to camp. He needs a veteran quarterback by his side. Day one.
How can this immediately be addressed? There’s one signal-caller available on the market who makes too much sense: Blake Bortles.
Bortles, 29 years old, may have just what it takes to guide Zach Wilson while providing reasonable security in the quarterback room. Bortles is a former 2014 first-round pick — third overall, exactly — out of UCF. Right off the bat, he can relate to being a top pick out of smaller football schools, as Gang Green’s rookie spent his collegiate career at BYU.
Unfortunately, he can’t connect with Zach Wilson on the rookie’s recent situation — Bortles’ agency negotiated no offsets into his rookie deal, which he signed months before his first training camp opened.
The former Jaguars quarterback has seen the highs and lows of the NFL. Bortles was a top pick with high hopes for a franchise, had hot and cold streaks, reached the AFC championship game in 2017, signed a second contract, and was released less than a year later. At just 29, he’s got a lot of experience under his belt.
One thing head coach Robert Saleh touched on in a press conference back in June was a number of characteristics such as scheme familiarity factor into what the Jets are looking for in a veteran backup. “If you just bring in a veteran who doesn’t know anything about your scheme,” Saleh said, “well, he’s learning just as the rookie is.”
Bortles seemingly fits the mold. He played in an offense in Jacksonville that featured shades of a west coast offense similar to Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s scheme — or the Shanahan offense. Nathaniel Hackett, former Jaguars quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, left for the Packers in 2019 to join head coach Matt LaFleur’s staff. Bortles eventually crossed paths again with his former coach as he spent time this offseason with Green Bay prior to being released this past Tuesday.
The Packers’ offensive scheme is extremely similar to Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers’ — the team Mike LaFleur and Robert Saleh branch from. Bortles has also had two stints with the Rams in Sean McVay’s offense — another branch on the Shanahan coaching tree. In this case, there’s a certain level of familiarity and likely wouldn’t call for any major learning period for Bortles. He can be a veteran presence while serving as a reliable backup.
In 73 games as a starter, Bortles threw for over 17,000 yards, completed around 59% of his passes, fumbled 46 times, and threw 103 touchdowns to 75 interceptions. He’s a fairly underrated dual-threat quarterback, having rushed for over 1,700 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s also been sacked 195 times — 106 within his first two seasons, an NFL record.
New York may await roster cuts ahead of week one to find a veteran backup quarterback as a handful could shake free. But if Joe Douglas were to take my advice: Don’t wait. Prioritize Zach Wilson’s development and get a mentor. Sign Blake Bortles.