The New York Jets are in a dire situation at quarterback, potentially for the next month. Rookie quarterback Zach Wilson, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 draft, is reportedly out at least 2-4 weeks with a sprained PCL. The Jets built their quarterback room around Wilson starting and learning for all 17 games in his rookie year, so this is a major setback for one of the rebuilding teams in the NFL.
With Wilson out for the next few weeks, the Jets will have to think quick on what their quarterback situation will be going forward. New York already has a starting quarterback to fill in for Wilson in Mike White, but do the Jets bring in a free agent to back White up? Are head coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur in sync with going with White for the next several weeks, or does New York put in a veteran quarterback to stay competitive in a rebuilding season?
Let's take a dive into what the Jets currently have on their roster -- and some options going forward until Wilson is cleared to return.
Who is Mike White?
Of the 32 backup quarterbacks in the NFL, White is in contention for the least notable of the group. So where did White come from and how did he become the No. 2 quarterback on the Jets?
White has been in the Jets organization for three seasons, spending the last two years on the practice squad. He was activated from the practice squad to the game day roster three times in 2020, the only times he was on the active roster prior to earning the backup quarterback job this season.
"I think each situation is different," Jets general manager Joe Douglas said on keeping White as the No. 2 quarterback behind Wilson once the 53-man rosters were set. "I think it depends on the quarterback being asked to play and the scheme, the coaching staff, the room as a whole, the chemistry and I think where we are right now, with Zach (Wilson) and his progression, I think we feel good about it. I know we feel good about it I should say.''
White finished 21 of 32 for 202 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in the loss to the New England Patriots, the first NFL game action he's ever had in the regular season. A 2018 fifth-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys, White played college football at South Florida before transferring to Western Kentucky -- where he threw for 4,000 yards in consecutive seasons.
Whether the Jets go with White for the next few weeks or not, he has the endorsement of Wilson going forward.
"I said to him in there, that's a hard situation, to step in there and he hasn't taken many reps, obviously hasn't played very much in a live game before, but I thought he played really well," Wilson said. "I thought he came in there composed and I thought he did a great job leading them with some really good drives and I really did think he did. He played well."
What are the Jets internal options at QB?
The Jets only carried two quarterbacks on their roster heading into the season, Wilson and White. With Wilson out for several weeks, White is the only quarterback on the active roster -- so the Jets will have to sign a signal caller to the roster this week or promote from within.
Josh Johnson is the only quarterback on the practice squad, the veteran signal caller that's an all too familiar name in NFL circles. The 35-year old Johnson has been around the block in the NFL -- and several other professional football leagues.
A fifth-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Johnson has played for 14 NFL teams, including three different stints with the San Francisco 49ers and two different stints with the Cincinnati Bengals. He has also played for the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the defunct United Football League and was on the initial roster of the San Diego Fleet of the Alliance of American Football before signing with Washington in 2019. He has completed 55.2% of his passes for eight touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 33 career NFL games.
Johnson was the starting quarterback for the XFL's Los Angeles Wildcats in 2020, leading the league with a 106.3 passer rating. He completed 60% of his passes and threw for 1,076 yards, 11 touchdowns to just two interceptions. He spent the 2020 season with the 49ers before signing with the Jets in August.
No matter what the Jets decide, a promotion for Johnson appears to be in store.
"Having Josh, bringing Josh on, having him in the room, I feel like we're in a really good place in terms of the chemistry," Douglas said. "These guys really push each other ... His presence, he's a rock that a lot of the guys can lean on and he's been through a lot of scenarios, he's seen a lot of things. We feel good about this group and the way they push each other as a whole."
Any available quarterbacks in free agency?
The Jets could obviously sign Newton and give him an opportunity to start, but what good does that do for a rebuilding team in New York to pay a veteran quarterback to go out there for a few games? How does Newton's presence help the development of Wilson? Would Newton even want to play for the Jets, knowing the situation he would enter or how playing for the franchise would do more harm than good for his career?
Newton is a backup quarterback at this stage in the game, but the Jets aren't the right fit for him or the franchise. The Jets have a veteran quarterback in Johnson, so they may pass on Newton.
The most experienced quarterback in free agency not named Cam Newton is Bortles, who has spent time on practice squads as a veteran signal caller over the past year, most notably with the Denver Broncos. Bortles has been out of the NFL since July, even though he does have 103 touchdowns to 75 interceptions in 78 games.
If the Jets were to entertain signing the 29-year-old Bortles, there's no reason to play him. They just need a veteran around that has starting experience in case White gets hurt. Bortles would only be here for a few weeks and would be behind Johnson on the depth chart. If Bortles did want back in the NFL, the Jets would be a good fit for the next month -- an easy paycheck to say the least.
Finley has been out of the NFL since May when he was waived by the Texans. The Jets could use a veteran quarterback on the roster anyway, especially one with starting experience in the league like Finley. He's completed just 48.7% of his passes in his NFL career and has started four games -- and is young enough to still develop as a depth option on the practice squad at 26.
The Jets could do better, but they could do worse as well if they are seeking a veteran No. 3 quarterback. Basically, New York is better off rolling with White and Johnson until Wilson returns.