New York Jets make right call on quarterbacks but could be playing with fire

Jets quarterback Mike White has passed for 500 yards in his last five quarters. AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Jets coach Robert Saleh made the right quarterback decision on Wednesday because Mike White is better than Zach Wilson right now (key words), and the whole world knows it. Oh, yeah, Wilson's sprained right knee still isn't 100% -- or so they say.

Saleh is handling this correctly because it shows he's running a meritocracy and it sends a message to the struggling Wilson, who was silver-plattered the starting job as soon as he was drafted second overall in April. Sorry, kid, you're not on scholarship anymore.

White has passed for 500 yards in the past five quarters and the Jets, of all teams, can't put that kind of production on the bench. They didn't see this coming -- who did? -- but they are right to keep him in the lineup because he raises the level of everyone around him, and that helps the team, which helps their rebuilding process.

There is, however, a can-of-worms aspect to this decision. Saleh opened the can by indicating it's a week-to-week situation, declining to say that Wilson -- the second overall pick in the 2021 draft! -- will return to the starting job when he's fully healthy. The matter, Saleh said, will resolve itself "organically."

Anyone who has followed the Jets for, say, the past 50 years knows that things rarely work out in a positive, cut-and-dried kind of way. It could get messy, because it usually gets messy for the Jets. If White maintains his magic touch Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, what then?

Saleh can milk Wilson's injury this week, maybe next week, but there could come a point where he's picking White over Wilson based purely on football ability. And then it will be a full-blown quarterback controversy, not to mention bad optics for an organization that has invested so much in Wilson.

On Monday, Saleh said Wilson "for sure" would return to the QB1 job as soon as he's 100%, but he walked away from that on Wednesday. Frankly, I think it was a slip of the tongue on Monday. His intention from the outset of Mike White Mania was to ride the hot hand, rewarding an out-of-nowhere player and signaling to the rest of the locker room that winning still matters. That notion seems to get lost at times in this "play the kids" rebuilding season.

For now, White is the better quarterback. Saleh acknowledged as much, saying White is "a quarterback who is giving you a clear blueprint of how this offense is supposed to run." White plays within the structure of the system, making smart decisions. Wilson, loaded with arm talent, has to get out of his "hero ball" mentality. He plays as if he's trying to duplicate his memorable pro day at BYU, where he dazzled scouts with his off-platform throws.

Wilson can learn a lot by watching, which is how Saleh was spinning his decision to the media. Of course, there's a flip side to that philosophy: If they see that much value in observing from the sideline, why didn't they put him on the bench at the beginning of the season, making Nick Foles or Andy Dalton or someone of that ilk their starter?

Clearly, Wilson wasn't ready to play. That became painfully obvious as the weeks went by and the interceptions piled up. He has been overmatched in every game except one, his 297-yard passing day against the Tennessee Titans. No one thought White was ready, either, so they went into the season flying blind. They now see the error of their ways.

The Jets remain committed to Wilson as their long-term starter, but that doesn't mean they're obligated to play him every week. White has injected life into the franchise, and who are the Jets to turn their back on that?