PHILADELPHIA — Zach Wilson saw room to run. The New York Jets starting QB used his trademark quickness to evade Eagles defensive end Tarron Jackson in the pocket and took off for a positive gain. But shortly after passing the line of scrimmage, Wilson had a choice to make, and he chose poorly.
With Eagles rookie linebacker Nakobe Dean headed straight for him, Wilson decided to pick up extra yards instead of heading to the sideline. Wilson, with new sod on the turf of Lincoln Financial Field, planted his foot awkwardly as he tried to make a decisive cut to avoid Dean. The QB, clearly out of sorts, flung his body forward for a 7-yard gain. The net positive on the play turned into a concerning loss in the Jets’ 24-21 win over the Eagles on Friday night.
The lesson learned in Zach Wilson possibly avoiding disaster
Wilson should have headed out of bounds instead of trying to pick up an extra 5-10 yards in a meaningless preseason opener. While his impressive dual-threat ability and playmaking instincts helped him become the No. 2 overall pick in last year’s draft, they also might have cost him the start of the upcoming regular season.
Jets head coach Robert Saleh confirmed to reporters following the game that Wilson “100%” should have headed to the sideline. And while that confirmation was expected, it was Saleh’s insight on Wilson’s injury that caught spectators by surprise after the QB went down with little contact and spent several minutes on the turf.
Saleh said Wilson’s ACL remained intact, but he quickly hedged that diagnosis by explaining that the extent of the injury won’t be known until Saturday’s MRI is completed. Saleh also refused to speculate about the extent of Wilson’s injury and a potential season-ending scenario following this week’s initial misdiagnosis of right tackle Mehki Becton’s campaign-canceling knee injury in practice.
“I’m over with trying to decipher doctor language, so I’m just going to let the MRI play out and figure it out tomorrow,” Saleh said.
Wilson injured his right PCL last season and missed four games due to the injury. Multiple reports from Jets beat writers have indicated that Wilson has seemingly avoided the disaster of a season-ending injury. However, he could still miss multiple weeks after injuring the same knee.
UPDATE (Saturday, 11:30 a.m. ET): According to the New York Post’s Brian Costello, Wilson has a bone bruise and meniscus tear, which will need surgery. Since the procedure will only be a trim, according to Costello, Wilson will miss two to four weeks with the recovery.
And while that’s a “sigh of relief” diagnosis for the Jets and their fans, it still leaves Wilson’s Week 1 status in doubt. That’s all because the QB wanted to pick up a few extra yards in a game most fans would surely forget shortly afterward if their young franchise leader didn’t end up being swarmed by the training staff in the first quarter.
Preseason isn’t the time to test injury luck
In the preseason, there are obvious pitfalls for starters. But for dual-threat quarterbacks, the exhibition slate is like playing Russian roulette with their bodies. Any time a QB takes off, there’s a good chance that something will go wrong.
Even though Eagles QB Jalen Hurts was able to shake off a late hit by Jets linebacker Quincy Williams — a play Saleh labeled as “egregiously awful” — that could have led to a major injury. Hurts avoided disaster and rebounded. Wilson wasn’t so lucky.
During the summer, everyone is competing for jobs, playing time, or improved optics. And sometimes that leads to sloppy play in the preseason, which in turn, leads to awful results. Wilson has learned that firsthand following the exhibition opener.
While this is likely the last anyone will see of Wilson in a helmet and pads during the preseason, the damage has already been done. Wilson most likely won’t get to use the rest of the summer to gel with his teammates ahead of an all-important campaign. He probably won’t get to scrimmage and play against the Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants to further test his chemistry with his weapons.
Instead of coming into the season with a feel-good vibe, Wilson will need to wait out this injury, even if it’s just for a few weeks.
But hey, at least he got those seven yards, right?
How Wilson’s injury affects the Jets and the rest of the NFL
Like with most bouts of injury adversity, there could be a silver lining here. Backup QB Joe Flacco is a former Super Bowl MVP, and he has looked terrific in training camp. Third-string QB Mike White gained experience last year when Wilson went down, and he is now capable of playing if called upon. Heck, even fourth-string QB Chris Streveler earned praise from Saleh for his heady performance in a comeback win.
So, that trio will carry on as Wilson serves as an example to the rest of the league’s dual-threat QBs. Every head coach is going to tell the likes of Carson Wentz, Lamar Jackson, Malik Willis, Dak Prescott, and others to curb their athletic instincts for the sake of preservation for the regular season. As fun as a preseason highlight reel can be, the exhibition games are dress rehearsals, and offenses need their signal-callers for the opening act and beyond. Hero ball has no upside for a starting QB in the NFL preseason.
Saleh said Wilson was in good spirits following the game. Sometimes dodging disaster can offer perspective, and Wilson has earned that new outlook the hard way. He’s also created film for “what not to do” for the rest of the QBs in the league over the next few weeks.
Remember, San Francisco 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo is lying in wait. He’s anticipating a major injury to a QB depth chart. When that happens, the 49ers will pounce on a trade, and Garoppolo will reap the benefits. The preseason and training camp are competitions in talent and durability. In order to keep yourself in a desirable position on the totem pole, you need to be available when the real schedule unfolds.
While Wilson might have avoided catastrophe, the next QB who decides to run for extra yards might not be so lucky. If the rest of the players at the position don’t learn from Wilson’s mistake, they could be sidelined for longer and eventually be replaced by a former Super Bowl QB.