The New York Jets are hosting the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night, and the franchise is staring down the barrel of a 1-3 start to a season filled with the greatest expectations in recent team history.
Third-year quarterback Zach Wilson wasn't supposed to be the starter in Week 4, or any week for that matter, but that's the Jets' lot in life with Aaron Rodgers out for the rest of the year with a torn Achilles.
But Sunday's game against the Chiefs represents a critical point in what the Jets may do at quarterback moving forward. The team, captained by head coach Robert Saleh, has publicly expressed immense confidence in Wilson since Rodgers' injury, and buttressing that is the lack of a starting-caliber quarterback being added to the roster.
A win Sunday night -- or even a competitive outing from the team with above-average play from Wilson -- and the Jets may continue business as usual with their young signal-caller. But if Wilson's play Sunday mimics what was seen last week against the Patriots, Gang Green could very well begin looking at in an effort to save the season.
As one league source put it, if Wilson plays like he did last week for the rest of the season, there won't be a rest of the season for him.
The Jets went into the offseason knowing they couldn't roll with Wilson in 2023. They put all their eggs in the Rodgers basket, and by early March it was clear the future Hall of Famer would end up with the Jets at some point in the offseason, no matter the posturing from the Packers.
Rodgers joining the Jets signaled a new era for the franchise. But it also sent a signal to every quality backup quarterback: You're not going to be playing in 2023 if you come to New York. If the Jets ever wanted to pursue a top-tier QB2 (and it's not clear the team ever really did), who was going to come to the Jets?
Not Jacoby Brissett, who started 11 games for Cleveland last year and who would sign in Washington to compete with one-start-starter Sam Howell for the top job. Not Gardner Minshew, who opted for a one-year deal in Indianapolis to compete with a likely rookie quarterback they would draft. Andy Dalton has embraced his role as veteran backup and spot starter, and he joined the Panthers after Carolina traded up to No. 1 in the draft to select their franchise QB.
The list could go on, and the point is that any quality backup who had a dream of starting in 2023 would wake up and realize that short of an injury catastrophe, the Jets belonged to Rodgers this season and potentially the next.
The Jets have said plenty the plan was to sit Wilson for 2023 and 2024 while Rodgers led the team to the playoffs. The young quarterback could learn from his idol, and at best he would be the starter in 2025. A reasonable scenario would be that Rodgers could suffer an injury in his age 39 or 40 season and miss a handful of games, and Wilson would be good enough to keep the wheel straight during Rodgers' absence.
But the Jets pushed all their chips to the middle of the table with Rodgers, just like every team with an elite, MVP-caliber quarterback has done. They got four whole plays out of it.
So Wilson had to play the rest of the way in Week 1, and with zero first-team reps (and with the help of four Josh Allen turnovers and a special teams touchdown), beat the mighty Buffalo Bills. Could the Jets have gotten the wheels turning on a legitimate backup on Tuesday morning? Sure, but reasonable people can disagree on that.
The coaching staff wanted (and wants) badly to believe in Wilson. The franchise invested a top-two pick on the player, and they truly have seen a change in Wilson's demeanor and body of work since Rodgers came to town. The thinking went that even though they knew Wilson shouldn't start in 2023, maybe he had learned enough to get by with an elite defense and top-flight offensive weaponry.
But the defense hasn't played up to their level the last two weeks against the Cowboys and Patriots. The offensive line has struggled in pass protection. The run game hasn't gashed teams like it did the Bills in Week 1, and the offense has been so off-schedule that it can't get the run game going even if it wants to.
And for all the public optimism around Wilson, the results from the young quarterback aren't much different from what got him benched last year. Even with clean pockets, he's one of the worst quarterbacks in the league so far this year, and the Jets have to wonder how much longer they can watch what could be the same movie waiting for a different plot twist.
Pick Six Newsletter
Crafted By The Best NFL Experts
Get the day's big stories + fun stuff you love like mock drafts, picks and power rankings.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox.
There was an error processing your subscription.
The Jets had interest in adding a third quarterback well before they landed on Trevor Siemian earlier this week. They poked around on retired QB Chad Henne, who chose to remain retired. Colt McCoy had talks with the team, per sources. The Jets kicked around on Brett Rypien, who previously played under offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett in Denver. But Rypien chose to sign to the Rams active roster off their practice squad rather than pursuing any potential opportunity with the Jets as their QB3.
Siemian could ultimately show enough in practice to work his way up the depth chart past backup Tim Boyle.
If the Jets wish to add a starting-caliber veteran via free agency or a trade, those conversations would have to involve ownership. A league source tells CBS Sports Woody Johnson isn't willing to sit by and watch a season be lost due to poor quarterback play, especially after the six-game losing streak last season following the 7-4 start.
Acquiring that sort of player via a trade would be tricky for New York. The Jets have to consider the value they'd be giving up for a quarterback that would be a rental for the remainder of the year at best. They're already sending a second-round selection to Green Bay, and their first-round pick in 2024 can't be used without some maneuvering.
Teams aren't usually willing to part with good players, either. Why would the Commanders trade Brissett when Howell is being sacked more through three games than any quarterback since 2006? Minshew just won the Colts a game against the Ravens with Anthony Richardson out with a concussion. And we're just a few games into a season where even if a team is losing right now, they're still hopeful they'll turn it around in October.
Once the Jets begin engaging with teams on a potential trade, they'll be marks. The league will know they're desperate and they'll experience price-gouging to acquire a quarterback to potentially save their season.
The Jets aren't ignorant to the position they're in, and Sunday night could represent a turning point for the organization this season.