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Roster Decisions: Quarterback
One week closer to the NFL season kicking off, I’m not usually one to wish time away but I’m anxious for this season to get here.
Today we’re going to be starting a series of posts looking at the decisions at each position group, starting with the Quarterbacks.
Carry two or carry three? That’s going to be the main question for Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh when they construct their final 53-man roster at the end of camp.
Last year when the Jets broke camp, they did so with only two quarterbacks in Zach Wilson and Mike White, but early projections have the Jets carrying three this season.
I had a look back at the final 53-man rosters for 20+ teams last season and there was a split between teams carrying 3 and teams carrying 2, but among the 21 that I charted, 12 teams carried two quarterbacks and 9 teams carried three.
So the Jets can carry all three of their quarterbacks through the first couple of weeks or they can cut/waive one of Joe Flacco or Mike White. It’s important to remember that Joe Flacco (14 accrued seasons) would be a free agent immediately as he has the required service time, whereas Mike White (3 accrued seasons) would need to go through waivers before he could potentially land back on the Jets practice squad.
If anyone is going to get cut, the contract structure would indicate it’s likely to be Mike White, both Flacco and White are on one-year deals but Flacco has guaranteed money whereas White has $0 guarantees. If the Jets cut Flacco they’d save $611k but have $2.85 million sitting there in dead money, if they cut White they’d save $2.54 million with $0 dead money. The Jets like Mike White’s long-term potential as a valuable backup and they like Flacco’s experience for the development of Zach Wilson and the odd spot start if needed, which is why I have them carrying all three.
Zach Wilson - Starter
You have fans who are absolutely convinced that Wilson is going to be a superstar and you have a vocal portion of the fanbase who are convinced he’s destined to be the next in a long time of quarterback busts drafted by the Jets, most sit in the more logical camp…we only have one year of data, he showed some good things and some bad things and it’s far too early to say either way. That’s where I reside.
There’s a bit of a misconception around the Shanahan offense and the offshoots of the system, when people hear that it’s QB friendly they presume it’s easy, but it’s actually a very difficult system to teach. “Y short to strong right clamp ace, H2 Y Bingo X comeback, can with roll right z shallow on 2” - That’s an example of a Shanahan-type call that Kyle gave a couple of years ago, difficult to learn but absolutely golden once you have it down.
The expectation for Wilson is he makes a sizeable jump in his second year, he had a new system to learn last year while adapting to the speed of the NFL and missing several weeks with a knee injury…which may have been a blessing as it gave him an opportunity to sit and watch for a while.
On the face of it, the 2021 season was extremely rough for Zach, and had you not been watching him on a snap-by-snap basis you’d be concerned about his future, he was either last or close to last in nearly every single category, but he was also top of the charts when it came to catchable balls dropped by his receivers, that certainly doesn't help a QB get into and stay in a flow.
Zach did have one unwelcome record in 2021 becoming just the 4th NFL quarterback to throw an interception in each of his first 5 career starts, DeShone Kizer, Zach Mettenberger, and Blake Bortles are the other three players, not the best company to keep. But Zach did improve over the final stretch of the season, not throwing an interception in his final 5 starts.
Through his first 6 games, he was responsible for 4 total touchdowns and 9 interceptions, then through the last 7 games, he was responsible for 9 total touchdowns and 2 interceptions. That’s significant progress considering the roster around him was crumbling with injuries at the same time he was starting to flash his obvious talent.
Zach has come back in great shape and Rob Calabrese has spoken glowingly about the improvements he’s seen in the 2nd year man: "Now it's Year 2 in the system. He's a different guy, very confident in our scheme." He added: "Not every play can be explosive. But it's what you do with your completions that creates what happens later on in the game."
There is one advanced statistic that you’d like to see Zach improve on in year two, to be fair you’d like to see him improve all his statistics. But when I was looking into it I noticed two stats where Zach was out of line with both Mike White and Joe Flacco. The first is his pressure to sack rate, which means the percentage he was pressured that turned into an actual sack. Zach sat at 26.3% which is huge…in comparison to Joe Flacco (10.5%) and Mike White (8.9%). Zach’s number is the 3rd worst in the league among QBs who dropped back at least 100 times. Some of that is him trying to do too much, and some of it is him not knowing when to get rid of the football.
Joe Flacco - Backup
I was really happy to see the Jets re-sign Flacco after hearing how much of an impact he made once he joined the QB room.
Before Flacco was brought in for a conditional 6th-round pick the QB room was pretty barren in terms of experience, from the players through to the coaches. Flacco brought 13 years of experience in the league as well as a Super Bowl MVP with him.
Flacco only attempted 42 passes for the Jets last season but he had a solid completion percentage at 64.3%, as well as the highest yards per attempt of any Jets QB (8.0), he threw 3 touchdowns without tossing a pick and he was by far the most decisive QB on the roster with his time to throw sitting at 2.30, White was at 2.52 and Wilson at 3.05.
The simple fact is the Jets have paid him $3.5 million in the hope that all he’ll need to bring to the table this year is experience and advice. The ideal scenario for the jets would be for Flacco not to take a single snap, because that means Wilson is doing his job and staying healthy. But…if the Jets do need a backup QB, Flacco showed last year that he can still play this game and offer something off the bench.
Mike White - 3rd String
As mentioned at the top of the article, the Jets have a decision to make in regards to Mike White, they either carry him as the 3rd QB on the roster or they expose him to waivers and look around the league at the projected backups, I imagine he may draw some interest from a couple of teams.
White was a restricted free agent this off-season and the Jets placed an original round tender on him (5th round), which meant that White could negotiate with other teams and if he was offered a contract then the Jets had the right to match that contract offer and keep him, if they declined to match it the team who offered it would need to send a 5th round pick to the Jets.
In the end, no offer came for White and he signed his tender with the Jets. I asked a couple of people about Mike White and the impression I was given was that White had very little interest in moving, he likes New York, he likes the Jets and he likes the QB room. Saying all that, I wouldn’t make the mistake of believing that just because he didn’t get a ton of interest for a 5th, he wouldn’t get interest on the wire.
White is an interesting case because in his first real NFL action last year, he largely played like a rookie, despite him having been in the league since 2018. He had a good game against Cincinnati leading the Jets to victory by tossing 3 touchdowns and completing 37 of 45 passes for 405 yards, and he looked to be managing the game well against Indianapolis before exiting with an injury. Then he came bumping back down to earth with a horror show against Buffalo throwing 4 interceptions without registering a score.
Mike White is limited, but he does have talent and he can work within this system, he showed that at points last season. According to most reports, the Jets really like him as a player and as a developmental prospect, in their ideal scenario he takes over the backup role currently being occupied by Joe Flacco, which makes sense considering the advanced age of Joe.
All in all, I think we’ll see the Jets carry three QBs in 2022 and there isn’t a great deal of mystery about who they’ll be.
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