Owner Woody Johnson vows Jets will keep QB Zach Wilson if no trade is made
Owner Woody Johnson vows Jets will keep QB Zach Wilson if no trade is made

ORLANDO, Fla. — The New York Jets remain motivated to trade former starting quarterback Zach Wilson, team officials said Monday, but the long-awaited breakup took an interesting turn when owner Woody Johnson presented another potential outcome.

“If we don’t trade him, we’re going to keep him,” Johnson told a small group of reporters at the NFL meetings.

Johnson, who last month criticized Wilson’s performance in 2023, dismissed those comments, perhaps in a Hail Mary effort to drum up interest in the former first-round pick. He called Wilson a “valuable asset.” In his next breath, he admitted that a trade would be best for Wilson, who struggled after filling in for an injured Aaron Rodgers in Week 1.

“I feel bad for Zach in some ways because last year would have been great — it would have been the first time he could just sit and watch a master at work, and he’s never had that,” Johnson said. “He’s been on fire since Day 1 and I think that’s what he needs. He needs to be in a place where he can observe for a while. He has the skills. He can do anything. There’s a reason we picked him No.. 2 overall and I’m confident he’ll get there at some point.”

The Jets, looking to improve their backup position, signed Tyrod Taylor, 34, to a two-year, $12 million contract. Coach Robert Saleh called Taylor “an elite presence in the locker room.” They will add a third defenseman at some point, perhaps a rookie. Or maybe Wilson could be that guy, according to Johnson.

“It’s possible he’ll do it here,” Johnson said, quickly adding, “From his point of view, it’s probably better if he changes faces and gets to a new [team]. He can wipe the slate clean that way. I think that would probably be better for him.”

Wilson, with one year remaining on his rookie contract, is due a guaranteed $5.5 million in salary and bonuses. Ideally, the Jets would like to trade the contract and clear $5.5 million from their salary cap, but it’s highly unlikely a team will absorb that much money for a quarterback with a 12-21 record and more interceptions (25). than touchdown passes (23). The Jets would have to eat some of the money to facilitate the trade, league sources said.

If they release him, the Jets still have to pay him $5.5 million and get no relief. The fee will remain at $11.2 million.

On February 28, general manager Joe Douglas announced that Wilson had been cleared to talk to other teams about a possible trade. By all indications, Wilson — benched for two games last season — wants to move on.

Johnson may have hurt Wilson’s trade value on Feb. 9 when he told reporters at the NFL Honors in Las Vegas, “We need a backup quarterback. We didn’t have one last year.”

Two members of Wilson’s 2021 draft class were traded this offseason, most notably Justin Fields and Mack Jones. But the Jets can’t find people for Wilson.

Douglas said Monday that there have been “some discussions” with teams, but “nothing close” to being done. He declined to speculate on whether he envisions a scenario in which Wilson could remain with the team through the 2024 season. The Jets could play until the draft, hoping to find a trade partner.

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