New York Jets’ contract dispute with Zach Wilson a bad look, makes no sense

NFL

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — After a promising offseason that reenergized their fan base, the New York Jets reminded everyone Wednesday not everything has changed for the better.

Rookie quarterback Zach Wilson, the new face of the franchise as the Jets’ No. 2 overall draft pick this year, was nowhere to be found on the first day of training camp. The first-team offense was commanded by Mike White, a former practice squad player who has yet to take a snap in an NFL game.

If it had been an open practice, the fans would have booed the Jets, justifiably so.

Thirty-one of the 32 first-round draft picks are under contract. The only one that isn’t … well, you know the answer. It was an embarrassing day for the Jets, who committed an open-field fumble.

The amount of Wilson’s rookie deal is slotted based on his draft position, No. 2. All New York has to do is fill in a few blanks on the contract and cross some Ts.

The Jets and Wilson’s agents are squabbling over contract language — not money, mind you. Language. The primary sticking point is the offset clause, which provides the team with financial protection in the unlikely event it cuts Wilson before his four-year, $35.2 million contract (fully guaranteed) is complete.

Let’s make one thing clear: A negotiation over an offset isn’t unique to the Jets. Every team deals with it. In fact, 30 of 32 teams (the Los Angeles Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars ) typically include offsets in contracts that have guaranteed money, the Jets among them.

So why are the Jets the only team that hasn’t struck a deal with its first-round draft pick?

Another issue is the payment schedule of the $22 million signing bonus on Wilson’s deal. That, too, came up in the 2018 negotiation with quarterback Sam Darnold, and the Jets wound up paying the entire bonus within 15 days of Darnold signing. It’s unclear why the Jets are trying to defer some of the money with Wilson. This isn’t rocket science; it’s a basic contract negotiation.

Exacerbating the problem, the Jets declined to add a veteran quarterback in the offseason, putting all their eggs in the Wilson basket. That was a bad decision on multiple levels. No disrespect to White and James Morgan, a 2020 fourth-round pick who has no pro experience, but the Jets left themselves with no fallback options.

They dealt with a similar situation when Darnold missed three practices because of a contract dispute. In that case, they had veterans Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater on the roster, reducing the sense of urgency.

Not this time.

They need Wilson in camp ASAP. Every rep matters. The Jets have 20 practices and three preseason games to get him ready for Sept. 12 against the Carolina Panthers. Every missed day hurts him. Every missed day hurts the receiving corps. On Wednesday, it was a dink-and-dunk fest, with White and Morgan throwing almost everything under 10 yards.

This is no way to build chemistry in a new offensive scheme.

The Jets haven’t reached a crisis point, yet. Wilson could show up Thursday or Friday and this mess will be forgotten by next week. But for now, it’s a bad optic. Coach Robert Saleh was asked when he “needs” Wilson in camp. He smiled and said, “Ask me again tomorrow.”

Saleh did his best to put on a brave face, saying kind things about White and Morgan, but you can bet he is anxious to get his QB1 into camp. Publicly, he has to tow the company line, but no one is believing his happy talk.

That exciting offseason? It loses some luster each day of the contract dispute.

On Saturday, the fans show up to watch training camp for the first time since 2019. If Wilson isn’t on the field, the fans will bring a Bronx cheer to New Jersey.

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