With the Jets facing a potential franchise QB change, Zach Wilson may have had the last shot.

The decision may have been rigged by the New York Jets. Perhaps it was just a wonderful coincidence of the timing and health of quarterback Mike White’s ribs. Or maybe Zach Wilson responded appropriately to his first NFL bench and had some of the best practices of his life in the past couple of weeks.

The reasons don’t really matter. Because the Gates’ decision on Friday — to put Wilson back in the starting lineup — was put into that position the second he went to the bench. Head coach Robert Salih has telegraphed the move over and over again because he knows what everyone else within the organization knows: An important offseason decision has to be made at quarterback. And the only way to achieve confidence is for Wilson to get another chance.

This may not be the popular move, but it is the right one. Because as much as nothing seems to have changed in the matrix surrounding Wilson, that’s not really true. This is the first time the NFL bench has been featured. What he does with another opportunity will say a lot about his ability to keep moving forward.

No one should scoff at this being a real thing heading into Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions. An important part of Wilson’s future hangs in the balance now. Yes, he was the second overall pick in the 2021 draft, but that line of credit is running out fast. The team around him is improving quickly and he must be ready to take a big step forward this off-season. The Jets need to know if Wilson can be a part of it, or if it’s time to start planning contingency plans.

Zach Wilson gets another chance with the New York Jets starting QB team after being benched last month. Will he make the most of it this time? (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

These designs will have something to do with how Wilson ends the season. And yes, it’s fair to suspect he’ll likely start post-game for Detroit, unless his return to the field is so bad it risks a locker room riot. But if he is modest? He will likely start again, motivated by the need to get as much data as possible before the season begins.

It may not be the best decision for a playoff race, but there is an overarching problem with far larger implications than how 2022 plays out. The Jets’ talent and tenacity are growing and changing in a way that is on the verge of either relegating Wilson to a much smaller part of the future or perhaps eliminating him altogether. The offseason fragrance will have a lot to do with this.

But general manager Joe Douglas and the coaching staff must first know how Wilson has been responding to the past few weeks. Not only to sit down, but also to know that the locker room is gathering around White instantly. If Wilson didn’t realize his career with the Jets was in jeopardy before sitting out, he certainly should understand it by now. How the offense turned out and how his fellow offensive players reacted should tell him all he needed to know.

And let’s be honest, if Wilson can’t get at least some traction against a Lions defense that’s opportunistic at best and often bad, he’s in big trouble. Which is why it’s so easy to believe in conspiracy theories that perhaps the Jets refused to give up White for this game because it represented the last best chance Wilson had at getting a foothold. In fact, when Wilson was benched and I looked at the schedule, the most logical place to include him as a starter would be this week, when Detroit heads into MetLife Stadium.

There simply won’t be an easier defense in a friendlier environment the rest of the way. And in some ways, it could help solidify the mindset of the Jets’ front office, which undoubtedly knows Wilson’s crucial failure against the Lions is the first step toward paving the way for an offseason quarterback hunt.

In a way, this all builds up to a scenario we saw just a few years ago with the Tennessee Titans. The franchise began a long turnaround after drafting No. 2 overall Marcus Mariota in 2015, but has been constantly frustrated that Mariota couldn’t take another step in his development. He was always hurt, inconsistent, or regressing into bad habits. Finally, after a 2018 that showed them all they needed to know, the Giants went into the offseason committed to acquiring and keeping a player capable of taking over the starting job from Mariota. They were eventually traded for Ryan Tannehill, and after just a few games into the 2019 season, the veteran did just that. He’s been a Tennessee starter ever since.

This is the decision that planes face. As much as they value the job Mike White has done, the team will need to bring in someone who has demonstrated the ability to take on a permanent position on a permanent basis. Jimmy Garoppolo would be the wise link, due to his familiarity with the Jets’ coaching staff. But whether it was Garoppolo or not, the Jets wouldn’t back down in the face of Wilson’s failure with this second chance. They’re going to get another quarterback and give themselves someone who can get into what should be a very good young core in 2023.

That’s what hangs in the balance right now. This is what Sunday’s game against the Lions means for the organisation. Either this will be Wilson’s second start, or the first step towards his end in New York.

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