What the Jets’ quarterback change means for Zach Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and Tim Boyle

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Zach Wilson has been benched for the third time — and this time it will be for good. The New York Jets are turning to Tim Boyle in a last-ditch effort to try and save one of the NFL’s worst offenses and keep the season from careening toward another collapse. Coach Robert Saleh announced Monday that Boyle would start Friday against the Miami Dolphins, with Trevor Siemian backing him up and Wilson active as the No. 3 quarterback.

“It’s just to give (Boyle) an opportunity to see if we can do something with the offense,” Saleh said.

The Jets’ offense is performing at a historically bad rate, with their third-down offense the worst in recorded NFL history. And so, after 11 mostly subpar offensive performances and three straight losses by the 4-6 Jets, Saleh finally made a change. The hope is that it sparks something for a team that has scored one touchdown in its last 46 possessions. Wilson had thrown only six touchdowns in 10 games as the Jets failed, for the second straight year, to capitalize on having one of the NFL’s best defenses.

If this all sounds familiar, that’s because it should: The Jets had a similar situation last year when Saleh benched Wilson. This time, though, Mike White isn’t around to rally his teammates, who wore T-shirts adorned with his face. Time will only tell if they feel the same way about Boyle, though multiple Jets sources — both players and members of the coaching staff — said they supported the decision.

The ultimate hope is that this breathes some life back into the Jets’ offense, to their season, and helps them tread just enough above water to inspire Aaron Rodgers to make what he hopes is a return to the field in December.

Now this begs the question of what comes next for the Jets.

There are a few ways to look at the QB decision:

• What does it mean for Wilson’s future with the Jets or, more likely, somewhere else?
• What does Boyle at quarterback mean for the offense?
• What does the QB change mean for Rodgers’ potential comeback?

Let’s hit it point by point:

Zach Wilson’s future

The plan was for Wilson to sit and watch this season. The writing was already on the wall when he was benched for White last season, and then when he was benched again last December against the Jacksonville Jaguars for practice squad quarterback Chris Streveler, now out of the league. The Jets made it clear how they felt about Wilson when they openly pursued quarterbacks like Rodgers and Derek Carr in the offseason. And yet they didn’t bring in any real competition for Wilson as backup quarterback, even after Rodgers went down with his torn Achilles in Week 1, a decision that looks particularly damaging in retrospect.

If it weren’t already over for Wilson last year, it is now. At this point, it wouldn’t be shocking if the Jets opted to rip the Band-Aid off and cut ties with Wilson altogether by releasing him this offseason. It would be a similar decision to the one Saleh made last week in cutting running back Michael Carter, only on a more impactful scale — Wilson was the No. 2 pick in 2021. Maybe Douglas or owner Woody Johnson won’t let that happen, but it should at least be a consideration. The Jets can roll with Boyle or Siemian and try to keep their head above water long enough to get through this season — with or without Rodgers — and live to fight another day in 2024.

Wilson, who ranks 37th of 38 quarterbacks in EPA per dropback, per TruMedia, is just not the answer. It might be best for everyone to part ways.

“He’s come a long way from a year ago,” Saleh said. “I think we all agree we wish it was better, we wish it was better for him, we wish we all could’ve been better for him. It’s not a one-person thing but it’s just to see if we can get something going.”

Saleh also said the Jets would deal with Wilson’s future in the offseason.

The 29-year-old’s longevity in the NFL is fascinating, especially considering his lack of production in college. He spent three years at Connecticut and threw one touchdown and 13 interceptions in 19 games. After transferring to Eastern Kentucky and playing more, the statistics weren’t much better: 11 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. And yet, here Boyle is, six years into an NFL career after going undrafted.

Boyle signed with the Packers as an undrafted free agent in 2018, made the 53-man roster and developed a close bond with Rodgers. He started three games for the Lions in 2021 (going 0-3) and threw for 526 yards, three touchdowns and six interceptions while completing 64.9 percent of his passes. Those are his only NFL starts, but the Jets felt comfortable enough to roll with him as their top backup behind Wilson once Rodgers went down. They eventually added Siemian to the practice squad in late September. Boyle played well in the preseason finale against the Giants, though that was against mostly backups.

So what kind of quarterback is Boyle? For the Jets’ sake, his most important attribute is decisiveness. Boyle gets rid of the ball quickly and understands offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett’s offense — he played for the Packers and Hackett for three seasons — enough to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage, which is something Wilson struggled to do at times.

“The main thing that stuck out was his confidence in the huddle,” tight end Tyler Conklin said Monday, the day after Boyle replaced Wilson in the third quarter of a 32-6 loss to the Buffalo Bills. “He commanded the huddle really well. He’s decisive getting the ball out of his hands. Those two things stuck out.”

The stats back that up. Boyle averaged 2.38 seconds to throw on 14 pass attempts Sunday, per TruMedia, though he only completed seven and threw an interception. Still, behind the Jets’ makeshift offensive line (10 pressures and five sacks allowed against the Bills), that’s crucial. Wilson averaged 2.83 seconds against the Bills and 2.80 for the season, which ranks as the seventh-slowest among quarterbacks with at least 200 pass attempts. In the preseason, per Pro Football Focus, Boyle averaged 2.08 seconds, which would rank far and away as the fastest time to throw in the league.

“Decisiveness is a part of my game that I lean on, just trying to get the ball out, not forcing things in coverage,” Boyle said. “There’s a part of the game where taking a sack is better than trying to jam it into coverage and throwing an interception, so I think I bring — I just get the ball out quick. It takes a lot of heat off the O-line. It gets our playmakers the ball in space. We have some guys that can make some people miss.”

Rodgers and his comeback

Fox’s Jay Glazer reported Sunday that Rodgers wants to return to practice in early December and was targeting a return to the field a few weeks later. Rodgers has said in the past he’d only consider this if the Jets were contending for the playoffs. Right now, it seems unlikely the Jets will have a shot at anything meaningful by the time Rodgers would theoretically be ready to return — if that were actually possible, anyway.

Rodgers had surgery on his Achilles on Sept. 13. His hypothetical return to practice would come less than three months after surgery. That would be unprecedented for a football player who had suffered an Achilles injury. Saleh has said if a doctor clears Rodgers the Jets will, too — but it still seems unlikely any doctor would clear him that quickly.

And why would Rodgers want to return to this group anyway? Left tackle Mekhi Becton suffered an ankle injury Sunday and if he’s out Friday, the Jets will be deploying their eighth starting offensive line group in 11 weeks. Against the Bills, they started Chris Glaser at right guard and Carter Warren filled in for Becton. Neither had played significant NFL snaps before that. A 40-year-old Rodgers coming off surgery won’t be safe behind that group, even if he’s getting rid of the ball quickly and making adjustments at the line.

The Jets wide receivers haven’t played well, either. Allen Lazard has the worst drop rate (20.9 percent) of any wide receiver with at least 25 targets. Randall Cobb has been a healthy scratch for weeks while undrafted rookies Xavier Gipson and Jason Brownlee haven’t made much of an impact. Even star receiver Garrett Wilson has lost two fumbles the last two weeks and had two catches for 9 yards against the Bills.

About Rodgers, Saleh said: “I’m talking to Aaron all the time … until he’s cleared by doctors, all of it is a moot point.”

(Photos of Wilson, Rodgers and Boyle: Elsa and Justin Edmonds / Getty Images)

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