Owner Woody Johnson pledges the Jets will retain QB Zach Wilson absent a trade

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

“If we don't trade him, we'll keep him,” Johnson told a small group of reporters at an NFL combine.

Johnson, who criticized Wilson's 2023 performance last month, walked back those comments, perhaps in an attempt to stimulate interest in the former first-round pick. He described Wilson as a “valuable asset.” In his next breath, he acknowledged that a trade would be better for Wilson, who struggled after replacing the injured Aaron Rodgers in Week 1.

“I feel bad for Zach in some ways because last year could have been great, and this was the first time he was able to sit back and watch a professor at work, and that had never happened before,” Johnson said. . “He's been in trouble since day one, and I think that's what he needs. He needs to be in a place where he can watch for a while. He's got the skill. He can do it all. There's a reason we drafted him. 2 Overall, I have confidence in him. “He'll get there at some point.”

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The Jets, looking to upgrade the backup position, have signed Tyrod Taylor, 34, to a two-year, $12 million contract. Coach Robert Saleh described Taylor as a “special presence in the locker room.” They will add a third quarterback at some point, perhaps a rookie. Or maybe Wilson is that guy, according to Johnson.

“He could do it here,” Johnson said, quickly adding: “From his point of view, it might be better if he changes faces and comes up with a new look.” [team]. He can wipe the slate clean that way. “I think this might be better for him.”

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

If they release him, the Jets would still have to pay him $5.5 million and they wouldn't get any cap relief. The fee will remain $11.2 million.

On February 28, general manager Joe Douglas announced that Wilson had been given permission to talk to other teams about a potential trade. And from all indications, Wilson – who made two appearances off the bench last season – wants to move on.

Johnson may have hurt Wilson's trade value on February 9 when he told reporters at an NFL honors ceremony in Las Vegas: “We need a backup quarterback. We didn't have one last year.” He backtracked on Monday, noting that it was unfair to single out one player in an offense with so many issues.

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Two members of Wilson's 2021 draft class were traded this offseason, most notably Justin Fields and Mac Jones. But the planes were unable to find any takers for Wilson.

Douglas said Monday that there have been “some discussions” with teams, but “nothing close” to implementation. He declined to speculate on whether he envisions a scenario where Wilson could remain with the team for the 2024 season. The Jets could play him up to the draft, hoping to find a trade partner.

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