Time is a flat circle.
Joe Flacco started the Jets’ season opener. Four months later, he will start the season finale Sunday at the Dolphins. And in-between? Arguably the most confusing and dysfunctional quarterback usage in modern NFL history.
The Jets’ starting decisions have been questionable at times, but mostly rooted in some semblance of logic. But their backup selection? It has consistently been nonsensical. It has felt like head coach Robert Saleh is picking names out of a hat sometimes. And it has come to a head in Week 18, when Flacco was picked over supposed still-the-team’s-future Zach Wilson to replace the injured Mike White, even though a meaningless road game in sunny conditions against a mediocre team is ripe for Wilson to get some low-stakes experience and rebuild confidence.
If you think we’re exaggerating, we’re not. Here is a complete timeline of the Jets’ quarterback moves this season:
Preseason. Saleh pumps Flacco’s tires up, says he is an NFL starter-caliber passer and makes it clear he is Wilson’s backup. White is the clear No. 3 despite his flashes of success in 2021. Wilson gets hurt in the preseason opener. Flacco becomes the short-term starter and White temporarily becomes the No. 2.
Weeks 1-3. Flacco starts. White is the backup. Wilson is inactive while working his way back from his knee injury.
Weeks 4-7. Wilson returns as the starter. Flacco shifts back into the No. 2 spot. White is inactive as the third-stringer.
Week 8. The first curveball. Saleh surprises the morning of the Jets’ first loss to the Patriots and promotes White to the No. 2 role. Flacco is now the No. 3 and inactive. Saleh says White is younger than Flacco and if anything happens to Wilson, the Jets want to see what White can do. Even though they saw it in 2021, then pegged him as their No. 3 guy from Day 1 in training camp. And even though Flacco is supposedly a starter in the league and has been the backup for several weeks following Wilson’s return. The Jets elevate summer folk hero Chris Streveler from the practice squad, but he is also inactive.
Weeks 9-11. Wilson starts and White backs up. Flacco is inactive as the No. 3.
Weeks 12-14. The Jets bench Wilson after the second loss to the Patriots. White is named the starter. Flacco is promoted back to the No. 2 role. Wilson shifts down to the No. 3 spot to be inactive on game days and “reset” himself.
Weeks 15-16. Saleh unexpectedly promotes Wilson to the No. 2 spot — and demotes Flacco for the second time! — before revealing White cannot play against the Lions due to bad ribs. Wilson then starts against Detroit and the Jaguars while Flacco backs up. The Jets lose both games to all but crash out of the playoff race. Moreover, Streveler is again elevated from the practice squad against Jacksonville. This time he actually dresses and he replaces a struggling Wilson as the Jets bypass playing Flacco. Which means Flacco could spiritually have been the No. 4 quarterback that week.
(Side note on Saleh’s “Ford pick-up truck” comments about Flacco: If he’s built for bad weather, why the hell didn’t he play against the Jaguars in the downpour then?)
Week 17. White returns. Flacco and Streveler are both active, but neither takes quarterback snaps. So who knows who the actual backup was. And Wilson, effectively now the fourth-string quarterback, is inactive.
Week 18. White’s ribs will keep him from starting. Flacco is named the starter. Wilson will be the backup. The Jets insist they believe in Wilson and he is in their future plans. But he just is not in position to play this meaningless game. Even though he was capable enough of ruining the entire season two weeks ago. He needs to read a book instead. And who knows what the deal will be with Streveler.
To recap … The Jets have had three starting quarterbacks. They have had four different No. 2 quarterbacks, if you count Streveler. And three different No. 3s. White moved up from No. 3 to No. 1 without throwing a single pass. And Flacco has gone No. 2-to-No. 3-to-No. 2-to-No. 3-to-No. 2-to-No. 1 while throwing one pass.
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James Kratch can be reached at [email protected]